Apr 24, 2020 • 4M

Couchfish Day 19: Phitsanulok

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Stuart McDonald
The Couchfish podcast. Following a day by day itinerary through Southeast Asia—for all those people stranded on their couch.
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While I love getting around by scooter, the downside is needing to take the bike back. I rise early, grab a coffee and jump back on two wheels, retracing my route south to Sukhothai

Despite having ridden in Thailand for years, the frosty early-morning air never fails to startle. On the upside few are as silly as me to be out at this hour, and Route 1113 is devoid of traffic for almost the entire ride back. I return the bike to TR Guesthouse, still early enough in the day that a staffer offers me a ride to the bus station. Early bird gets the worm.

A good drone video showing the lay of the land around Phitsanulok.

Phitsanulok (P’Lok to friends) is an hour east by bus and I wait almost that long before the bus decides to get going. It is late morning by the time I’m off the bus in my destination.

To many, Phitsanulok (map link) is but a transit point to Sukhothai or a passing station from the train window. Like almost everywhere though, it is worth a night. I skip the grubby hotels near the train station and instead go for the comfortable P1 House, a 10-minute walk to the north.

All that many travellers see of Phitsanulok. Photo: David Luekens.

While this is a large provincial capital, all the main points of interest are central to the train station. This includes my first grazing stop, Ban Mai, just around the corner from my guesthouse.

By my standards, it’s a pretty upmarket affair, but the air-con is a welcome relief from the outdoor heat. I go for a salad double header—yam tua poo (wing bean salad) and a spicy lemongrass salad with jumbo prawns. The prawns are perfect. Buried in a mountain of lemongrass and chillies, each bite delivers an explosion of flavour. Yummo.

The Phra Phuttha Chinnarat glows. Photo: David Luekens.

Downtown P’Lok has two primary attractions—Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat and a folklore museum. The former is just a short walk away, so I start there. 

Better known as Wat Yai, the temple is famous for the Phra Phuttha Chinnarat. This stunning bronze seated Buddha image dates back to when Phitsanulok was the capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom. It has to be one of the shiniest Buddhas I’ve ever seen—it almost glows. The temple is also worth a look for its murals, many with explanations in English—unusual for a Thai temple.

There’s always lotus buds. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

From Wat Yai it is a 45-minute walk south to the curious Sgt. Maj. Thawee Folk Museum. This is the personal collection of Sgt. Maj. Thawee, who is clearly a pack–rat of epic proportions. Divided across a few traditional Thai houses, the collection runs from coins and ceramics to fish traps and ox carts.

I take in the photographic display of a buffalo castration. Way too much information, thank you. Across the road, a small centre casts Buddha images using the lost wax process. It helps to take my mind off the poor buffalo.  

About one zillionth of the full collection. Photo: David Luekens.

That evening, I amble down to the Nam River, whose banks are sprinkled with a bunch of eating options. Open-air restaurants rub shoulders with upmarket digs along both sides of the river. It is still early though, so I walk a little down the east bank to Rasta Raft Bar. The bar and restaurant is a classic from the Thai school of hippy chic meets wood, imaginative art, good food and friendly staff. It is also the perfect spot to relax as the sun sets.

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Tomorrow: Back into nature.