Nakhon Si Thammarat is one of the oldest cities in Thailand and very much unknown to most Thailand visitors. It lies off the beaten track and only some real Thailand enthusiasts visit this place. The city is the capital of the same named province. It is situated on the south-eastern Gulf Coast in Southern Thailand. It features some lovely beaches, has cultural attractions and a gorgeous national park with photogenic waterfalls. All this makes it a splendid place for a stop, either before heading to the Andaman Sea or travelling up north direction Koh Samui or further south to the border of Malaysia.
The beginning of Nakhon Si Thammarat is not really known. But historians believe that the settlement was founded by the kingdom of Tambralinga. This is a Sanskrit name and tambra means “red” and linga is referred to the Hindu god “Siva” or “phallus”. Early records estimate that the settlement was built between the 7th and 14th century. At one time it was also part of the Srivijaya kingdom. Tambralinga became independent again by the end of the 12th century, when the Srivijaya Empire declined. From the 13th till beginning of the 14th century the kingdom occupied almost the entire Malayan Peninsula. During this time it was one of the most dominant states in Southeast Asia. Finally it became part of Siam by the end of the 14th century and was officially named Nakhon Si Thammaraj. In the 16th century the important port town for European merchants was known as Ligor. After the fall of Ayutthaya the province tried to break away from Siam but failed. By the end of the 19th century the port town was renamed into Monthon Nakhon Si Thammarat and the city was officially declared as the provincial capital.
Today the center of modern Nakhon Si Thammarat is bult north of the Old Town, by the railway station. Its population is bit more than 100,000. The province is behind Surat Thani the 2nd largest in Southern Thailand.
Nakhon Si Thammarat is about 770 kilometers south of Bangkok and the fastest way to reach the town is by plane. At present time there are only a few daily flights from Bangkok and back. The airport (IATA: NST) lays 15 km to the north and passengers can reach the city center by minivans in about 15 minutes.
Nakhon Si Thammarat lies on the main train route Bangkok – Malaysia. The best way is by overnight train. The first class has private compartments with 2 beds and the air con 2nd class sleeping coach is very comfortable. Drinks and food can be ordered by the train steward or consumed in the restaurant wagon. The train station is in the western part of the center with nearby hotels, cafes and restaurants.
Another option is by air con bus from Bangkok Southern Bus Terminal. There are the more comfortable VIP buses and the standard ones. The travel time is about 12 hours. The bus terminal is a bit outside the center. The easiest way is to charter a tuk tuk from/to the town.
From many southern cities direct buses and minivans connect with Nakhon Si Thammarat. Although the mini bus stops are in different places around town, therefore best to ask in the hotel for the particular stop.
It is most easy to get around in town by tuk kuk, otherwise by songthaew. If you hire a tuk tuk or one of these songthaew for yourself, make sure that you have an agreement of the price before starting.
Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan
This ancient temple was built during the construction of the town and is the most important temple in Southern Thailand. The architecture of the 78 m high main pagoda features a typical Sri Lankan style, decorated in pure gold. At its base is the Viharn Tap Kaset gallery with many elephant heads and Buddha statues. Visitors can climb a staircase to reach a walkway which goes around the main pagoda, surrounded by 178 smaller chedis. The temple compound has other significant buildings such as the Sam Chom with the Buddha image of Phra Si Thamma Sokarat. The royal house features an Ayutthaya era style. This temple is the symbol of the province and also displayed on the 25 satang coin.
The City Wall
This fortifications was already mentioned in the city chronicle from 1278. Restorations were done under the reign of King Ramesuan in the 14th century and King Narai in 1686. The walls were enclosing a total area of one square kilometer. Today only s short part of the northern wall with its gate still exists.
National Museum Nakhon Si Thammarat
It was opened in 1974 and features interesting artifacts from the 4 provinces of Chumphon, Surat Thani, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Phatthalung.
Shadow Puppet Theater (Suchat Sapsin)
This is a great opportunity to watch a traditional play, which only can be seen in southern Thailand. The puppets are made of dried cowhide and rattan. Songs and chants normally accompany the performances. King Bhumipol attended some years ago a play and the house got some high rewards for its outstanding work.
Get yourself a traditional southern Thailand basket, called Yan Li Pao. But they are sold for quite high prices and one must bargain hard with the dealer.
Basketry made out of Kajood wood is another traditional product from this region. They are made into mats, bags, shoes and vases.
Pha Yos is rarely seen cloth and only woven in this area. The colors and patterns are exquisite.
This waterfall is a very popular place for the locals. It’s about 30 km to the west in the Nakhon Si Thammarat mountain range. The falls contain 19 steps and are very impressive. The kings Rama V and Rama VI visited the falls and left some carved initials.
Khao Luang Naional Park
It is the most famous national park in the region and has its name from the Khao Luang Mountain. A large variety of fauna and flora can be seen. There is rafting in the rivers and one can bath in the natural pools below the spectacular waterfalls. One of the most brilliant ones is the Phrom Lok waterfall. The park is about 33 kilometers from the city away.
Khao Wang Thong Cave
This amzing cave is a bit less than 80 km away, in the Khanom district. It consists of many chambers with unusual sizes and shapes of stalagmites. Before or after the cave exploration visitors can enjoy the beautiful and deserted beaches along the coast, between the city and Khanom.
Na Dam Beach (Khanom Bay, 100 km north)
The beach features fine white sand, clear blue water and is seamed by coconut trees.
Nai Phalo Beach (Khanom Bay, 100 km north)
It is the largest beach of this bay, based at the bottom of a mountain. On both ends are large boulders. Slowly but surely this stretch is starting to develop.
Thung Yi and Thong Yang Beach (Khanom Bay, 100 km north)
Those two beaches are fantastic and isolated. Thong Yang is only accessible by boat or by trekking over the Khao Klang Mountain.
The Thong Yang Beach is much easier to reach from the more south placed Sichon. The water is crystal clear and perfect for swimming and snorkeling. There are same small shops nearby.
Hin Ngaam Beach (Sichon, 70 km north)
This is a wide bay with golden-brown sand has only a couple of resorts and a few small restaurants.
The coast around this small town is much more developed and has bungalow resorts in all price classes. The beach lies only 30 km to the north of Nakhon Si Thammarat and is therefore very popular for the townsfolk.
Nakhon Si Thammarat features a tropical monsoon climate and rain can fall all year, but normally only for a short time. From December till March it’s drier while during October and November heavy monsoon rain falls. The region has all year nice warm temperatures.