Ayutthaya is the former capital of Thailand, UNESCO world heritage site and also a place, where you can spend quite a few productive days with your camera and tripod. Plus, you can reach it for a few bucks from Bangkok. This short guide puts together the stuff i learned and shots i took during my four days stay in January 2016.
It is here you’ll find the most photographed object in town – the Buddha head grown into the banyan tree. It’s best photographed during morning hours, when the sun is behind and the head is in the shadow. Anything before noon is fine so you don’t have to wake up too early for this. However, later in the afternoon there might be a problem with the sun shining unevenly through the trees (although this can create interesting effects if you’re lucky or wait long enough for the right position). The temple itself also offers some nice possibilities, both inside and outside the monument.
Wat Phra Ram
My personal favourite, this ruined monastery is partially surrounded by water, which gives you a great opportunity for all sorts of reflection shots. I’d recommend coming here at least once for the sunrise because:
- The sun rises in a convenient direction and the central tower is being illuminated nicely from the side (plus you use the full potential of a polarizing filter on the sky this way).
- You don’t have to enter the monument to get interesting shots, so no need to wait for the gate to open (which is well after the best light is gone).
- Wat Mongkhon Bophit, which is nearly impossible to capture later in the day is within walking distance, so you can easily bag two locations at once here.
Wat Phra Sri Sanphet
These are the three pagodas you’ll see from far away. There are good possibilities here during both the sunrise and sunset. Sunrise is quiet, with less people ruining your panoramas, but you won’t get inside early enough for the best light. Sunset is busier, but you’ll get a bit better light as the site closes at 18:30, after the sun is gone.
I hate organized tours, but this one actually makes sense for photography, too. Whtat’s it about? You board a small boat and ride around the whole island while stopping at three interesting temples along the way, where you’ll have 20 minutes to explore. More importantly, it’s a sunset tour, meaning you’ll get a decent light for most of the time. The temples are usually these three:
- Wat Phanan Choeng with the giant sitting Buddha inside. It gets very crowded in the doorway, so be prepared to wait some time for the head-on shot. Or walk around to get different perspectives.
- Wat Phutthaisawan is quite large. It has a nice courtyard and a big reclining Buddha, which i didn’t find
- Wat Chaiwatthanaram. This is where you catch the sunset. Arguably the most photogenic ruin in Ayutthaya. It’s well preserved, symmetrical and completely without trees. The 20 minutes you get off the boat is clearly not enough here when the sunset’s right, so do what you can, or come back tomorrow for the sunrise as well.
Most of the monuments are illuminated at night, so you can grab your tripod and continue after the sunset as well. They usually switch the lights on a bit too late for that perfect blue hour shot (in january at least), but you can still get a few decent results. The only problem would be that the sites close before sunset, so you’ll have to find a good view from outside of the walls. Here again my favorite place is Wat Phra Ram with the surrounding lagoon. Wat Chaiwatthanaram offers a similar (and better) shot with the reflection, but i haven’t found out how to get down to the river on the opposite bank. Also the pagodas of Wat Phra Sri Sanphet seems to have a good layout for night shoot, although i haven’t tried it myself.
Ruins and temples are everywhere in Ayutthaya, so the previous list is by no means complete. There’s for example Wat Ratchaburana in the center with promising possibilities (unfortunately had a scaffolding around the main tower during my visit). There’s also the giant reclining Buddha at Wat Lokayasutharam (faces west, so come late in the afternoon), or countless pagodas and temples in the parks. Or, if temples are not your thing, try spending a morning at the fish market or wait for the elephants walking the Naresuan road to do something interesting…