The old part of Ayutthaya is a fascinating, historically significant place with some beautiful ruins. And since it's just a couple of hours from Bangkok, it's a very popular day trip for tourists. But, despite the fact that thousands and thousands of people from all over the world visit every year, it's just not a very tourist friendly place. The small museum in the Ayutthaya Historic Park in the central part of the old city isn't all that informative (visit anyway, you will get something out of it) and there's no audio tour available, or even a comprehensive walking map with information about all the ruins and other points of interests. Many visitors end up leaving feeling a little confused, wondering if they missed any of the significant sights and whether they've learned as much about the old city as they could have. Considering that this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it's really a shame there isn't a better way to visit. Your best options for touring Ayutthaya are below.
Ayutthaya Historic Research self-guided walking tour:
This 13 page document and accompanying Google map are the best option you have for a self tour of Ayutthaya. The four mile walking tour starts and ends the city's main tourist drag and hits all of Ayutthaya's most significant temple ruins and other historical sights. The downloadable pdf helps put the sights into historical context and also has clear walking instructions. Expect to spend about half a day doing this walk. If you're just coming for the day and arrive at the Ayutthaya train station, take a taxi across the river to Naresuan Road and begin the tour from there.
Finding a guide when you hit the ground:
You can easily find a tour guide at the train station and the main tourist street inside the city, referred to as "Backpacker Street." Usually, guides will approach you and are quick to let you know that they are licensed by the country’s tourism authority. That doesn’t guarantee that they’ll be great guides. It’s pretty hit or miss -- if you're looking for a very in-depth, historically accurate guide you may do better elsewhere. If you're just looking for someone to show you around and make sure you see the big stuff, these guides should be fine. You can also hire a tuk tuk or taxi driver just to drive you around if you want to make sure you find all the big sights but don’t need any explanation or narrative. Most of the drivers in Ayutthaya know the sights very well but the historical accuracy of the information they give you is sometimes questionable.
Booking a guide ahead of time:
Viator, Tripadvisor and other websites allow you to research guides and book them ahead of time. If you are in Bangkok, you can also arrange a tour guide for Ayutthaya from the capital (these tours often include transport from Bangkok to Ayutthaya and back). If you’re really interested in learning about Ayutthaya, this is your best but, but you’ll pay more for a professional guide and, given that the trip is easy and fun, the transport from Bangkok isn’t necessary. If you have a particular interest, such as architecture, talk to your guide ahead of time and make sure he or she is the right one for you.
Exploring without a guide:
Many visitors to Ayutthaya don’t bother to hire a guide or follow any specific itinerary. If you just want to wander around the ruins and have a nice few hours, pick up a map at the Ayutthaya Tourism Information Center in the center of the old city on Prasasanpet Rd. and set out on your own.