A city in the lower part of northern Thailand rich in historical, cultural and natural attractions, Phitsanulok is some 377 km from Bangkok. The province around it covers an area of 10,815 square kilometres, featuring mountains, plains and forest in the east and river basin. The Nan River, lifeline of the province, runs through the heart of the city.
Phitsanulok is a regional commercial and transportation hub. Many travellers will at least pass through Phitsanulok on way to and from the north. While the city itself is not the most exciting or prettiest place in the world, it can be useful for stocking up on supplies, and Phitsanulok is a great starting point for exploring the ancient Thai capital of Sukhothai. The local TAT office is at 209 Thanon Borom Trailokanat (08:30-16:30 daily).
The city dates back to the 10th century when the Khmer ruled this region. Formerly, the city was named Song Khwae, meaning two rivers, as it was located between the Nan and Khwae Noi River. The original location of Song Khwae city is at Wat Chulamani. Around the year 1357, king of Sukhothai, Phra Maha Thammaracha Lithai, decided to move the town to its present location. Since then, Phitsanulok served as a strategic border town ruled by members of the royal family.
During the Ayutthaya Period, the town played a larger role as a buffer town between Ayutthaya, the capital city, and the northern kingdom. Following an administrative reform by King Borommatrailokkanat, it had served as the capital city for 25 years. After that, the town was downgraded to a strategic border town. It has played a major role in blocking the invasion of Burmese troops. King Naresuan the Great, who ruled the town in a capacity as Crown Prince, mobilized troops from Phitsanulok to fight against the Burmese who then ruled over the Siamese Kingdom, and reclaimed independence in 1584.
Phitsanulok became a strategic town in coping Burmese invasion again in 1775 in the Thon Buri period. During a tough battle, the Burmese army’s commander requested an appearance of a Thai commander, Chaophraya Chakri, and predicted that he would become a king. Chaophraya Chakri was later crowned the first monarch of the Rattanakosin period, King Rama I the Great of the Royal House of Chakri. Phitsanulok was upgraded to be a circle called Monthon Phitsanulok in 1894 in the reign of King Rama V. Now, Phitsanulok is a province.
Nokair offers regular flights between Phitsanulok and Bangkok Don Mueang(50 minutes). Bus #4 runs to the airport, as do tuk-tuks for about 10-20 baht.
Kan Air  flies to Phitsanulok and back from Chiang Mai.
There are several daily services north to Chiang Mai and south to Bangkok. Both take about 6-7 hours.
Extensive bus services connect Phitsanulok with Chiang Mai and Bangkok. As Phitsanulok is a major transportation hub, there are also regular services to the northeast. Phitsanulok is about 390 km from Bangkok. Buses take 5-6 hours for the journey. The return trip can take as long as 7 hours, depending on the Bangkok traffic. The bus to Chiang Mai takes 6 hours.
The main bus station is 2 km east of the train station just off Singhawat Rd. From there buses leave for Chiang Mai, Tak (via Sukhothai), Khon Kaen and Bangkok, as well as the surrounding provinces and to the towns within the province.
You can reach the bus station by tuk-tuk, or hop on the bus on one of the stops downtown, for instance, on the broad road passing south of the Topland Plaza Hotel (a little west of the hotel). Note that the stops and buses have signage in Thai only.
Public buses serve the town and there is no shortage of tuk-tuks and taxis. No. 1 bus serves the route between the central bus station and the train station in the town centre, and leaves from the short road leading from the highway to the bus station.
Decent motorbikes (Honda Wave, etc.) can be rented from the shop near the central bus station, at prices somewhat higher than the Chiang Mai standard (starting ~200 baht)
Phitsanulok is not well known to foreign tourists and thus has retained the charm of a typical, larger Thai city. Unfortunately, most of the older parts of the city were destroyed in a disastrous fire decades ago.
Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahathat (Wat Yai), (near Naresuan Bridge). This is the most important temple in Phitsanulok and is the home of the famous Phra Buddha Chinnarat, one of the most revered Buddha figures in Thailand. The temple is host to a large fair every January. There is also a small market on the ground, where people offer souvenirs and local food. Connected to the temple ground of Wat Yai is the Nang Phaya Temple. There you can get a traditional Thai massage.
Wat Ratburana, (on the southern side of Naresuan Bridge). This wat is best known for its very old and tall Chedi. According to legend this was constructed in the 15th century to house the ashes of the King of Sukhothai's two brothers. There is also the usual Thai temple buildings, plus, a small museum, and a boat used by King Chulalongkorn.(16.822,100.2606)
King Naresuan Shrine and Wang Chan Palace Ruin. King Naresuan was one of the great Thai kings who liberated Ayutthaya Kingdom from the Burmese in the 16th century. This shrine commemorates his life. It is found north of the city centre, past the government offices. It is hard to miss. A small white building, inside the statue of the King. lat=16.8298. long=100.2617. Surrounding the shrine are the ruins of the palace the King was born in. Excavations underway in 2012.(16.8298,100.2617)
City Pillar Shrine/Lak Mueang (Thai), (On the river, opp. Wat Yai.). The spiritual centre of the city and province. A Lak Mueang (Thai) or 'City Pillar Shrine' is a golden pillar, which represents the tutelary diety of each province of Thailand, housed inside an impressively designed structure. This shrine was designed by the Thai Fine Arts Department, in a Khymer style.(16.8243,100.2598)
House-boats once a symbol of Phitsanulok, only a few of these are left on the river and some now function as restaurants and cafes.
Buddha factory Essentially a small open workshop, provides an intriguing insight into how Buddha statues are created. Free, but donations welcomed.
Bird Park next to the Buddha casting factory; with around 100 local species such as parrots (English is spoken!) and hornbills.
Folklore Museum A small museum exhibiting local culture and society, as collected by Sgt.-Maj. Tawee. Interesting, worth a look. South of town centre. 50 baht entry. +16.8059 +100.2675.
More sights can be suggested by the helpful Tourism Authority office, at 209/7-8 Boromtrailokanat Road, a few streets south of the train station (walking 5-7 minutes)
Visit the temples and stroll around a Thai city that is still relatively unspoiled.
Several markets offer the typical variety of food stall dishes. During the day check out the market just south of the train station, which turns into a popular night market scene in the early evening. Some of the best buys are gai yang (grilled chicken) and kweitiou pat Thai (Thai-style fried noodles).
The Night Bazaar along the river offers lots of tourist-type food options plus after-dinner shopping with the usual night market items.
Phitsanulok Mall: Standard chain restaurant fare. There is a Tesco-Lotus downstairs for self catering and other essentials.
The Big C mall: 3 km east of the city centre, has a wide range of small restaurants and a food hall.
Connection House, Borom Trai Lokkanat Rd (Going southwest from train station/clock tower, past Xing Ming school but before playground/Leelawadee.). Thai and foreign food, cakes and coffee.
It's a Cake. In the same building as the Lithai Guest House, sells great cakes and has good sandwiches, pasta, and Thai dishes. Internet.
Phitsanulok is not a tourist-oriented city, and there is not a broad range of guest houses. However, there are several good options at rates much lower than in Bangkok or Chiang Mai.
Asia Hotel, (a short walk from the railway station (turn left on the main road just past the 7-11).). From the outside this hotel doesn't look much, but it has clean fan or air-con rooms with hot water, Wi-Fi, and Thai TV. From the bus station bus number 6, 8, and 12 stop opposite the hotel.380 baht.
BP Tower, (past the Big C on the main road (Mittraphap Rd) out of the city, down a side street, sign on main road.), ☎ +66 55 2208556. Pleasant 6 storey hotel. A bit away from the city, but on the ground floor of the hotel is a mini-mart, laundry, massage, and a small restaurant. Bus to the city is 9 baht, motorbike taxi, 50 baht.300-500 baht. (16.8169,100.2922)
LiThai Guesthouse, 73/1-5 Phayalithai Rd (some blocks southwest of the train station), ☎ +66 55 2196269 (fax: +66 55 219627 ext 500). Very clean, it has moderate prices starting at 300 baht for a single fan room with en suite bathroom. In-room Wi-Fi is free. Breakfast is not included, but in the same building there is a café that serves breakfast.
London Guesthouse, (short walk from LiThai Guesthouse (ask around)). checkout: 11:30. Shared bathrooms. On one of the busier roads in town, so ask for a back room if noise is an issue for you. Pay another 20 baht for wireless password, good Internet speed. Good location, with night market & railway station nearby. Friendly & helpful staff. Clean, Spartan fan rooms for 100 baht.
LV Gardenhome, (outside the city near Big C. Bus (9 baht) and songthaew (10 baht) during the day but no transport into the city in the evening, meaning you have little choice of what to do in the evenings as the place is quite remote.), . Very nice hotel - 2-storey with rooms surrounding central garden with water features. Bathroom, air-con, TV, and free Wi-Fi in all rooms. There are a few restaurants across the motorway open at night. Monthly rate of 3,500 baht is for a minimum 3-month stay.
Phitsanulok Hotel, (across the street from the train station). checkout: 12:00. Big hotel with small rooms. It feels like a barracks. Not really a bargain but it's OK. Fan, table, chair, shower, squat toilet. You get toilet paper, water, soap and a towel. The staff hardly speak any English. Good option if you arrive on the train late at night.200 baht.
Grand Riverside Hotel, 59 Praroung Rd, ☎ +66 55 248333 (fax: +66 55 248987), . The hotel offers a free airport transfer.Start at 2,000 baht..
Rattana Park Hotel, 999/59 Mitrapap Rd (about 500 m from the bus station. Locate the nearby 7-11, walk to the end of the road, then turn right onto Mitrapap), ☎ +66 55 378234. Walk-in price for basic air-con room is 690 baht with breakfast included. Hot water in the shower. Breakfast is basic Thai food, but was quite cold not all that late in the morning.
Topland Hotel & Convention Centre, 68/33 Ekathosarot Rd, ☎ +66 55 247800, . Part of the Topland Plaza shopping centre, this is one of the better hotels. Buses to Sukhothai leave from in front of the hotel. Good lunch and dinner buffets. It is well worth the money, though can be noisy at night as it contains a popular night-club.2,000+ baht..
Immigration Office (visa extensions and 90-day registry here), in the Floating Museum opposite the main Post Office, on the river (walk upriver from the night bazaar (same river bank) approx 10 minutes (you will need to cross a road junction). After about 10 minutes you should see the main post office on the right hand side. The Immigration Office is the traditional wooden building, on the left hand side, before the post office.).
Phitsanulok is a good stop-over from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (or vice versa).