If you’re one of the slow travel enthusiasts who’d enjoy strolling around Wat Phra Kaew and learning about its history, I bet you’d love Wat Phra Si Sanphet as well. Once the royal temple of Ayutthaya and now a UNESCO World Heritage, Wat Phra Si Sanphet served as the main inspiration for Wat Phra Kaew. In this post, I will be talking extensively about this gem of the Ayutthaya Kingdom. The information here will serve your trip-planning well in conjunction with my Ayutthaya Temples Tour blog post.
Before you proceed, check out these useful phrases that might come in handy if you get nervous not knowing the destination language (like me).
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How to get there from Bangkok
The best way to get from Bangkok to Ayutthaya is by air-conditioned minivan. The trip takes a little over an hour, assuming traffic isn’t bad. But it should rarely ever take more than an hour and 40 minutes at the worst. You can find and book tickets in advance below.
The van dropoff is on Naresuan Street, about a 30-minute walk from Wat Phra Si Sanphet. Check out the map below for walking directions if you’re up for some exercise. But if not, there should be the local frog-headed tuk-tuks waiting to take passengers right around the van stop. They usually charge by the hour (250 baht or around 6.5 USD).
Walking Directions from Van Dropoff to the Temple
- From Ayutthaya Win van dropoff, head west (left) along Naresuan road for about a mile.
- The street will go into a left curve, with a smaller alley heading straight. Follow the main street along the curve for another minute or so.
- Again, as the main street turns right with a smaller alley in front that leads into a park, turn right along the main street. Walk for another minute or so.
- When you reach a T-intersection, take a right and keep straight until you reach a courtyard.
- Turn left in that courtyard and you will see Wat Phra Si Sanphet.
As I’ve mentioned before in my previous blog post about Wat Phra Kaew and in my FREE E-Book, dressing for a temple is similar to dressing up for church. But from what I’ve noticed, the abandoned temples are a lot more relaxed about this than working temples. Most people can get away with wearing shorts here.
Regardless of what I’ve seen, I’d still recommend you go the safest possible route and dress appropriately. Light-textured, loose-fitted pants will help sustain you in the Ayutthayan heat.
Known as the biggest and holiest temple of Ayutthaya, it’s ironic that it wasn’t supposed to be a temple when it was built.
In 1350, one year before the Ayutthaya Kingdom, King Ramathibodi I (then known as U-Thong) ordered the construction of his new residence where the temple stands today. The palace was completed a year later in 1351, and U-Thong declared Ayutthaya the new capital city of Thailand.
Ninety-seven years later in 1448, King Ramathibodi’s great-great-nephew, King Borommatrailokkanat, built a new royal residence directly north of the old one. So, the old palace grounds became a holy site.
The 3 Signature Stupas
In 1492, King Borommatrailokkanat’s son, King Ramathibodi II, ordered the construction of 2 bell-shaped stupas to store the ashes of his father and brother. These are the middle stupa, and the one on the right.
The last stupa to the left was built in 1529 by the son of King Ramathibodi II, to store the ashes of his father next to those of his grandfather and uncle.
After the last stupa was completed, traditional cloisters (Phra Rabiang) were constructed around each stupa’s terrace. It held many Buddha statues in its days of glory.
Becoming the Royal Temple of Ayutthaya
The holy site officially became the royal chapel in 1499, when King Ramathibodi II ordered the construction of a sanctuary (Viharn) next to the eastern stupa. Inside, he put a gigantic Buddha image called Phra Si Sanphet Dayan. The image is 16 meters tall and covered in roughly 171 kg of pure gold.
Just like Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, no monks lived inside Wat Phra Si Sanphet. They would be invited in only to hold religious ceremonies for the royal family.
In 1630, another important building joined the temple to the west of the main stupas. King Narai added a cross-shaped sanctuary for his own use, which was later called “Prasat Phra Narai” (Phra Narai’s castle).
Just like most other buildings on the grounds, only the base and some parts of the walls remain. This part of the temple is also rich with fully-grown trees, so you can take a relaxed stroll around for a while if you’d like.
Phra Si Sanphet Dayan: The Namesake
Without a doubt, Phra Si Sanphet Dayan was the most revered Buddha image in the Ayutthaya Kingdom, equal to the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok today. The image also gave the temple its official name.
Unfortunately, it got heavily damaged in the Burmese sack of Ayutthaya in 1767. Only the copper core of the statue remained.
After Bangkok became the capital city in 1782, King Rama I of the Chakri dynasty brought the Buddha core to Bangkok. He stored it inside Wat Pho and built a massive stupa to cover it. Over time, the Wat Pho stupa became a representation and memorial of his own reign.
The Fall of Ayutthaya and its Royal Temple
After prospering for 416 years, the Ayutthaya Kingdom finally fell in 1767. The Burmese army razed the city to the ground, burning buildings and melting all the gold. Wat Phra Si Sanphet, the royal temple, was not an exception. In the end, only the eastern stupa remained standing. Though the other 2 were restored by the Fine Arts Department in 1956.
Getting back to Bangkok
To get back to Bangkok, I still recommend air-conditioned minivans. You can catch a tuk-tuk or motorcycle taxi back to the same van stop.
Van Stop Address: Ayutthaya Win, Hua Ro, Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya District, Ayutthaya 13000
I hope this post gave you as much joy as it did me when writing. If you’d like to see Wat Phra Si Sanphet in person, feel free to plan a trip yourself using my guide or choose one of the options available below.
Happy History, friend!
A fan of ancient palaces? Check out another post I wrote on the Korean Palace Gyeongbokgung!
Conclusion & Recommendations
If you’re a fan of history and ancient palaces, I highly recommend you also visit Sukhothai Historical Park on your visit to Thailand. It was the first independent capital of Thailand and preceded Ayutthaya on our historical timeline.
Or if South Korea is on your plans as well, I highly recommend visiting Gyeongbokgung and the Samcheong-dong area surrounding it!