During my recent road trip to the north of Thailand, I made a point of visiting Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat in Phitsanulok. This is a popular pilgrimage site to see what many people call, “the most beautiful Buddha image in the Kingdom”. It is certainly one of the most revered and is undoubtedly worth several visits. This was my fourth. People have been known to go there and back in one day in order to make merit, even though it takes them at least five hours by car from Bangkok.
There isn’t really a lot of things to do in Phitsanulok. However, it is a major transport hub for the north. If you are taking the train between Bangkok and Chiang Mai then I would strongly suggest you stop off here on your way back down. Visit this temple to pay respect and to admire the beauty of the craftsmanship, and then catch a bus across to Sukhothai, the ancient capital city of Thailand. Phitsanulok is only five hours away by bus from Chiang Mai and then it is only another hour to Sukhothai. I would suggest sleeping in Sukhothai. If you find you need somewhere to stay in Phitsanulok then try the area around the train station. There are quite a few hotels there starting from about 500 baht per night with air-conditioning. From your hotel, walk to the Nan River in the late afternoon where you will find many restaurants with not only fine views but a pleasant breeze. There is a market and other shops in this area too.
The main attraction is of course Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat, which is shortened to Wat Phra Si or Wat Yai by the locals. The entrance fee for foreigners is clearly stated as 40 baht. However, I entered through the side gate near the river and so didn’t notice until I had left. It didn’t really matter as I much prefer to make my own donation at the temple rather than encouraging monks to collect entrance fees. After all, they are not supposed to handle money. After you have visited the Buddha image, don’t forget to walk around to the back to see this standing Buddha with a prang behind it. In contrast to the main hall, this area was deserted. The cloisters at the back of the temple also has a nice variety of Buddha images. While I was there, two coach loads of foreign tourists stopped here. I believe this is a popular stop for tours from Bangkok to the north of Thailand. Don’t forget to visit yourself the next time you are in Thailand.