In a nutshell
Located half way between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Phitsanulok is a gateway to the Northern Thailand and a major transportation hub connecting the central provinces to the northern ones.
Why go to Phitsanulok
Considered by many tourists just another unnecessary stop on their bus or train trip to Chiang Mai, Phitsanulok is often overlooked. But in fact the city hides some unexpected surprises and tourism opportunities if you decide to give it a chance.
One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Thailand, Phitsanulok has a long and glorious history in different period of times acting as the capital of both Sukhothai and Ayutthaya kingdoms. The disastrous fire in 1955 unfortunately destroyed a great part of the ancient traditional buildings leaving intact only several historic temples as trustworthy witnesses of the city’s past. An interesting folklore museum and a pleasant riverside with its night bazar won’t let you feel bored during a quick stop, while if you have some more time, a trip to the eastern part of the province will reward with beautiful natural parks. Convenient transport links, good street food and accommodation options for every budget are further reasons to choose Phitsanulok as the place to stop for a few nights the next time you’ll be travelling to the north of Thailand.
When to go to Phitsanulok
The best time to visit is between the end of October and the beginning of April when the temperature is cooler and the weather is dry all the time.
April and May are the hottest months of the year, but the celebration for Songkran (Thai New Year, mid-April) will keep you fresh and entertained.
The rainy season is still a good time to visit Phitsanulok. You can expect even less tourists than usual and better hotel rates, especially in the high-end category.
August and September are the rainiest months, but you generally can expect a strong shower in the evening and pretty much dry the rest of the day.
Where to stay in Phitsanulok
Phitsanulok has a wide range of accommodation options, and everything can be found within walking distance from the train station and the major historic attractions. Reservations are usually not necessary and walk-in rates are generally better than the online ones. Immediately around the train station a number of cheap, old and sometimes dirty hotels have the most affordable private rooms in town, while closer to the temples you’ll find backpackers hostels and more stylish guesthouses. On both the banks of the river Nan mid-range and upmarket hotels offer a bit of luxury at affordable rates.
What to eat in Phitsanulok
If like us, you love to wander around food stalls and try any kind of street food, Phitsanulok has everything you can desire. Night markets and street vendors are everywhere dishing out all the market classics along with some more regional specialties.
For a fine dining experience, restaurants on traditional raft houses serve freshwater fish and seafood right on the Nan River. A few places in town offer some solid options if you’re looking for western food, while at the shopping centres the usual international chains can be found.
How to get around Phitsanulok
Phitsanulok is quite a big city, but all the attractions and the majority of the hotels and restaurants are centrally located within a 2 square km area north and west of the train station. If you stick to this area it is possible to cover everything on foot or, when the heat and the fatigue are unbearable, a motorbike taxi will help you – they charge less than THB50 for a short trip.
Motorbikes can be rented at many shops for THB200 a day, but if you’re planning to visit the natural parks in the eastern part of the province a car is a much better alternative as the distance is considerable. International car rentals can be found at the airport, while several local ones are available in the city centre.
How to get to and from Phitsanulok
Phitsanulok is well connected with the rest of Thailand by air, rail and bus.
The airport is located 10 km south of town and a taxi will charge you a flat fare of THB150 to get there (alternatively you can take bus number 4). Daily flights to/from Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport are operated by Nok Air, Air Asia and Lion Air. There is also one flight a week from Phitsanulok to Chiang Mai.
Ttrain is probably the best way to travel to Phitsanulok if you’re coming from Bangkok or Chiang Mai (or any other city or town sitting on the northern railway line). There are several departures a day to/from Phitsanulok in both directions with prices starting from less than THB100 for a third class hard seat and going up to THB1000 for an overnight sleeper. A trip both to Bangkok or Chiang Mai takes between 6 and7 hours. Some of the other destinations reachable by train are Ayutthaya, Lamphun and Lampang. The train station is located right in the city centre.
The old bus station located a couple km east of town has been partially replaced by a bigger and newer Bo-Ko-So which is even farther from the city centre. Get the purple songthaew to travel between the two for THB10, while a motorbike taxi or bus number 1 leaving from the train station will take you to the old bus station for few baht. Bo-Ko-So serves much more destinations – you can literally get almost anywhere in the country from there, but if you just have to get to Bangkok or Chiang Mai the centrally located old bus station offers enough departures through the day.
Frequent buses to Phitsanulok leave all day long to/from Bangkok’s Morchit bus terminal. The trip takes 6 hours and ticket prices start from as low as THB250. Minivans are also available and they could be a bit quicker but usually less comfortable. Same prices and same duration also for a trip to Chiang Mai.
Phitsanulok has direct links with almost every destination in the Northern and Central Thailand, plus some cities in the Isan provinces. Among the others you will find daily buses to Sukhothai, Nan, Mae Sot, Dan Sai, Chiang Rai, Udon Thani and Khon Kaen. Check directly at the two bus stations for prices and schedules.
Is Phitsanulok a safe place to visit?
Phitsanulok is a safe place to visit with crime towards tourist is almost non-existent.
Traffic in the city centre might be quite crazy at certain hours of the day, so be careful if you rent a motorbike or when you simply walk on the side of one of the main roads. Not all of them are exactly pedestrian friendly.
There are several large hospitals in town, including Bangkok Phitsanulok Hospital which matches really high standards and able to treat any kind of emergency.