Nestled in the heart of Thailand’s lower northern region lies Phitsanulok, a province that bears the weight of historical significance, natural splendor, and cultural treasures. Often overlooked by international tourists in favor of Thailand’s beach destinations or bustling cities, Phitsanulok is a hidden gem waiting to be explored. This article offers a deep dive into this charming province, highlighting its history, attractions, and the unique allure it holds.
Phitsanulok boasts a rich history that stretches back over 600 years. Established during the early days of the Sukhothai Kingdom, it served as a crucial strategic outpost guarding against potential invasions from the north. Later, during the Ayutthaya Kingdom period, Phitsanulok played a pivotal role as a temporary capital after the Burmese besieged Ayutthaya. The city witnessed the birth of King Naresuan the Great, one of Thailand’s most revered monarchs, renowned for his valiant resistance against the Burmese.
- Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahathat: Often referred to as ‘Wat Yai,’ this temple is the city’s crown jewel. Founded during the 14th century, it houses the famous Phra Buddha Chinnarat, one of Thailand’s most beautiful and revered Buddha images. Crafted in the Sukhothai artistic style, this bronze statue attracts pilgrims from all over the country.
- Sgt. Maj. Thawee Folk Museum: A delightful journey into the past, this museum showcases the daily life of the people of Phitsanulok during previous centuries. The museum’s exhibits include traditional Thai houses, agricultural tools, and various artifacts offering a glimpse into a bygone era.
- Thung Salaeng Luang National Park: Spread across Phitsanulok and Phetchabun provinces, this national park is a haven for nature lovers. Characterized by sweeping grasslands, dense forests, and limestone mountains, it’s home to diverse flora and fauna. Trekking and bird watching are popular activities here, with trails offering a chance to witness the park’s serene beauty.
- Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park: Once a stronghold for the Communist Party of Thailand, this national park combines natural beauty with historical remnants. Rocky plateaus, vibrant flower fields, and mist-covered peaks make this a must-visit for those who appreciate nature’s grandeur.
Culture and Festivals
Phitsanulok, like much of Thailand, is rooted in deep-seated traditions and cultural festivities. One of the notable events is the annual boat racing festival held on the Nan River. This event, typically organized in September, draws teams from all over the region. It’s a festive occasion, with vibrant longboats slicing through the waters amidst the cheering crowds, offering a sight that epitomizes local spirit and camaraderie.
The province is also known for its traditional handicrafts, particularly bronze casting. The craftsmanship behind the creation of Buddha images and other artifacts is passed down through generations, ensuring the preservation of this age-old art form.
No journey to Phitsanulok is complete without indulging in the local delicacies. The province offers a unique blend of flavors, influenced by its history and geographical location. A must-try is “Mee Pad Mhee Phitsanulok,” a stir-fried noodle dish distinct to the region. Another favorite is “Khai Krata,” a unique quail egg dish served in a mini frying pan.
An Eco-Tourism Hub
In recent years, Phitsanulok has emerged as an eco-tourism destination. With its plethora of national parks, waterfalls, caves, and rivers, the province offers an abundance of activities for nature enthusiasts. Whether it’s bamboo rafting on the Wang Thong River or trekking in the dense jungles, the communion with nature is bound to be a transformative experience.
Phitsanulok, with its deep historical roots, pristine natural landscapes, and rich cultural tapestry, stands as a testament to Thailand’s diverse offerings. A journey to this province is more than just a trip; it’s an immersion into the heart of Thailand. For those willing to venture off the beaten path, Phitsanulok promises a mosaic of experiences that remain etched in memory long after the journey concludes.
Getting There and Around
Reaching Phitsanulok is relatively straightforward, as the province is well-connected to major cities in Thailand. The Phitsanulok Airport facilitates regular flights from Bangkok, ensuring ease of access for those coming from afar. For travelers who prefer scenic journeys, there are daily train services from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong station that glide through the countryside, offering picturesque views along the way. Additionally, inter-provincial buses run frequently, catering to budget-conscious travelers.
Once in Phitsanulok, navigating the city and its surrounding areas is a breeze. Traditional tuk-tuks, songthaews (shared taxis), and motorcycle taxis are widely available. For those who seek a bit more autonomy, renting bicycles or scooters is a popular choice, allowing travelers to explore the province at their own pace.
Beyond the Main Attractions
While the major attractions of Phitsanulok are undeniably captivating, the province also has its share of lesser-known treasures:
- Night Market: Just as the sun sets, parts of Phitsanulok come alive with bustling night markets. From sizzling street food to handcrafted trinkets, these markets offer an authentic slice of local life.
- Houseboats of Nan River: Taking a leisurely ride on the houseboats gives visitors an intimate experience of the riverine lifestyle. Drifting gently on the Nan River, one can witness local fishermen at work, children playing by the banks, and the quiet ebb and flow of daily life.
- Wat Nang Phaya: Another historic temple in Phitsanulok, Wat Nang Phaya is renowned for its exquisite stucco work. The intricate designs and attention to detail showcase the artistic brilliance of the ancient Thai craftsmen.
Accommodations and Hospitality
Phitsanulok offers a diverse range of accommodations catering to all budgets. From riverside guesthouses with panoramic views of the Nan River to upscale hotels providing modern amenities, there’s something for every traveler. A notable trait of Phitsanulok’s hospitality industry is the warmth and friendliness of its people. The genuine smiles and eagerness to assist make every visitor feel right at home.
Phitsanulok is more than just a historical hub or nature retreat; it’s a celebration of Thailand’s multifaceted identity. Whether one is retracing the steps of ancient monarchs, relishing the tantalizing flavors of local dishes, or simply absorbing the tranquil vibes by the river, Phitsanulok embraces every visitor with its charm.
In a world that’s rapidly changing, places like Phitsanulok stand as reminders of the enduring spirit of culture, history, and natural beauty. For those looking to delve deeper into the essence of Thailand, a trip to this enchanting province is a journey of discovery and wonder.