On postcards, guidebooks and decorating walls of Thai airports is the image of the Buddha head in tree roots. Countless times, even before we departed for Thailand, the fascinating image of the Buddha head embedded in a banyan tree would flash on my computer screen as I researched all things Thai.

I could never decide if the Thailand Buddha head looked as though it was about to be devoured in sacrifice or if the Banyan tree Buddha felt wrapped safely and securely. 

Buddha head in tree

So how exactly did the Buddha head become entangled in the tree roots? Perhaps the mystery and speculation is part of the fascination that draws thousands of tourists to the temple of Wat Mahathat in Ayutthaya each year. 

Some believe the Thai Buddha is simply a forgotten item. The tree roots swallowing and transforming it from a Buddha head to a Buddha tree during a time when the temple lay empty and abandoned.

Other theories are more sinister, suggesting the Buddha face being stolen from the main area of Wat Mahathat and left on the edge of the temple area to be reclaimed at a later date. One could guess the Buddha head statue proved too heavy to move farther or that the thief never returned.

Or perhaps the roots swallowed the thief as well! Now that’s how rumors get started. There is no evidence of that whatsoever, no matter how riveting a story it would make.

Buddha head embedded in banyan tree

Buddha head embedded in banyan tree

Ayutthaya through the ages

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991, Ayutthaya is a riverside city founded in 1350. Destroyed in the 18th century by the Burmese, it was once one of the world’s giant urban and cosmopolitan centers.

After the capital was burned to the ground in 1767, all inhabitants of Ayutthaya abandoned the city. Although never rebuilt in the same location, it remains as an extensive archaeological site of multiple Ayutthaya temples. Arguably it is Thailand’s equivalent to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat.

headless buddhas Ayutthaya

Headless Buddhas in Ayutthaya – Perhaps the original placement of the tree head Buddha before it was lopped off its body?

What to know about visiting Wat Mahathat 

As tourism surges worldwide, one of the common complaints of locals, is the disrespect for culture and religion. These Thailand temples and ruins are sacred places and rules are in place for visitors to follow.

Near the entwined Buddha head, visitors are asked to leave a respectable distance between themselves and the tree home of the Buddha. Photos are permitted. However to demonstrate courtesy, pictures should be taken from a kneeling or crouching position. Men are encouraged to wear long pants and women to cover knees and shoulders.

Monk at Ayutthaya

Monk at Ayutthaya – a reminder is a sacred place

Although we did not witness it, a security guard is near the famous Buddha face. Should onlookers get too close to the mysterious tree entwined head, the guard reportedly blows his whistle. Always a travel tip we suggest is to never irritate a guard.

Where is the Buddha Head in Tree Roots?

The ancient capital of Siam, Ayutthaya (in full Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya) and just to confuse things also spelled Ayudhya, Ayuthia or Aythaya, is 80 km (about 50 miles) north of Bangkok.

Located on an island, the city was founded at the confluence of the Chao Phraya, Lop Buri and Pa Sak rivers. Visiting can be done as a day trip from the Thailand capital or as a stopover while heading farther north to destinations such as Chang Mai.

Our stop was part of a cycling tour. Bicycles are an easy way to explore the sites both in and around Ayutthaya Historical Park but keep in mind the high temperatures and humidity before setting out on a bike. Tuk-tuks can also be hired. One of the most common ways for tourists to explore the temples is through an organized tour.

Buddha face in tree roots Thailand

It seems we will never know the how the face came to rest in Ayutthaya. Have you heard of the Buddha face in the tree roots?