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Phitsanulok: A Northern Wonderland

October 28, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) the lower northern provinces of Phitsanulok, Petchabun, Sukhothai and Uttaradit form a “northern wonderland” and are places, where tourists can experience colorful festivals, explore the roots of Thai culture and enjoy the unspoiled nature of flora and fauna. Actually, Phitsanulok stands out in this area because it is a big town and conveniently situated between Bangkok in the south and Chiang Mai in the upper north of Thailand.

A look on a map of Thailand shows that the town of Phitsanulok is nearly halfway along the railroad line from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and only some 377 kilometers away from the capital in Bangkok. Also, there is the important crossroads just east of the town between National Road Nr.11 from Chiang Mai to Central Thailand and Bangkok and National Road Nr.12, called Asian Highway AH16, which connects the town with Northeast Thailand and Mukdahan on the Mekong River and to Tak in the western part of Thailand. In the same time, the new Asian Highway AH13 connects to the upper northern provinces of Phrae and Nan to reach the border of Lao PDR, while Asian Highway AH2 can be reached from Phitsanulok in Tak to lead to Chiang Rai and Mae Sai at the Myanmar border. In other words, Phitsanulok is at the crossroads of the North-South Economic Corridor between Kunming in Yunnan/China and Bangkok and the East-West Economic Corridor between Da Nang in Viet Nam at the South China Sea or the Pacific Ocean and Mawlamyaing in Myanmar at the Andaman Sea or Indian Ocean.

The whole province of Phitsanulok covers 10,815 square kilometers and features forested mountains in the east and the fertile rice fields along the Nan and Yom Rivers in the west. The Nan River runs through the town of Phitsanulok, which was originally called Song Khwae, as it was located between the two rivers of Khwae Noi and Nan. The old settlement already dates back to the 10th century, when the Khmer from Angkor ruled the region and the dominant ethnic group was the Mon. The location of Song Khwae was the place around Wat Chulamani some 5-6km to the south and it was then up to Phaya Li Thai to decide to move to the present location of the town in 1357 and make it the eastern bastion of the Sukhothai Kingdom (ca. 1240-1438), while Si Satchanalai was in the north, Old Tak in the west and Kamphaeng Phet in the south.

During the Ayutthaya Kingdom (1351-1767), the town served as a buffer between Ayutthaya in the south and the Lan Na Kingdom (1296-1558) in the north. Following an administrative reform by King Borommatrailokanat (1448-1488), Phitsanulok became the strategic capital town for 25 years to block the invasion of Burmese (Myanmar) armies. King Naresuan (1590-1605), who was born in Phitsanulok, ruled the town as crown prince and fought against the Burmese armies to reclaim independence in 1584. But only during the reign of King Taksin (1767-1782) the Burmese were finally driven out after having completely destroyed Ayutthaya. Today Phitsanulok is only a provincial town.

The modern town of Phitsanulok has nearly 100,000 inhabitants and the province comprises 9 districts, namely Amphoe Muang, Amphoe Wang Thong, Amphoe Phrom Phiram, Amphoe Bang Rakam, Amphoe Bang Krathum, Amphoe Wat Bot, Amphoe Chat Trakan, Amphoe Nakhon Thai, and Amphoe Noen Maprang. The provincial boundaries are Uttaradit and Lao PDR in the north, Sukhothai and Kamphaeng Phet in the west, Phichit in the south and Petchabun and Loei in the east. The attractions of Phitsanulok are the following:

–         City Pillar Shrine (Lak Muang): The city pillar is made of different kinds of sacred wood and is located on the western bank of the NanRiver in front of the Amphoe Muang Administration Office.

–         King Naresuan the Great’s Shrine: A life-size bronze statue of King Naresuan in a sitting position, ceremonially declaring independence from Burma, is located in a pavilion at a site that once was the Chan Palace, the birthplace of King Naresuan the Great in 1555 and his younger brother Ekathotsarot.

–         Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat or Wat Yai: It houses in a western temple hall Thailand’s most beautiful Buddha image called Phra Buddha Chinnarat. Built in 1357, the whole temple is on the eastern side of the Nan River at the northwestern part of the town. The image’s unique feature is the wooden gilded flame-like halo around the huge sitting bronze Buddha image in the attitude of subduing Mara and getting enlightenment with the help of the earth mother. On the eastern side around the central principal corncob-shaped prang with a Shiva trisul is the Phra Attharot standing Buddha image in the attitude of persuading relatives not to quarrel inside a ruined wihan. Other wihan abound and there is a temple museum.

–         Wat Ratchaburana: This temple is situated south of Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat on Singhawat Road close to the Naresuan Bridge. It houses a Sukhothai-style Buddha and in its ordination hall (ubosot) are murals telling the Ramayana epos made by local painters in the reign of King Rama IV in Bangkok.

–         Wat Nang Phaya: This temple is next to Wat Ratchaburana and is famous for an extensive collection of votive tablets used as amulets, which were found in the crypt of the temple.

–         Wat Chedi Yot Thong: This temple near the railway line has the only left lotus-shaped chedi in the Sukhothai style and has a 9m wide base and a 20m high top. A church and mosque is nearby.

–         Wat Chulamani is an ancient temple with a laterite built pagoda, which existed before the Sukhothai Kingdom. King Borommatrailokanat built a wihan, when he entered the monk-hood (sangha) there. A Buddha’s Footprint was built in 1678.

–         Town Wall and Moat: Built as a mound of earth by King Borommatrailokanat to prevent from attack by enemies, the old wall and moat were built using bricks in the reign of King Narai. Today, remains can be seen at Wat Phothiyan, Wat Noi, the Police Station, and along Phra Ruang Road.

–         Sergent-Major Thawee Folk Museum: The exhibits include ceramics, pottery, kitchenware, household utensils, farming tools, as well as many trapping devices, to demonstrate local wisdom and folklore. His Buddha casting foundry is just opposite the museum.

–         Thai Bird Garden: This Sakunothayan bird arboretum conservation centre nearby the Folk Museum displays endangered as well as extinct birds of Thailand.

Outside of Phitsanulok Town the following sites can be visited all year round:

–         Khek River along Highway Nr. 12 east: This waterway is flowing through many waterfalls in the Thung Salaeng Luang National Park (km 80) such as the Kaeng Sopha Waterfall (km 71-72), Poi Waterfall (km 59-60), Kaeng Song Waterfall (km 45), Wang Nok Aen Waterfall (km 33), and then passes through Amphoe Wang Thong to meet the Nan River at Amphoe Bang Krathum. It is good for white water rafting.

–         Kaeng Chet Khwae National Park in Amphoe Wat Bot: Its main attraction is the scenic Kaeng Chet Khwae Waterfall. It is good for camping.

–         Namtok Chat Trakan National Park in Amphoe Chat Trakan: The waterfall has seven levels with a large pool at the first level. It is good for swimming.

–         Phu Soi Dao National Park in Amphoe Chat Trakan. Bordering Lao PDR with rugged mountains, the park has Phu Soi Doi as the highest peak with 2,102m. It is good for trekking.

–         Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park in Amphoe Nakhon Thai: The area of the park was once the largest and most important stronghold of the Communist Party of Thailand in the north from 1967-1982. There can be visited a museum, the Third World Trail, the Political and Military School, a hospital and two cemeteries. It is good for education.

–         Tham Pha Tha Phon Non-Hunting Area in Amphoe Noen Maprang: This area features towering limestone hills and many caves such as Tham Naresuan, Tham Ruea, Tham Pha Daeng and Tham Lot. It is good for caving.

–         Dong Phu Kerd Golf Course: With its 18 holes, the golf course is located in the Ekathotsarot Military Base, Sanam Bin Road, near the airport of Phitsanulok.

–         Textile Museum and Life Museum: Located in a multi-purpose building of Naresuan University, there are exhibits of local textiles and garments and a display of the Thai way of cotton weaving. A weaving demonstration is available every weekend.

Phitsanulok also offers the following festivals and events:

–         Long Boat Races: The exiting festival is held every September along with various religious rites on the Nan River in front of Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat.

–         Food and Souvenir Festival: Held every April and December by Phitsanulok Municipality and TAT at the Nan River Park, the festivities feature local food such as rice noodles, flying vegetable and deep fried insects, and gold jewelry, cotton fabrics, and silk textiles as souvenirs.

–         Kaeng Song Coffee Tasting: Plenty of coffee shops at the Kaeng Son Waterfall offer Arabica and Robusta from the fields around Amphoe Wang Thong during the festival in early July each year.

–         Phra Buddha Chinnarat Fair: For six days, usually in late February, the fair features homage paying, folk entertainment and cultural performances at Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat.

–         Nakhon Thai Flag Flying Festival: The local event is held at Amphoe Nakhon Thai in November with placing the flag on top of Khao Chang Luang to mark the victory of Pho Khun Bang Klang Hao from Sukhothai in the 13th century over the Khmer. There is an impressive flag parade and a beauty contest.

When touring in Phitsanulok and neighboring districts tourists can stay in the following recommended hotels: Topland, Pailyn, Ratchaphuek, Amarin Nakhon, Lithai, Nanchao, Thep Nakhon, The Grand Riverside, and The Viewpoint Hotel. Most of the hotels are easy to reach by walking from the market near the railway station along Naresuan Road and the clock tower to the Nan River or take tricycle and local tuk-tuk.

Written by : Reinhard Hohler

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