76km (47 miles) N of Bangkok

Ayutthaya is one of Thailand's travel highlights. Many travelers take the day tour from Bangkok, which allows about 3 hours at the sites (the majority of these lie inside the Historical Park), but for folks with a strong interest in archaeological ruins, Ayutthaya justifies an overnight or more.

From its establishment in 1350 by King U Thong (Ramathibodi I) until its fall to the Burmese in 1767, Ayutthaya was the capital of Siam, home to 33 kings and numerous dynasties. At its zenith and until the mid-18th century, Ayutthaya was a majestic city with three palaces and 400 temples on an island threaded by canals. The former capital rivaled European cities in splendor and was a source of marvel for foreigners.

Then, in 1767, after a 15-month siege, the town was destroyed by the Burmese. Today there is little left but ruins and rows of headless Buddhas where once an empire thrived. The temple compounds are still awe-inspiring even in disrepair, and a visit here is memorable and a good starting point for those drawn to the relics of history.

The architecture of Ayutthaya is a fascinating mix of styles. Tall, ornate spires, called prangs, point to ancient Khmer (Cambodian) influence (best seen in Bangkok at Wat Arun). These bear a resemblance to the architecture of Angkor Wat, in Cambodia. The pointed stupas are ascribed to the Sukhothai style.