If you are not sure if Phitsanulok is worth visiting and if you should even consider putting it on your Thailand itinerary this article is for you. Phitsanulok is one of the most authentic towns in Northern Thailand and in this article, you will learn what are the amazing things to do in Phitsanulok, how to get there, where to eat and so much more!
About a month before I arrived in Phitsanulok, I did not even know of its existence. It will show you how off the beaten path Phitsanulok is in Thailand when I tell you that many Thai people in Bangkok knew nothing about it. Or maybe it was just my pronunciation (most likely haha)
It was a few random conversations on the Backpackers Thailand FB group that gave me the idea to visit Phitsanoluk. I wanted to break my trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai with a little stopover and maybe even stay for a little longer in a more authentic town far away from the hustle and bustle and tourist traps.
Phitsanulok sounded like just what I needed. And boy, it was!
After 8 hours of what was the most uncomfortable train journey in my travel life so far (yes, I know, I still have so much to experience) I arrived in Phitsanulok. The most authentic Thai town I have ever visited and a true, unpolished, hidden gem of Thailand.
I loved everything about the city.
From the hostel I stayed in, the people I met at the hostel, the daily and evening walks around the city, the relaxed local vibe and the historical sites I visited. The town just sucked me in and would not let me go.
You may have heard of Phitsanulok when researching the Sukhothai Historical Park, as it is only an hour’s bus ride away. Some travellers who want to visit Sukhothai choose to stay there, but some stay in Phitsanulok because it is a bit more affordable.
But there is definitely so much more to the town and I will lay it all out for you.
Table of Contents
What is Phitsanulok Known For?
Phitsanulok is an ancient and one of the oldest cities in Thailand and has a history that goes back more than 600 years. Phitsanulok’s history can be traced to ancient settlements and the Ayutthaya Kingdom, which ruled much of modern-day Thailand from the 14th to the 18th centuries. During this time, Phitsanulok was an important strategic and commercial hub.
Phitsanulok is known as the birthplace of charismatic King Naresuan the Great, a revered historical figure in Thai history known for his victories against the Burmese forces during the 16th century.
In contemporary times, Phitsanulok has evolved into a vibrant city known for its cultural heritage, and religious sites, and as a centre for traditional Thai arts and crafts. It is also a pretty popular tourist destination among Thai people.
Is Phitsanulok Worth Visiting?
Located in the lower northern region of Thailand on the banks of the Nan River, Phitsanulok is often overlooked as a northern Thailand destination.
But Phitsanulok is a town rich in history and full of an unpretentious charm that reveals the true essence of Thai life. And for such, Phitsanulok is very much worth visiting.
Phitsanulok is also one of the most affordable cities I have visited in Thailand, and that’s largely because it’s not overrun with tourists. The prices are local, tailored to the Thai people and you can eat well and cheaply in Phitsanulok. I loved this little restaurant near the Train Station market where I could get rice topped with 3 different curries for 60 Baht.
Also, Phitsanulok market was one of the best night markets I visited in Thailand.
Although it is not the largest and cannot be compared to Bangkok’s Chatachut market, it is super authentic, very affordable, bursting with traditional atmosphere and incredibly abundant in all possible foods you might want.
If you are craving a sample of real Thai life, uninterrupted by the endless harassment of street sellers and tuk-tuk drivers, yet boasting incredible history, beautiful temples and nearby natural wonders, then you should put Phitsanulok on your list. You won’t regret it.
If you are now convinced that you simply must put Phitsanulok on your Thailand itinerary, I will help you with all the information you might need for your best Phitsanulok experience.
How to get to Phitsanulok
Phitsanulok is located halfway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai and it takes 6 to 8 hours to get there depending on the means of transport.
The best way of getting to Phitsanulok from Bangkok is to either take a train or bus. Although there is an airport in Phitsanulok, if you take into account the time it would take you to travel to and from both airports, getting through the security and so on, taking a flight from Bangkok to Phitsanulok isn’t the best or the cheapest option.
The cheapest way of getting to Phitsanulok from Bangkok is by 3rd class train which costs around 180 Baht (if bought at the station). I took this train and although it is an adventure in itself, the train station in Phitsanulok is right in the town centre so once you are there, you are there. This train journey was very ‘interesting’ so I wrote a separate article about it.
If you want to be a little more comfortable you can opt for a second-class AC train (seated or sleeper) but be aware that those sell out fast and you will have to book well in advance. This journey in theory should take 6 to 7 hours, but be prepared for 8 as there are always delays.
You can buy the train ticket in person but if you want to secure the 2nd class ticket you can book it online via 123Go.
I took the 3rd class train not to torture myself, there was just no other option available anymore.
Taking a bus from Bangkok to Phitsanulok is another affordable and quite comfortable option. Although busses are slightly more expensive than trains you are still looking at around 380Baht for a way trip, which given you will sit in an air-conditioned bus, is a pretty good price.
In order to get to Phitsanulok from Chiang Mai you also have an option of train or bus. It takes approximately 7 hours to get from Chiang Mai to Phitsanulok.
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Where to Stay in Phitsanulok
If you are a traveller or backpacker that likes staying in hostels I have only one recommendation for you – Karma Home Hostel. This is a wonderful hostel run by Mark and his wife offering homie and personal experience. Although the hostel and beds are simple, the atmosphere is unbeatable.
Unlike many hostels in Thailand, Karma Hostel has a communal kitchen and the cosiest rooftop where you will spend evenings chilling and chatting with other travellers.
I extended my stay and could easily stay for much longer. I truly felt at home.
Mark will give you recommendations on all the great things to do in Phitsanulok, how to get there, recommendations on where to eat and where to have some fun!
Is Phitsanulok Thailand Safe?
Similarly to the rest of Thailand, Phitsanulok is very safe to travel to. Phitsanulok has a very local feel and out of all the towns I have visited in Thailand, people here seemed to be the most genuinely kind.
As you will walk around the town you will be relieved after realising that no one wants to invite you to their restaurant or hop on their tuk tuk, in fact, most of the time they won’t be bothered by your presence. The sawadika‘s will be genuine and prices fair. Grab also works well in Phitsanulok.
Things to do in Phitsanulok
Ok, so are you ready to enjoy Phitsanulok attractions? Here is a list of all the amazing things to do in Phitsanulok.
Soak in the vibe of Phitsanulok
One of my favourite things to do in Phitsanulok was to soak in the vibe of the city by simply walking around. I would walk random streets, discovering local markets, small cafes, riverside restaurants and random shops.
Phitsanulok is a pretty big city and there is a lot to explore. Walk both sides of the river to discover temples, restaurants and food stands as well as small parks and even outdoor gyms!
Meander between the streets and just see the life of locals – kids being bathed in a bowl outside of the house and or running around barefoot, fish being delivered to the shop or a family of 3 riding into unknown on the motorbike.
Eat at the Train Night Market (every day!)
This was a true highlight and the biggest attraction of Phitsanulok for me. Yes there are beautiful temples in the town and visiting Sukhothai was a great adventure but there is nothing better than browsing around the food stalls in the evening, surrounded by locals.
Almost opposite the Train Station, you will find an indoor and outdoor fresh market during the day and at night, Phitsanulok’s night market. This is one of my favourite night markets in Thailand. It feels totally local and the food selection is crazy! It would take a lifetime to try everything there!
Check out Other Smaller Markets and Street Food Spots of Phitsanulok
As you walk around the town you will come across some smaller markets or street food spots. On the way to Karma Hostel, around this place, you will find a smaller market open during the day.
Also on the day you decide to visit Wat Nang Phaya temple, take a walk down the Cha Kan Bun street where you will also find some food and souvenir stalls.
Shop at Phitsanulok Flea Market
If you are looking to buy some clothes or exercise any type of bargain hunting then head to the other side of the town in the morning and visit Phitsanulok’s Flea Market. You will be able to satisfy your hunger in this area as well.
It is located across the river from the unfinished Wat Chan Tawan Tok temple.
Visit the Chan Royal Palace and Wat Wihan Thong Historical Site
This place truly surprised me as it was so unassuming from the outside that I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to walk in.
Firstly I really enjoyed my walk to the Chan Palace. The road by the river is lovely and very peaceful. The Chan Palace is a whole complex consisting of the replica of the palace, the historical centre and nearby ruins of Wihan Thong Temple.
I suggest you visit the museum first. It gave me a different perspective on what I have seen next.
The palace was first built In 1362 when the king of Sukhothai moved his capital to Phitsanulok and the palace remained a royal residence from the Sukhothai period to the Ayutthaya period.
Most importantly it was the residence of famous king Naresuan the Great. You will all about him inside of the museum.
The ruins of the palace and nearby temples were then forgotten and rediscovered in the 20th century when foundations for a new school were laid out. The Palace is now reconstructed and the museum is placed on the site of the Historical centre and it’s free to enter!
To the left, you will find the ruins of Wihan Thong Temple which are fascinating. I was almost the only visitor at the time and the place was just so peaceful. It’s a must-see landmark in Phitsanulok!
Discover all Phitsanulok Temples
Phitsanulok is abundant in beautiful temples and each is different and very much worth visiting. Here is the list of all the temples in Phitsanulook I recommend visiting:
- Wat Rachaburana and Chedi Luang. The whole complex is very interesting and apart from the original Chedi and beautiful small temple, you will also find places like a sauna or excellent massage for 150Baht for an hour.
- Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat. The most famous temple in Phitsanulok was Built in the 14th and features the Phra Buddha Chinnarat statue which is often regarded as the most beautiful Buddha statue in Thailand. The temple is beautifully designed in the Khmer style. Free to enter. This place is a whole complex where you can easily spend an hour or more.
- Wat Aranyik. Sukhothai-style chedi and temple.
- Wat Chedi Yot Thong. Peaceful and free to enter. Featured the original 14th-century Chedi of Aranyik Temple but also a whole complex with modern buildings like a community centre or a school.
Visit the Sergeant Major Thawee Folk Museum and Buddha Casting Factory
The Sergeant Major Thawee Folk Museum showcases an extensive collection of tools, textiles, photographs and all sorts of nick-nacks from the region, all collected by Sergeant Major Thawee over several decades.
The museum is spread across five traditional Thai buildings and offers informative English descriptions alongside displays. It’s a pretty interesting museum that provides a glimpse into the region’s past, with artefacts dating back centuries.
There is so much to see that I recommend putting some time aside for this place. Nearby, there is a bronze Buddha casting factory which is also worth stepping into.
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Walk along the river Nan
I have already mentioned River Nan in this post a couple of times but it does deserve its separate mention.
Be sure to walk along both sides of the river and discover different faces of the city. You will discover cute restaurants located by its bank just as you pass the beautiful building of the Justice. and overlooking the Phitsanulok City sign that becomes lit in the evening.
I walked past quite a few outdoor gyms, restaurants and pop-up coffee tracks as well as small green parks and spaces where you can just sit and relax.
Take a Day Trip to Sukhothai Historical Park
A day trip to Sukhothai is one of the main reasons why travellers would visit Phitsanulok, so chances are you’re reading this post because that was your plan from the start.
Sukhothai was the capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom founded in the 13th century. It was a key player in the formation of the Thai nation and played a crucial role in the shaping of Thai identity and culture.
The Sukhothai Historical Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the ruins of the once-glorious city are like nothing I have ever seen before.
I have seen many ancient ruins, including those of Tikal in Guatemala or Palenke in Mexico, but I must admit that Sukhothai has made an impression on me that no other ancient city has.
Sukhothai is a magical place and a massive historical park where you will find the most spectacular temples dating back to 700 years ago. It’s one of the best things to do in Phitsanulok!
Are you planning a trip to Sukhothai? Be sure to read my complete guide on how to visit Sukhothai Historical Park on a day trip from Phitsanulok!
And to Wat Phra That Pha Sorn Kaew - The Incredible 5 Buddhas Temple
Although Wat Phra That Pha Sorn Kaew is located in Khao Kor in Phetchabun province, it is easy to reach from Phitsanulok and is well worth a visit. Sitting atop the mountain and offering panoramic views, this temple is just stunning.
The design of the temple is a blend of traditional Thai and contemporary architectural styles with intricate details, colourful mosaic work and ornate decorations.
The main pagoda, where Buddha relics are kept, is decorated with thousands of small pieces of mirrored glass, giving it a sparkling and radiant appearance, especially when the sunlight hits it. Some say that this is one of the most beautiful temples in all of Thailand!
The best way to reach Wat Phra That Pha Sorn Kaew from Phitsanulok is by car or motorbike, but some buses can take you nearby. If you are staying at Karma Home Hostel, Mark will be happy to give you all the instructions.
Chase the Waterfalls
If you decide to take a trip to see the Wat Phra That Pha Sorn Kaew, you can stop to visit a few hidden waterfalls on the way. Again the best way to get there is by car or motorbike but there are some busses that will drop you nearby and you will have to walk a little bit to get there.
Some of the waterfalls near Phitsanulok worth stopping is Namtok Sakunothayan which is the nearest to Phitsanulok, Namtok Kaeng Song where you can rent a sitting platform suspended over the river and literally spend a day or Namtok Kaeng Sopha.
See The Giant Waterlilies Pond
Slight curiosity but close enough to Phitasulok so if you want to have an opportunity to stand on a giant waterlily leaf, give it a go. The fully grown leaves can be as large as 2m in diameter but you have to arrive at the right time of the year.
It’s a cute place and a very unique thing to do in Phitasulok. This is the location.
Have fun at Phitsanulok Local Bars
There are a couple of cool places to go to for some fun in Phitsanulok. If you fancy a very authentic bar with live music, and an awesome and fun vibe, head to Cart Road Bar. The true fun starts after 11 p.m.
Girls Don’t Cry is a small but cool bar offering great craft beers on tap. If you are looking to find out about an area and get some recommendations, the stuff there is very helpful and super nice.
Pop in for a Coffee to a Book Store
I stumbled across this book store with a cafe inside by chance and what a find this was! Siangthip Book Center is an actual book store but as you walk in you will see a little coffee stand selling some cakes as well as a big table where you can sip your coffee and even open your laptop and work for a little.
Experience Flying Bats Spectacle
This is not something I was attempting to experience as I just don’t like bats. But it’s definitely one of the most unique things you can see in Phistanulok and Thailand.
In the nearby town of Ban Mung, tourists and locals gather in the evenings to watch the breathtaking sight of thousands of bats coming out of their caves in search of food. The departure of the bats offers an impressive spectacle as they form swirling patterns in the sky before taking off into the night.
Phitsanulok is definitely one of my favourite cities in Thailand and I am so glad I made a detour to see it. If you are already planning on visiting Sukhothai or want to find an interesting stop between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, you should definitely visit Phitsanulok.
If you did, please let me know in the comments if you like it as much as I did!
Until then, enjoy Thailand and happy travels!
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