Ayutthaya is all about ancient ruins – especially from a foreign tourist’s perspective. What you may not realize is that many of the newer-looking temples in this city are just as ancient as their crumbling counterparts. The difference is that they’ve been maintained, restored and rebuilt over the centuries, and they’re still in active use today.
Now, if it’s your first time in Ayutthaya, or if you only have time for the highlights, then by all means focus on the ruins. They’re spectacular. But if you’re craving an authentic Thai experience, consider following the nine-temple pilgrimage route that Thai visitors embrace.
Make merit at all nine temples in a day, and you’ll be tapping the kind of luck and prosperity that average temple-goers only dream of. Of course, all that good luck comes at a price – namely sore feet, aching legs and sunburn.
The nine temples on this circuit are much older than those on the ‘Bangkok Nine’ itinerary, and they are listed below along with the special blessing that devotees are said to receive by making merit there:
Joy and fun
This is an ancient temple with its roots in the early Ayutthaya period. It was abandoned for a while and fell into decline before being revived by the founder of the current (Chakri) dynasty. It is believed that King Naresuan staged the ‘Drinking of the Water of Allegiance’ at Wat Tum. This is an ancient Khmer rite that called on both Buddhist monks and Brahmin priests. In this rite, subjects loyal to the crown drink sacred water. Any difficulty swallowing, as well as any ensuing sickness, is interpreted as a sign of treason.
Wat Tha Ka Rong
Wealth and profit
Twice used as a military base during the Ayutthaya period, Wat Tha Ka Rong has recently seen a resurgence of interest. Today, it’s a famous merit-making temple among Thai devotees. Wat Tha Ka Rong has several famous shrines, including an enshrined bone fragment of the Buddha, an ancient smiling Buddha image and an altar to the Goddess of Mercy.
But the most peculiar feature may be a chunk of petrified wood taken from a takhian tree. Many Thai people believe that these trees house spirits that can help or haunt you. Local legend holds that this petrified log has a corner on winning lottery numbers. If you stop by to make merit here, just assume that the other devotees aren’t doing it right. We can’t all be winners, after all.
Wat Racha Praditsathan
Greater status and prestige
This 16th-Century temple is tied up in the life of King Chakkraphat, who reigned over Ayutthaya for over 20 years. He entered the monkhood at this temple to avoid assassination after the previous king of Ayutthaya (his half-brother) died. The crown passed to Chakkraphat’s nephew, but the boy king was assassinated by his own mother, who installed her lover on the throne instead. A coup ensued, and King Chakkraphat ascended to the throne in his place. Enter blessings of status and prestige.
Wat Yai Chai Mongkon
Greater joy and hope
Founded in the 14th Century, Wat Yai Chai Mongkon was originally planned as a sanctuary for monks from Sri Lanka. The towering brick chedi was later built to honor King Naresuan, who is famous for driving the Burmese out of Thailand in the 16th Century. If you’re looking for an extra measure of good luck, try your best to get a coin stuck on the feet of the seven-meter reclining Buddha. It’s an Ayutthaya tradition.
Wat Phanan Choeng
Lifelong joy and happiness for the entire family
Predating the founding of Ayutthaya by a quarter century, this temple is ancient and still active. The on-site celebrity is a colossal 19-meter Buddha image, and there is barely enough room for it in the prayer hall that houses it.
There’s also a legend attached to this temple about a Chinese princess sent by boat to marry an ancient king. Her boat docked and the princess disembarked, but the king was not waiting to receive her. She was either heartbroken or deeply offended. In either case, she took her own life by holding her breath – no easy feat. A shrine in the temple honoring this princess is a popular stopover among the Chinese-Thai community.
Wat Klang Khlong Takhian
Greater joy and safety from danger and accidents
There are no decisive records pinning down the age of this temple, but the assumption is that it dates to the earliest days of Ayutthaya. Thai Buddhists make merit at three important shrines. The first is a nearly 550-year-old Buddha image. The second is the first-ever Buddha shrine made from an alloy rather than a pure metal. The third is an ancient shrine depicting ten past lives of the Buddha. The second and third are both giant replicas of ancient Buddhist amulets. Buddhist amulets are believed to protect the wearer from accident and injury – thus the temple’s blessing.
Wat Samana Kot Tharam
Good luck and safety
The highlight of this temple is a well-restored ordination hall in classic early Ayutthaya style. Compared to later models, it’s crudely constructed, but that’s what makes it authentic. Inside is an ancient Buddha image with a golf leaf exterior. The core is sandstone, which makes it relatively rare.
Success and profitability in business
This temple is ancient, and scholars think that it predates the founding of Ayutthaya. It has undergone multiple restorations, and the result is a mosaic of architectural styles. The lion (singh) statues may have been Chinese imports or they may even date to a 12th-Century Khmer settlement. Take a moment to admire the detached bronze Buddha head, which is a replica of a relic left behind after the Burmese army gutted this temple and burned the resident Buddha image. The original is in Ayutthaya’s Chao Sam Phraya Museum.
Wat Na Phra Meru Chikaram
Long and healthy life
This is the only temple in Ayutthaya that wasn’t burned by the Burmese army, so it makes sense that Thai Buddhists believe making merit here leads to a long and healthy life. The on-site ordination hall is exceptionally large, and it houses the Crowned Buddha, a six-meter Buddha image donning royal garb, arm ornaments and earrings. This is the largest image of its kind to survive the wars with Burma.
There are several other noteworthy Buddha images and relics in this temple. One image is well over 1,000 years old. If you walk the grounds, you’ll also see a small chedi that has been completely enveloped by a bodhi tree that grew right over the top of it.