Ever since we stayed in Bangkok, first in 2016 and again in 2017, we always wanted to visit Ayutthaya, the ancient capital but never had the opportunity.
Ayutthaya is located about 80 km north of Bangkok and is a very popular destination with tourists. Many of the tours offered are large organized trips with masses of people on a bus, exactly the kind of experience we abhor.
At Authentic Food Quest, we seek travel experiences that are local and intimate. We also look for guides who are native to the region and who can share insights and history about the local culture.
When we discovered the TakeMeTour website, which has Thailand’s largest selection of local experiences, we were ecstatic. On the TakeMeTour website, we found the perfect Ayutthaya day tour that combines a visit to the former capital and the local food specialties.
Join us for tasty Ayutthaya day trip and giant grilled shrimp.
Ayutthaya Day Tour with A Local Guide
Imagine visiting Ayutthaya and then eating giant shrimp. Once we saw the Ayutthaya: The Biggest Buddha, Giant Grilled Shrimp and Thai-Chinese Market tour, we were sold. it was a no-brainer to have a local expert guide us on this tour.
As excited as we were about finally visiting Ayutthaya, the tantalizing experience of eating giant shrimp had us salivating from the start.
Having a local guide makes for a richer experience. All tours on the TakeMeTour website are led by local experts. Aaron, who also goes by Non, an English speaking, Bangkok native, was our tour guide for the day.
The tour began with a 7:00 am pick up at our hotel, At Residence Suvarnabhumi. Over an 8-hour period, we visited four temples in the historic city of Ayutthaya.
We also stopped at an old Thai-Chinese local market and ended the day eating the famous local giant grilled shrimp.
All in all, we passed through three of the 77 provinces of Thailand, learning about the local history and culture at each stop.
TakeMeTour offers a wide variety of authentic and local experiences throughout Thailand. Click to see more about the Ayutthaya: The Biggest Buddha, Giant Grilled Shrimp and Thai-Chinese Town tour
Why Visit Ayutthaya – The Ancient Capital of Thailand
Ayutthaya was once the biggest city in the world. Founded around 1350 by King Ramathibodi, Ayutthaya became the second capital of Siam (Thailand’s former name) after Sukhothai.
Ayutthaya came to prominence after the fall of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, taking its place as Southeast Asia’s hub of global diplomacy and commerce. The royal court at Ayutthaya regularly welcomed merchants and traders from the world over, including China, Japan, India, Portugal, France, and the Netherlands.
Upon seeing the golden temples and stone statues within the Royal Palace, many merchants from the west proclaimed Ayutthaya to be the most beautiful city in the world, even rivaling the great monuments and architecture of Rome and Venice.
A long war fought between the Kingdom of Ayutthaya and its main rival, the Kingdom of Burma eventually took a toll on the city. In 1767, the Burmese army invaded Ayutthaya, stripped it of its gold and burned the temples to the ground. What remains now are magnificent ruins of former splendor.
The visit starts at the Ayutthaya Historical Park, a UNESCO world heritage site. The Ayutthaya temples are rich in history and the site is a beautiful place to explore.
Ayutthaya Temple Visits
There are many magnificent temples to visit in Ayutthaya. On our Ayutthaya day tour, we visited four main sites within the historical park.
Wat Chaiwatthanaram – Khmer Style Tower
Arriving early in the morning at our first royal temple, it was still relatively quiet. Located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, the site is filled with majestic structures. The beautiful prang, or Khmer-style tower, reveals a similar Cambodia Angkor Wat architectural design, which was en vogue at the time.
The temple was used for religious ceremonies by the royal family now buried on site. Beyond the ruins, the most striking part are the headless Buddha statue images surrounding the temple. Unfortunately, the Buddha images were all destroyed during the Burmese invasion.
Wat Chaiwatthanaram is one of the grandest and best known temples in the Ayutthaya Historical Park.
Wat Mahathat – The Giant Buddha Head in The Tree
This spectacular Wat or temple is located in the center of the city island and is part of the Ayutthaya Unesco World Heritage site. It is home to what is maybe the most photographed site in the park – the Giant Buddha head anchored amongst tree roots.
No one knows exactly how the head of the Buddha statue got there. One theory suggests that during the period of ruin, the tree just happened to grow around the head of the Buddha. Non, our guide shared another theory, which claims that a thief may have hidden the head of the Buddha in the tree, only to never return.
Due to its proximity to the Grand Palace, Wat Mahathat was one of the most important monasteries of the Ayutthaya kingdom. It is said to have housed the Buddha holy relics. The name, “Wat Mahathat” literally means “Monastery of the Great Relic.” Despite the destruction by the Burmese, you can still see many important monuments at this royal monastery.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet – The Former Royal Palace
Wat Phra Si Sanphet is within walking distance from Wat Mahathat. It was a temple used solely by the royal family for ceremonies and storing royal relics. One of the most impressive parts is three bell-shaped stupas lined up on the premises.
The stupas actually house ashes of the deceased members of the royal family. In the core of each stupa is a small chamber where the ashes of three Ayutthaya Kings are enshrined.
By contrast, next to the ruins is Wat Mongkhon Bophit, a modern temple. On this “active” temple compound, many people visit and worship the Buddha image. This modern temple is best known for its impressive bronze Buddha image, measuring close to 17 meters high (including the 4.5 meters base).
Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon – Draped Buddha Statues
Before leaving Ayutthaya, we stopped at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon located in the Southeastern part of the city. This temple is one of the most colorful of the ancient sites. Statues of Buddhas images encircle the temple draped in yellow robes. The robes, we learned from Non, are changed daily by devotees.
Also on the grounds, is one of the largest reclining Buddha images in Ayutthaya. Just like the other Buddha images, this one is draped in a giant yellow robe. While we were there, devotees were placing the robe on the Buddha image and walking around, showing their respects while praying and chanting.
Wat Muang In Ang Thong Province – The Largest Sitting Buddha in Thailand
To end the temple visits part of our Ayutthaya day tour, we drove to the nearby Ang Thong province. Also located in central Thailand, this small province houses the largest sitting Buddha image in Thailand and possibly in the world.
Wat Muang is a lively temple in contrast to the ancient ruins of Ayutthaya. Vendors, ATM machines and local advertising welcome you. On the temple grounds, you find life-size representations Indian epics, striking scenes of the Burmese invasion as well as religious imagery.
At the time of our visit, the largest sitting Buddha image was undergoing repairs. Despite the scaffolding all around, we could not help but be impressed its magnificent size and scale. Dominating at 84 meters tall, 92 meters including the pedestal, we were awestruck by the enormous statue.
San Chao Rong Thong Market – For Local and Unique Desserts
On the way to the restaurant for lunch, we stopped at San Chao Rong Thong Market. This market is located next to the Noi river in the Ang Thong province, 10 mins from Wat Muang.
This area is an old Thai-Chinese community, where Chinese immigrants in the 19th century established themselves along the Noi River.
The San Chao Rong Thong Market is an old market, more than 100 years old, and an important market for regional desserts.
Many of the desserts are unique to the Ayutthaya region and can only be found at this local market. As we made our way through the winding alleys in the market, Non guided us to a number of Thai-Chinese vendors, selling unique desserts.
If your travels take you to the San Chao Rong Thong Market, be sure to indulge in the flavors of these unique and unmissable treats.
Thai Grilled Coconut Pancake – Khanom Ba Bin
Our first stop was at a stall run by an older lady who is known for her coconut pancakes. She has been perfecting coconut pancakes for more than 50 years, and according to Non, she is one of the most popular vendors at the market.
Prepared with a mix of rice flour and shredded coconut, these small round flat cakes are lightly grilled on a hot griddle. According to Non, the coconut pancakes get their purple color, naturally, from a local flower.
At the first bite, the cakes were warm right off the griddle and tasted mildly sweet. The texture is lightly crunchy followed by a softer almost gooey mouth feel. So delectable, in just two bites, we finished the pancakes. We each plunged quickly back into the small plastic bag for more. This was our favorite of the four desserts we had.
Thai Coconut Candy Crepes – Kanom Gay Sorn Lum Jiak or Dok Lum-Jeak
This particular dessert is only found in the Ang Thong province. It is shredded coconut rolled in a very thin pancake made of rice flour. Made individually, they are sold by eight packs in small plastic containers.
This dessert is incredibly light and flavorful. The coconut crackles with each bite while the light delicate flavors of the crepe melts in the mouth. We recommend buying one pack per person, as they disappear quickly and easily. This Thai dessert was one of my favorites at the market.
Thai Peanut Cake – Kanom Luk Tao
This impressive stall is run by a family that is continuing their grandmother legacy of making these traditional Thai peanut cakes. While at the stall, several regulars stopped by to pick up their treats, reinforcing the popularity of the place.
The desserts are cooked on a hot griddle and then turned over to cool down until ready. You can watch the cooling down process at the front of the stall. The small peanut cakes are cut into small cubes, similar to the shape of dice. The dough is made of peanuts, coconut, flour, butter, and eggs.
These edible dice are soft with a light peanut flavor. They are not too sweet and a perfect treat for peanut lovers.
Thai “Fish Egg” Dessert – Kanom Khai Pla
Further inside one of the alleys, we stumbled onto a beautifully presented stall with a variety of Thai desserts. The smiling vendor, noticing our bags of several Thai treats, invited us to taste her homemade desserts.
One of her specialties is the Thai “Fish Egg” dessert. These funny looking desserts are called Thai fish eggs due to their shape and color. This local dessert is made from palm sugar and doesn’t taste at all like fish eggs.
To eat this dessert, you dip one “fish egg” into a small container filled with shredded coconut. This dessert has a gooey texture and a light coconut taste. I was not a fan of the texture and Claire liked this dessert more than I did.
Although we could have continued eating more desserts, we had to stop so that we could save our appetite for our local lunch. Nevertheless, we carefully packed our remaining treats to have after lunch and on the way back to Bangkok.
Kung Phao Mae Thong Chup – Giant Shrimp Restaurant By Chao Phraya River
Eager for lunch and the giant shrimp, we jumped into the car for our last stop on our Ayutthaya day tour. We made our way to Kung Phao Mae Thong Chup restaurant, in Sing Buri Province, our third province for the day.
The restaurant was not easy to find. Located at the back of a market, where you have to take steps down to what looks like someone’s personal home, we were thankful to have a guide with us.
This local eatery is open and airy with large Thai style windows with no glass. We took our seats overlooking the Chao Phraya River while enjoying the tranquility of the water.
The Chao Phraya River is an important waterway for the people of Central Thailand, and for many, their main source of income.
Opened for more than 40 years, this local restaurant is famous for serving traditional Ayutthaya recipes. The main specialty is the melt-in-your-mouth grilled shrimp and accompanying addictive zesty sauce.
The name of the restaurant in Thai translates roughly to “Mother Thong Chup’s Grilled Shrimp.” Even though Grandma Thong Chup doesn’t cook anymore, the family-owned restaurant continues her legacy of serving the best-grilled shrimp in the region.
With Non’s guidance, we ordered a variety of local specialties. In addition to the giant grilled shrimp, we had Tom Yum soup, fish cakes and a young coconut salad with shrimp.
Tom Yum Soup with Fish
Tom Yum soup is one of Thailand’s most popular dishes. It is a type of hot and sour soup packed with herbs, spices, vegetables, and seafood. Many say the soup is from Central Thailand where it developed due to an abundance of fresh fish and seafood.
The tom yum soup we had included local fish from the Chao Phraya River. The soup was a clear broth with the aromatic flavors of kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, and galangal, boiled in water with fish, Thai chiles, and lime juice. The full name for this soup is tom yum goong.
We really enjoyed the full-flavored broth. The combination of the clear soup and the fleshy fish was the perfect start to a delicious local experience.
Young Coconut Salad with Shrimp
This was our first time having a young coconut salad and we were both blown away by the flavors and textures. On a plate were thin slices of the edible flesh from young coconuts. These are the same green coconuts used to make coconut water.
The coconut flesh was mixed with cucumbers, herbs and Thai chiles in a savory sauce. Together with the fresh shrimp, the flavors were exquisite and surprisingly mild. This salad was very refreshing and one of our favorite dishes of the day.
Thai Fish Cakes
Known locally as Tod Mun Pla, Thai fish cakes can be found throughout the country. They are a popular snack and also eaten as street food.
At Kung Phao Mae Thong Chup restaurant, the fish cakes are made using a local fish from the Chao Phraya River. Unlike Western fish cakes, Thai fish cakes are not battered, allowing more of the fresh taste of the fish, spices, and herbs to come through.
The fish cakes were soft, slightly spongy and light in texture. The taste was not fishy and when combined with the accompanying Thai sweet chili sauce, the experience was delightful.
Grilled Giant Freshwater Shrimp
The giant shrimp were the last items to come to the table and we could not believe their size when we first saw them.
On a plate were two of the biggest shrimp we’ve ever seen. Each giant shrimp was cut in half, imagine each half the size of your palm.
The giant shrimp were perfectly grilled and cut open in a butterfly style to reveal an opaque white interior and orange colored head oil, melting like butter.
Freshwater prawns and shrimp are a local delicacy in Ayutthaya. As our guide Non told, us “on the weekends, the restaurant is full with many Thais from Bangkok who drive up just to get their fix on the incredible shrimp and freshwater prawns.”
The giant shrimp were incredibly luscious and sweet. The meat was firm and fleshy and full of flavor. The accompanying dipping sauce made with Thai chiles and fish sauce enhances the savory flavors even more.
We were quite amazed by the incredible flavors. The giant shrimp exceeded our expectations.
After a full day in Ayutthaya, getting immersed in the history and local food culture, we got back to Bangkok at about 5:00 pm.
We enjoyed our Ayutthaya day trip and highly recommend the experience.
If you are looking to see a different side of Thailand, a day trip from Bangkok to this UNESCO World Heritage Site will enrich your travel experience.
To guide you through Ayutthaya, book a tour on the TakeMeTour website. You can count on a fun experience with a local guide who will not only share cultural and historical facts but also introduce you to local Ayutthaya food specialties.
Where to Stay in Bangkok
On this particular trip to Bangkok, we stayed At Residence Suvarnabhumi, only about 10 minutes away from Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK).
If you are arriving or leaving from Bangkok at the early hours of the morning, you can’t beat the proximity to the airport. At Residence Suvarnabhumi offers an airport shuttle service which is quite convenient after long haul flights.
The Residence has comfortable rooms, free Wi-Fi, an on-site gym and laundry services. We took advantage of the breakfast offered, which was perfect for our jet-lagged mornings. Right around the corner from the residence is a Thai local market and The Paseo Mall.
If you would like to search for more hotel options in Bangkok, click here to get started.
Once you arrive in Bangkok, getting online and having access to Wi-Fi will make your life easier. This will be especially helpful when coordinating your pick up with At Residence Suvarnabhumi, using Google Maps to get around or to simply connect online.
We got Thailand’s popular dtac SIM card for travelers. We got started with the 8-day unlimited internet dtac SIM card, though you’ll also find options for 1-day, all the way to 15 -days. Click here to order your dtac SIM Card and pick it up at any dtac booth at the airport.
Rosemary is a writer, culinary explorer, and digital nomad. Together with her partner, Claire, they created Authentic Food Quest to help people find the best local food on their travels. For over 5 years they have eaten their way through South America, Southeast Asia, Europe, and North America while sharing the best local food experiences on their website. Authentic Food Quest has been featured on top publications such as Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Honest Cooking. Rosemary and Claire are also authors of Authentic Food Quest Argentina and Authentic Food Quest Peru, available on Amazon. Prior to creating Authentic Food Quest, Rosemary worked as a strategy director in advertising for over 15 years.