The most striking of all of the temples in Ayutthaya, Wat Phra Mahathat was built in the heart of the city in 1384 during the reign of King Rachatirat. It is typical of Ayutthaya ruins, with large crumbling stupas surrounded by low laterite walls and rows of headless Buddhas. One Buddha head remains a draw for merit-makers and photographers, however -- it's embedded in the gnarled trunk of the old tree that has grown to surround it.

Opposite Wat Phra Mahathat stands Wat Ratburana, built in 1424 and splendidly restored -- the towering monuments (both rounded Khmer-style prangs and Sukhothai-style pointed chedis) have even retained some of their original stucco. In the two crypts, excavators found bronze Buddha images and votive tablets, as well as golden objects and jewelry, many of which are displayed in the Chao Sam Phraya Museum. There are also murals, as well as a frieze of heavenly beings and some Chinese scenes. Both wats remain damaged despite restoration.