Phitsanulok is definitely not the first Thai city which comes to your mind when you are planning your trip over the Kingdom. But if you have already visited the best star destinations in the country like Chiang Mai or Phuket and are now after more authentic experience and more ancient temples, sooner or later you will find yourself looking for tickets to Phitsanulok.
Firstly, Phitsanulok is an easy starting point for exploring the ancient cities of the region including Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet. Secondly, Phitsanulok has great transport connections with the major provincial centres throughout the country and is strategically located halfway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, making thus a convenient stop for those who prefer to split longer journeys into several parts. Thirdly, Phitsanulok is a nice place for a city walk by its own right and its Wat Phra Si Rattana Maha That, aka Wat Yai, houses arguably the most beautiful Buddha image in Thailand, an amazing Phra Buddha Chinnarat image – do not miss it while in the city!
How to get from Bangkok to Phitsanulok
Located 380 km to the north of Bangkok, Phitsanulok can be reached both by bus and by train. Train brings you to the centre of Phitsanulok with all the accommodation and sights a stone’s throw away, while most interprovincial buses arrive to a large Bo-Ko-So bus terminal out of the city.
From Bangkok to Phitsanulok by busThe majority of northbound buses departing from the Northern bus terminal in Bangkok, Morchit, call to Phitsanulok. There are also direct VIP24 buses from Bangkok to Phitsanulok. Tickets are readily available at the bus station, you can buy one right on the spot. The whole trip takes from 4½ hours to 6 hours. Note that there are two bus stations in Phitsanulok: the smaller provincial bus station is located on route 12 two km to the east of the city. The bigger one, Bo-Ko-So, or Terminal 2, sits on the same route 12 but some 10 km further east. When getting off the bus, check at which station you are.
From Bangkok to Phitsanulok by trainThe Northern Line of the State Railway of Thailand, Bangkok–Chaing Mai, runs through Phitsanulok and trains take from six to seven hours to bring you to this northern provincial capital. There is a wide choice of departures throughout the day from the morning #111 train (7am) which offers second class fan seats only at about THB500 to the luxurious first class sleeper in #1 (6.10pm) at THB1400. There are second class AC seats (THB700) in morning trains #7 (8.30am) and #3 (10.50am) which are the fastest ones covering the distance between Hua Lamphong train station in Bangkok and Phitsanulok in just five hours.
If you are after second class AC sleepers, check evening trains #1 (6.10pm), #13 (7.35pm), #107 (8.10pm) and #51 (10pm). Prices vary from THB860 to THB960 depending on the departure. There is a second class AC ladies only option in train #1, too. Consider it if you are a solo woman traveller or have your little ones in tow.
The most convenient night train is most probably #51 at 10pm arriving to Phitsanulok at 4.37am. Though there are few of us who enjoy getting up so early, you may want to use this opportunity to visit Wat Phra Si Rattana Maha That before crowds flood the famous temple; after finishing with the temple try an absolutely divine yogurt at Fa-Ke-Ra cafe in Muslin quarter adjacent to the temple. Their crêpes are similarly outstanding.
Visiting ancient cities around Phitsanulok
All the three ancient cities of Sukhothai, Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet are a part of the UNESCO Heritage Site of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns. You can notice very similar town planning and the majority of the structures belong to the same historic period thus bearing very characteristic architectural features. Nonetheless all the three cities differ not only in size, state of the ruins and the role they once used to play but most importantly in atmosphere. Stately and glorious Sukhothai, tranquil and provincial Kamphaeng Phet and mysterious and lonely Si Satchanalai form a great itinerary for any history and architecture buff.
SukhothaiThe Historical Park of Ancient Sukhothai lies 75 km to the northwest of Phitsanulok. There are regular buses linking Phitsanulok both with New Sukhothai and Sukhothai Historical Park. There is no much difference whether to stay in New Sukhothai and visit the ruins during the day or choose a guesthouse or a hotel right by the entrance of the park. It may prove more convenient to live in the new city as you will have more choices to spend you evening, while the ancient city died after dark.
Si SatchanalaiYou can reach Si Satchanalai directly from Phitsanulok (150 km), but it is more logical to visit Sukhothai first and then proceed further north to one more ancient city (80 km or 1½ hour by bus). Si Satchanalai in unbeatable as far as the atmosphere is concerned and the chances that you will be the only visitor wandering among the remnants of the ancient temples peppering the forest are high.
Tip: By no means miss Wat Khao Suwan Khiri which occupies commanding position over the ancient city sitting on top of the hill. If after checking the ruins below you feel that Si Satchanalai lacks its soul, you are likely to find what you are looking for right up the hill.
Kamphaeng PhetSome 40 km to the south of Phitsanulok and then 65 km further west – just a couple of hours by bus – and you find yourself in the historical city of Kamphaeng Phet. There are two sets of ancient ruins in Kamphaeng Phet. Though the ruins are not as impressive as those of Sukhothai or even Si Satchanalai, they are definitely worth a look if you are an ancient temples enthusiast. The walled city of Kamphaeng Phet is especially atmospheric during festivals when the ruins are decorated with candles and look truly mystical. The expansive zone with ruined temples outside the city feels very tranquil and somewhat isolated though you will most probably see locals jogging or exercising there.
Tip: Phet Prasert bus company connects Sukhothai and Kamphaeng Phet with a number of destinations on the Eastern Seaboard, in Isan and Central Thailand. There are buses between Kamphaeng Phet and Pattaya, Trat for your onward travel to Koh Chang, Aranyaprathet on the border with Cambodia for further travel to Siem Reap and Angkor complex among others. From Sukhothai, you can go with Phet Prasert to Mukdahan on the border with Laos or to Khon Kaen in the heart of Isan.
A couple of years ago the city introduced Pun Pun Phitsanulok bicycle share scheme. There are several bicycle stands all around the city, and you can cover the major points of interest, all indicated on the map at each stand, within a day. The only inconvenience is that to use this rent-a-bike scheme you should first register in the system, but once registered, you can obtain you Pun Pun smart card at the information booths or TAT office in Phitsanulok.
There are several songthaew routes in the city. Be ready to pay THB40 for a trip from the Bo-Ko-So bus station to the centre. Three-wheeled tuk-tuks are also an option in Phitsanulok. Even the shortest ride will cost you THB60 and up.