Do you and your kids love exploring old cities that have evocative reminders from times gone by? Do your kids love to use their imagination when seeing ancient ruins and the remains of previous grand and mighty settlements? If so, Thailand has plenty of old cities from the days of the former powerful Siamese Kingdoms that you are all sure to love. Spread across the country, some of the finest ancient cities in Thailand include:
A major reason to visit Ayutthaya is its close proximity to Bangkok and the different ways of easily getting there; you can reach Ayutthaya from Bangkok by bus, mini-van, and train, and private taxis are pretty affordable too. Once in Ayutthaya it is also to get around and see all off the major sights with ease. There are plenty of tuk tuks, which are often a novelty in themselves for kids, and you could also hire a bicycle to get around the ancient sites. Many off the key ruins are within close proximity of each other, within the UNESCO World Heritage Site at the core of the city. There are some beautiful runs, however, a little way out of the centre that will require some form of transportation to reach.
At Wat Mahatat you can all marvel at the stone Buddha’s head that has become encased in a tree – one of the city’s most photographed sites. The neighbouring Wat Ratchaburana has a towering chedi that can be climbed for good views over the two sites. Wat Si Samphet has four glorious chedis side by side. One of the most colourful temples is Wat Yai Chai Mongkorn. You can see numerous saffron-clad Buddha images all around the complex. There is also a long lying down Buddha and a tall pagoda that you can climb to see the small inner shrine. If you look up you will probably also spot some sleeping bats just hanging around until dusk!
Ayutthaya also has an elephant centre and a floating market.
There are numerous remains from the once-powerful Kingdom of Sukhothai, and many can be found very close to one another. Tuk tuks and bicycles are a great way for families to explore the different sites. Spread over a couple of different zones, it is completely possible, indeed, it is very likely, that you will find that you are the only visitors at some of the smaller ruins. The quiet and peaceful nature really lets you take your time exploring and imagining how grand the sites must have been back in their heyday.
There are several sites that still feature original designs and details, such as carved elephants and striking Buddha statues.
Some of the main temples to see in Sukhothai include the historic city’s biggest historical site, Wat Mahatat, Wat Sa Si that is surrounded by water, Wat Si Chum, with its enormous standing Buddha, and Wat Saphan Hin, from where you can enjoy great views out over the area.
The rural surroundings are great for seeing Thai life outside of the big cities – meet farmers working in the fields, see lush green rice paddies, spot buffaloes grazing, and feel the slow way of life.
Lopburi is in central Thailand and is connected to Bangkok by road and rail. A journey between the two places should take just a couple of hours. Lopburi was a former capital city of Thailand for a brief period. Several interesting ruins can be found from this time, most within a short walking distance from each other as well as the train station.
Whilst the ruins are interesting, Lopburi is most famous for its hordes of mischievous macaques that live in the old town, specifically close to one of the ancient temples – Wat Phra Prang Sam Yod. It is possible to buy food for the monkeys, but be aware that they are certainly not gentle when they see a person with food or drink!
Close to the Cambodian border in Buriram province, Phanom Rung is often compared to its famous Cambodian cousin of Angkor Wat. They are very similar in design and equally as impressive. Perhaps the biggest difference though is that Phanom Rung does not have the same crowds that the Temples of Angkor do!
Somewhat of the beaten track, this is a terrific place for adventurous families.
There are intricate stone carvings to admire as well as lot of nooks and crannies to explore.
The views out from the hill-top location are also amazing – you can see across the Dongrek Mountains into Cambodia.
Another fairly off the beaten path ancient city, Phimai is fairly small, making it easy to wander around and enjoy without the kids getting too bored. Built in the Khmer style, it is more like ancient sites that you would expect to find in Cambodia rather than Thailand. This makes it special in that it is unlike many of the other sites that you may have visited.
A drawback of visiting Phimai is that although the town is very pleasant, there really isn’t all that much else to do within easy reach of the ruins. You could visit the country’s biggest banyan tree … a large forest-like system made up of just the one tree, it is quite unusual to wander through it, take a rest at one off the tables, and see the small shrines, whilst remembering that it is all, in fact, just one tree!
Phimai is in Nakhon Ratchasima province, so if you are travelling around you will certainly find plenty of things to do in the wider area. The province is home to one of Thailand’s most famous national parks – the beautiful Khao Yai National Park, as well as a plethora of other attractions.
Bonus: Mueang Boran
Although technically not an ancient city, a trip around Samut Prakan’s Mueang Boran certainly feels like you have travelled back in time. It is a beautiful park that is filled with replicas of all of Thailand’s major ancient sites. It is also shaped and set out like the country! Sightseeing buses run around the park – it is far too big for you to want to try and explore by foot in the heat of the day – and there are delightful replicas of old villages, floating markets, and traditional shops. It is within easy reach of Bangkok.