A major tourist destination in the Lower North, Phitsanulok is situated on the banks of the Nan River some 377 kilometres from Bangkok. Most of the terrain is flatland, with mountain ranges running to the east, where waterfalls and national parks offer opportunities for nature treks.
Historically, Phitsanulok has been a major community since the time of the Khmers, and enjoyed great prosperity during the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya periods. During 1463-1487 it was practically another royal capital, as King Borom Trailokanat of Ayutthaya resided permanently in the province.
Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat , the province's most important temple, was built on the banks of the Nan River in the mid-14th century. Also called Wat Yai, the temple complex originally housed a Sukhothai lotus bud chedi that was later replaced by the tall Ayutthayan prang that is seen today. The wiharn houses the famous Phra Buddha Chinnarat , one of the most highly revered Buddha images in all of Thailand, second only to the Emerald Buddha. Made of gilded bronze and dating back from the 14th century, the serene figure is a supreme example of late Sukhothai art, regarded as the Kingdom's most beautiful Buddha image that has served as the model for many other Buddha images. It was cast in the attitude of subduing evil.
Across the road, a linking compound connects Wat Ratchaburana and Wat Nang Phaya , both believed to date back to the city's founding days. While Wat Ratchaburana features faded, 19th century murals depicting scenes form the Thai Ramakien folklore inside its bot (prayer hall). Wat Nang Phaya is known for the special "Phra Nang Phaya" votive tablets with the form of a 3-headed nagas decorated on their eaves.
Sergeant Major Thawee's Folk Museum is well known for its collection of rural folk arts and crafts, including wooden and bamboo animal traps, farming tools, and basketry. Across the street is the Buddha Foundry where daily demonstrations of bronze Buddha images forging can be seen.
A common sight associated with Phitsanulok is the long stretch of river rafts lining both banks of the Nan River in the municipality area. Though some of the rafts have been converted into restaurants and pubs, many are still inhabited by local residents.
Slightly outside of town is the Khmer-style Wat Chulamani , built in 1464 by King Borommatrailokanat on the site of the original town. In 1465, the king, along with 2,348 followers, was ordained as a monk here. As the province's oldest historical site, the corncob-shaped prang (tower) is well known and studied by students of archaeology and history. Of a highly individual style and pattern, it boasts extremely ornate and elaborate plaster design of immense interest and value found nowhere else in the Kingdom.
The expanse of open meadows ('thung') interspersed with forest in Thung Salaeng Luang National Park, offers great hiking and bird watching. Highlights include the beautiful Kaeng Sopha Falls, the Poi Falls, and the smaller Kaeng Song rapids.
The Chat Trakan National Park features a picturesque seven-tiered waterfall, the source of the Kwae Noi River, which unites with the Nan River in the provincial capital.
Spreading across parts of Phitsanulok, Phetchabun and Loei provinces, the terrain of scenically beautiful Phu Hin Rongkla National Park consists largely of large areas of rocky plateaus in various forms, such as bumpy plateaus to plateaus crisscrossed with deep crevices and cracks. Highlights include an unusual open-air museum with exhibits of the Communist camp based here in the 1960s and 70s. After many years of bombing and raids, the communist stronghold fell to the Thai government in 1982 and was opened as a national park 2 years later. The highest peak, Phu Man Khao, rises to a height of 1,620 m.
Planted in Wat Klang since the founding days of Nakhon Thai District over 700 years ago, the gigantic, mature Chumpa Kao Nakhon Thai tree has a girth of 3 m and is 9-10 m tall.
A year-round blanket of mist covers the highly elevated Phu Soi Dao National Park , whose main attractions includes spectacular waterfalls and fields of colorful wildflowers.
The King Naresuan the Great Shrine is located at the site which was once the Chan Palace , the birthplace and residence of Naresuan the Great. Within the shrine is a statue of the king in the posture of declaring independence from Burma. The entire site of the palace has been restored and renovated as a major historical area. The 700-year-old Giant Tamarind Tree is located at Tambon Ban Kok outside of town. To reach it, take the road to Nakhon Sawan and turn left at the foot of the bridge across the Nan River proceeding for a further 700 meters.
Wat Phra Si Mahathat , commonly called Wat Yai by the people, is on the east bank of the Nan River inside the town limit. The V ihan of the temple houses what is regarded as the most beautiful and graceful Buddha statue in Thailand, the large bronze sitting statue of Phra Phutth a c hinarat in the Sukhothai style. The statue attracts hundreds of foreign and Thai visitors daily, who come to admire and pay their respects. An annual celebration in honor of Phra Phutthac hinarat is held in late January.
Other prominent features of the temple include the large pearl-inlaid doors of the V ihan made circa 1756 by royal craftsmen of the late Ayutthaya Period. Another is Phra Attharot , an 8-met re -tall, standing statue cast in the same period a n d another of Phra Phutthac hinarat (circa 1257). Originally housed in a large V ihan, today it stands in the open air as the covering building has all but crumbled away, with only a few large columns still standing.
In addition, there is the principal Phra Prang of the early Ayutthaya style. It is believed that the structure was originally a lotus bud-shape C hedi, a style call ed Phum Khao Bin regarded as genuine Sukhothai. It was later altered into a P rang (pagoda) during the Ayutthaya period.
On the east bank on the Nan River and south of Wat Phra Si Mahathat is Wat Ratburana. The Ubosot features a graceful three-headed Naga (mythical serpent) over its eaves. It was built by King B o rom Trailokanat who resided for twenty five years in Phitsanulok, and played a major role in fostering Buddhism in the province.
Another interesting temple is Wat Nang Ph a ya, with its extensive collection of highly coveted Nang Ph a ya votive tablets. Then there is Wat Aranyik , a Sukhothai-era temple, surrounded by moats. Wat Chedi Yod Thong on P h a ya Sua Road is another interesting site, which has a lotus bud-shape C hedi of typical Sukhothai style, the only such structure left in the province.
Wat Chula Mani , on the east bank of the Nan, is about 5 kilometres from town on the B o rom Trailokanat Road. The oldest temple in town, it was once the site of the original town. King B o rom Trailokanat, accompanied by more than 2,000 followers, was ordained a monk here in 1416.
An important ancient structure in the temple is the Mondop containing a Holy Footprint, and an inscription stone built by King Narai the Great of Ayutthaya. There is also a Khmer-style P rang (pagoda), built with laterite adorned with intricate designs of swans.
The Folklore Museum , on W isutkrasat Road in town has some of the largest collections of indigenous arts and household utensils. These include pottery, ancient kitchenware and agricultural tools and other native products, all reflecting the lifestyle and creativity of the community. The founder of the museum, S. Maj. Thawi Buranakhate has been designated a leader in the area of sculpture, and indigenous art preservation. He also operates a foundry speciali s ing in casting Buddha images and statues, which is situated opposite the museum and attracts many visitors.
The City Walls of Phitsanulok were originally made of clay similar to those of Sukhothai, and built during the Ayutthaya period to deter raids from Lanna and Burma. Today, its remnants can be seen to the north and east of town. The original City Moats measuring 12 meters wide are still in existence to the west of town, parallel to Phra Ruang Road.
House-boats on the Nan River are a landmark of the province. On both banks of the river, which runs from north to south past the town, are lined hundreds of floating rafts, a scene representing the serene ambience of the community.
The Thung Salaeng Luang National Park, is a huge area blessed with beautiful pineries and fields bright with colo u rful flowers and blooms in different seasons, particularly during late rainy season (October). The park headquarters, where information may be obtained and accommodation booked, are located at Km. 80 of Highway No. 12. Towering mountain ranges are watersheds feeding several streams flowing into the Nan River.
Most of the park's attractions are suitable for nature treks. Starting from the sub-office at Ban Nong Mae Na (off Highway No. 1 2 at Km. 100) and the route leading up to Khao Kho some 40 k ilometres further on, the following spots may be visited:
- Thung Salaeng Luang a savanna - type grassland, covering an area of 16 sq uare kilometres with high mountain ranges as backdrop.
- Thung Phaya is grassland hemmed in by pineries and virgin jungles. It is 12 kilometres further on from Thung Salaeng Luang.
A flatland on the mountaintop in the heart of the park, T h ung Non Son is noted for its profusion of wild flowers during October - December. It is located 16 kilometres by car and a further 15 k ilometres on foot from Ban Nong Mae Na.
About 5 kilomet re s from Nong Mae Na is a 50 m etres x 100 metres wide rapids, Kaeng Wang Nam Yen , affording delightful scenery.
There are also a couple of caves with beautiful hanging and protruding groups of rocks. However, the access is not too convenient. For those who want to overnight in the park, th e y should contact the park authorities in advance, a n d make their own arrangements for camping gears and provisions, as there are as yet no facilities available.
Cutting through the eastern mountain ranges of Phitsanulok, the route offers several spots of attractions including waterfalls and forested areas within national parks. To visit these places transport can be hired from operators in town, the most convenient and popular means of trave l ling. Attractions include:
- Wang Nok An Waterfall within the Sakunothayan Arboretum, which is one kilomet re off the main highway a t Km.33. A small fall fed by the Wang T hong stream, there are the Ka e ng Sai Rapids l ying across the waterway creating small levels of currents. At round Km. 45 is the Ka e ng S ong Waterfall.
- Nam Tok Poi is a waterfall one kilomet re off the main road at Km. 60. The surrounding area is natural, and suitable for recreation and relaxation.
At the end of the highway at Km.72 and a further 2 kilometres off the road is a huge, 3-level waterfall, Kang Sopha. Water flows down rocky crevices through shady forests. The best time to visit is during September-December when the flows are at maximum.
The Nam Tok Chat T rakan National Park covers forested areas to the northeast with headquarters some 145 k ilometres from town. It is accessible by taking Highway No. 12 all the way to Ban Yang. At Km. 68, turn left into route No. 2013 to Nakhon Thai district. Then continue further on route No. 1143. Just before reaching Chat T rakan district, there is a turn to the waterfall, a distance of another 10 k ilometres.
A major attraction of the park is a stunning 7-level waterfall cascading down high mountains. In front of the lowest level there is a beach and a wide pond, suitable for recreation. Several be e hives are located over the cliff. On some other cliffs are traces of carvings indicative of pre-historic symbolism. Tourists may camp out within the park after contacting the park officials.
The Phu Soi Dao National Park stretches along the Thai-Laotian border within Cha t T rakan district with the highest peak being 2,102 met re s above sea level and the climate cool most of the year. One of the most attractive features of the park is the savanna amid dense pineries. During the rainy season wild flowers run riot all over the area. There are also beautiful waterfalls amid dense foliage, eminently suitable for jungle walks. However park rangers should be contacted to act as guides to the various attractions. As overnighting is necessary, camping equipment should also be prepared.
Phu Hin Rong Kla is an outstanding national park with unique scenic attractions and is of some historical significance. It was once the stage of armed conflicts due to political differences between the Thai people themselves.
Located to the northeast along the border between Phitsanulok and Phetchabun, Phu Hin Rong Kla can be reached by taking a right turn at Km.68 of Highway No. 1 2 into Highway No. 2013, a distance of 28 k ilometres f rom which is Nakon Thai district. Then proceed on Highway No. 2331 for another 31 k ilometres.
Many buildings and structures are reminders of those struggles. The living quarters, schools, hospitals and other facilities of the former Communists have not changed much since those far-off days. There are also a couple of beautiful waterfalls. The prevalent rocky ground is strangely shaped, which has deep crevices as if created by earthquakes. Others a re full of jagged rock formations spreading over a wide area.
There are facilities for accommodation and food, as well as camping sites.
The Bang Kae o Dog Farm speciali s es in raising the Bang Kae o breed of dogs. The Bang Kae o is a mixed breed of wild and domesticated canines. Characteristically, their mouths and tails look similar to those of jackals. They are noted for their devotion to their owners. Bang Kae o dogs do not come cheap.
Sam Lo Tour Most visitors like to use tricycles (Sam Lo) for night tours to the town's markets, particularly around the riverbanks, where a great variety of tasty dishes can be found. A most interesting way of preparing a dish called P h ak B u ng Loi Fa, is in the way that the cook expertly tosses and throws the morning glory vegetables while frying it.
The traditional Long-tailed Boat Races are usually held in October when the Nan River is full. The fair is held in front of Wat Phra Si Ratanamahathat. Robes are placed over the Phra Buddha Chinarat, and there are contests of boat processions and races with scores of boats.
Hotels and accommodation
- Amarin Lagoon : 52/299 Phra Ong Khao Road Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 5522 0999 Fax: 0 5522 0944 Bangkok Tel: 0-2668-5222, 0-2668-4277] : 1,000-5,500 baht
- Amarin Nakhon : 3/1 Chao Phraya Road Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 5521 9069-78] : 550-3,000 baht
- Asia : 176/1 Ekathotsarot Road Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 5525 8378, 0 5521 9401 Fax: 0 5523 0419] : 200-500 baht
- Ban Rim Kaeng : Km. 49 Phitsanulok-Lomsak, 293 Mu 9 Tambon Kaeng Sopha, Amphoe Wang Thong : 250-400 baht
- Ban Suan Farang : Km.10 Ban Yaeng-Nakhon Thai Road, 243 Mu 4 Tambon Huai Hia Amphoe Nakhon Thai [Tel: 0 1886 1757] : 150-2,500 baht
- Ban Waritnan : Km.50 Phitsanulok-Lomsak Road, 99/8 Mu 8 Tambon Kaeng Sopha, Amphoe Wang Thong : 150-1,000 baht
- Chang Phuak : 63/28 Thammabucha Road Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 5521 2558, 0 5525 2899 Fax: 0 5525 2493] : 230-390 baht
- Golden Grand : 63/28 Thammabucha Road Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 5521 0234-7 Fax: 0 5521 0887] : 650-2,500 baht
- Indra : 103/8 Si Thammatraipidok Road Amphoe Muang [Tel:. 0 5525 9188, 0 5525 9638, 0 5525 8085] : 250-800 baht
- Kiang Poi : Km.60 Near Poi Waterfall, 5/1 Mu 1 Amphoe Wang Thong [Tel: 01-605 0289, 01-674 4075] :300-600 baht
- La Paloma : 103/8 Si Thammatraipidok Road Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 5521 7930-6 Fax: 0 5521 7937] : 800-2,500 baht
- Lithai Guest House : 73/1 Lithai Building, Phraya Lithai Road Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 5521 9626-9 Fax: 0 5521 9627] : 150-440 baht
- London : 21-22 Sairuthai Road Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 5522 5145] : 150-200 baht
- Namtok Lang Suan : Km. 50-51 Phitsanulok-Lomsak, 1 Mu 8 Tambon Kaeng Sopha Amphoe Wang Thong [Tel: 0 5529 3338] : 400 baht
- Nan Chao : 242 Borom Trilokkanat Road Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 5525 2510-4, 0 5524 4702 Fax: 0 5524 4794 Bangkok Tel: 0 2279-0136, 0 2278-1749] : 900-2,500 baht
- Nan Chao Hotel : 242 Baromtrilokenart Rd., Muang, [(66 55) 244-702-5]
- Pailin : 38 Borom Trilokkanat Road Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 5522 5228-35 Bangkok Tel: 0 2215-7110-1, 0 2216-7489-90] : 1,000-2,500 baht
- Pan Sombat : 4/1 Sairuthai Road Amphoe Muang [Tel: 0 5525 8179] : 100-200 baht
- Local Cuisine
- Kalapapruek : Ratchapruek Hotel, Tel: 0-5525-8788-9
- Kakenang : Airport Rd., Tel: 0-5521-0543, 0-5521-1696
- Khao Kang Chao Wang : 245/67 BaromTrilok Kanat Rd., Tel: 0-5524-6571-3 ext 34
- Krua Koke Chang : Phitsanulok - Wang Thong Rd., Tel: 0-5522-1127
- Krua Mee Dee : Lithai Building, Phayalithai Rd., Tel: 0-5521-9626-9
- Danang : 260/2-3 Airport Rd., Tel: 0-5523-0788
- Downtown : Amarin Nakorn Hotel, Tel: 0-5524-4702-5
- Daeng : 78 Airport Rd., Tel: 0-5525-1757, 0-5524-6675
- Talifu : Nan Chao Hotel, Tel: 0-5521-4702-5
- Tree House : 48 Airport Rd., Tel: 0-5521-2587-8
How to get there
* By car
- From Bangkok, take Highway No. 1 to Wang Noi, then proceed to Nakhon Sawan along Highway No. 32 via Ayutthaya, Ang Thong, Sing Buri, and finally take Highway No. 117 to Phitsanulok, a total distance of 337 kilometres.
- Drive from Bangkok to Sing Buri and use the In Buri-Tak Fa route (Highway No. 11), then turn into Highway No. 12 and proceed to Phitsanulok via Amphoe Wang Thong, a total distance of 450 kilometres.
* By bus
Buses depart from Bangkok's Mochit 2 Bus Terminal to Phitsanulok. Contact Transport Co. Ltd at Tel: 0 2936 2852-66; Phitsanulok Yan Yon Tour at Tel: 0 2936 2924-5; Choet Chai Tour at Tel: 0 2936 0199 and Win Tour at Tel: 0 2936 3753.
* By train
Regular trains depart from Bangkok's Hua Lamphong Railway Station to Phitsanulok. Call 1690 for more information.
* By plane
Thai Airways has several daily flights connecting Bangkok with Phitsanulok. It takes 50 minutes for the journey. For more information, contact their Bangkok office at tel. 0 2280 0060, 0 2628 2000, their Phitsanulok office at tel. 0 5525 8020 or view their website at www.thaiairways.com.