Old Siam in Style
Founded in 1350 by King U Thong, with an estimated population at its peak in the C.17th of around one million inhabitants, the astonishing UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ayutthaya remains an enchanting and atmospheric day trip from Bangkok, just over an hour away by air-conditioned car or coach. Situated on an island at the confluence of three rivers, the largely wooden trading city was besieged in 1767 for 14 months by the rampaging Burmese army before eventually being sacked, burned and reduced to ashes, with only the stone-built palaces and temples and their characteristic chedis and prangs (reliquary towers) surviving into modern day. Chief among the delights to see is Wat Chaiwatthanaram dating from 1630 with its spectacular central prang – particularly special at sunset; Wat Mahathat, home to the famous Buddha head perfectly wrapped in tree roots; and peaceful, pretty Wat Phra Ram.
If you can, detour a little way out of town for lunch at Chow Praya Hut – its idyllic riverside setting and authentically spicy menu make it a firm favourite. There are multiple ways to arrive at Ayutthaya including by coach, car or train, but without doubt the most elegant is by boat. Several companies run trips along the Chao Praya river, but for serious luxury, look no further than the private overnight dinner cruise aboard The Golden Naga, a converted teak rice barge offered by Thai River Cruises.