Phitsanulok, Thailand Travel Guide
Nestled along the banks of the Nan River in lower Northern Thailand, Phitsanulok stands as an ode to the country’s rich history, cultural heritage, and natural beauty. Though lesser-known compared to tourist hotspots like Bangkok or Chiang Mai, Phitsanulok, fondly known as ‘Phi Lok’ by locals, promises an authentic Thai experience away from the throngs of tourists. Journey with us as we delve into the captivating allure of this ancient city.
Phitsanulok’s roots date back over 600 years, once serving as the country’s capital during the 11th century under the reign of King Litai. Its strategic location made it a significant political, economic, and religious hub, as evidenced by its historical landmarks and temples.
Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat: Also known as ‘Wat Yai’, this temple houses the famous Phra Buddha Chinnarat, considered one of the most beautiful Buddha images in Thailand. The temple’s intricate design, coupled with its spiritual ambiance, makes it a top attraction.
Sgt. Maj. Thawee Folk Museum: A delightful collection of artifacts, this museum offers insights into local life, traditions, and the city’s evolution.
Phitsanulok Night Bazaar: Experience local flavors and crafts. It’s the perfect place to sample street food, shop for souvenirs, and soak in the bustling local atmosphere.
Thung Salaeng Luang National Park: Spanning over 1,262 square kilometers, this national park boasts grasslands, virgin forests, and beautiful waterfalls. It’s a haven for nature lovers, trekkers, and birdwatchers.
Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park: Beyond its natural beauty, this park was historically significant during the 1970s as the stronghold of the Communist Party of Thailand. Today, it’s a blend of history and scenic views.
Kaeng Song Waterfall: Just a short drive from the city center, this waterfall is a serene spot perfect for picnics and relaxation.
Phitsanulok, like the rest of Thailand, boasts a vibrant culinary scene:
Moo Grata: A popular local dish, it’s a delightful blend of barbecue and hotpot.
Phitsanulok Noodles: A must-try local variant of the famed boat noodles, enriched with flavorful broth and tender meat.
Local Markets: Plunge into markets like Ta Pui or Tan Bridge Market for a taste of fresh produce and local snacks.
Traditional Boat Races: Held annually on the Nan River, this event showcases long, intricately decorated boats rowed in synchronization by teams, keeping alive a tradition dating back centuries.
Songkran Festival: Celebrated nationwide, Phitsanulok offers a more traditional experience of this water festival compared to bigger cities.
Handicrafts and Souvenirs
Phitsanulok is known for its unique handicrafts, particularly:
Phra Buddha Chinnarat Amulets: Believed to bring good fortune, these are popular among both locals and tourists.
Traditional Handwoven Fabric: Distinct in its patterns and colors, this fabric reflects the city’s cultural heritage.
Getting There: The city has its airport with frequent flights from Bangkok. Alternatively, one can take a train or bus from major Thai cities.
Accommodation: Phitsanulok offers a range of accommodation options, from budget hostels to riverside resorts.
Best Time to Visit: The ideal time is between November and February when the weather is cooler and dry.
Phitsanulok, with its harmonious blend of history, culture, and nature, offers a serene and enriching escape from Thailand’s more tourist-centric destinations. Whether you’re a history buff, nature enthusiast, or someone seeking spiritual solace, Phitsanulok welcomes you with its warm charm, timeless tales, and the ever-present smile of the locals. It’s a city where the past meets the present, and tradition intertwines with modernity, promising an experience that will linger in your memories long after you leave its shores.
Adventure and Activities
While Phitsanulok might evoke images of temples and tranquil riversides, it also offers its share of adrenaline-fueled activities:
River Kayaking: The gentle waters of the Nan River make it an ideal place for kayaking. Guided tours provide a unique perspective of the city, passing by local communities and lush landscapes.
Trekking: The national parks surrounding Phitsanulok are a trekker’s paradise. Guided hikes can lead you through diverse terrains, revealing the region’s rich flora and fauna.
Cycling Tours: Explore the city and its outskirts on two wheels. Many local agencies offer guided cycling tours that take you through historical sites, local markets, and scenic countryside routes.
Local Traditions and Workshops
Phitsanulok is a great place to immerse oneself in traditional Thai arts:
Traditional Dance Classes: Engage in a session to learn the graceful moves of traditional Thai dances which tell tales of myths, legends, and everyday life.
Thai Cooking Classes: Learn the secrets behind the delicious Thai cuisine, from spicy curries to delectable desserts.
Handicraft Workshops: Try your hand at creating traditional crafts, like basket weaving or fabric dyeing, guided by local artisans.
Local Events and Festivals
Loi Krathong: Celebrated nationwide, Phitsanulok offers a quieter, more intimate experience of this festival, which involves releasing decorated baskets onto the river to pay respects to the water goddess.
Traditional Thai New Year: Witness the grand processions, temple ceremonies, and community gatherings that mark this important occasion in the Thai calendar.
Nightlife and Entertainment
While not as bustling as Bangkok or Pattaya, Phitsanulok has its unique nightlife:
Riverside Bars: Enjoy a laid-back evening by the Nan River, with local music, delicious food, and refreshing drinks.
Nightclubs: For those looking for a more energetic night out, the city has a few nightclubs playing a mix of Thai and international hits.
Traditional Performances: Some local restaurants and venues offer traditional music and dance performances, offering a cultural treat to end your day.
Local Etiquette: When visiting temples, dress modestly by covering your shoulders and knees. Always remove your shoes before entering someone’s home or a temple’s main chapel.
Communication: While Thai is the official language, English is commonly understood in tourist areas, hotels, and restaurants. A few Thai phrases, however, will endear you to the locals.
Currency: The Thai Baht is the official currency. ATMs are widely available, and credit cards are accepted at major establishments.
Phitsanulok, a gem in Thailand’s vast landscape, beckons travelers with its understated elegance and charm. A blend of the old and new, it embodies Thailand’s spirit – warm, welcoming, and deeply rooted in traditions. Whether you’re soaking in the spiritual aura of its temples, relishing its culinary delights, or simply watching the sun set over the Nan River, Phitsanulok offers a tapestry of experiences, making every moment spent here a cherished memory. So, as the Thais would say, “Yin Dee Ton Rab” – Welcome, and may your journey in Phitsanulok be filled with joy and discovery.