Tag Archives: old town

Phitsanulok and Sukhothai

OK so let’s be honest here, I had never heard of either of these two places and trying to remember them has been no easy feat. My early attempts at even trying to pronounce them have been less than stellar. The early attempts resulted in a very unhappy and uncomfortable item of poultry and a very happy local inhabitant.


Important note…the transport here from the airport to town is atrocious. We flew in via Bangkok and two plane loads arrived at the same time. Every cab in town (about 15 of them) was there to greet the plane. They filled (with the people with carry on only) and left for the 8 km journey to town, but almost none returned.

At this point I really need to stress the importance of getting, downloading and using the grab app.

From this point on you had to order your own car from the Grab or Uber apps, despite the fact that another 200 people odd are waiting to get to town. Cabs arrived and searched for the person who called them. There is no line, no queue, no order it is mayhem. We were off virtually first (seated in row 2), had our bags first (priority luggage) but were virtually the last two to leave the airport. They almost turned the lights out as we fought to get a car to town.

We finally got a car using the Grab app and got to where we wanted to be. First impressions…OK we are in the backblocks now. Phitsanulok was founded over 600 years ago and was one of the provincial centres of the Khmer Empire. Today it serves as a major transportation hub for the region with planes, trains and busses all routing through here. While this place may be a transport hub, it is a truly Thai town and there is not too much for tourists to do here.

Don’t get me wrong, it is nice but the food vendors sell food to and for locals. In plastic bags, designed to be taken home and eaten. There are very few if any tables (even the little plastic numbers) where you can sit down and eat your meal. In addition, if you have not eaten by 8pm you will not eat. Everything shuts up early and people go home. Oh, and as you head south…it gets hotter. This place is noticeably hotter than both Chiang Mai and Rai.

As you would expect, Phitsanulok has its fair share of Temples and Wats.

Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahathat was built in 1357 and is home to the Phra Buddha Chinnarat. This is meant to be one of the most beautiful and revered Buddha statues in all of Thailand and serves as the official symbol of the Province. I get that I am a bit of a heathen, but I truly cannot tell what makes this one more beautiful than any of the thousands of others that we have seen.

The Night Bazaar, Chan Royal Palace Historical Center, and the Buddha casting factory are all nearby and if you are hunting for things to see and do then they are available.


Sukhothai and the area around it were part of the Khmer Empire until the early 13th century. When the Khmer Empire began to decline, the local population (called Siam) revolted and assumed power under the leadership of King Si Inthrathit. they called their new empire Sukhothai which literally translates to “the dawn of happiness”.

This Kingdom lasted for 200 years (1238-1438) and is credited with the invention and development of many of the unique identifying characteristics of Siamese (Thai) culture. It was the birthplace of the Thai language and where Theravada Buddhism became Thailand’s state religion.  Many of the advancements have been attributed directly to King Ramkhamhaeng, who is considered the Founding Father of the Thai Nation.

Sukhothai Historical Park is the UNESCO listed) home of most of the historical elements of the early foundations of Thai culture. It is divided into 5 zones (N,S,E,W and central) with most of the elements in the central zone.

Sukhothai Historical Park covers 70 square kilometers and contains over 190 ruins which are pretty well spread out.

How much, how long and how

The cost to enter each zone is 100 Baht per person, so going to each of the 5 zones will cost a couple 1000 Baht ($50). The central zone contains most of the more impressive ruins and can be navigated on foot in a few hours (this will get your 10,000 steps up). There are options to hire bicycles and (very cool looking) electric golf buggies (that will reduce this timing) and will allow you to get to all five zones within one day.

We chose to spread our visit out over two days rather than power through and exhaust ourselves. Part of this had to do with the fact that our hotel was absolutely lovely (Foresto Sukhothai Guesthome) and warranted a bit of extra time.

So day one was on foot and took in the central zone with a day off before tackling the outer zones.

Wat Si Sawai

With this place containing the remains of Khmer rule and the onset of Thai rule, the architecture reflects this pretty well. You can clearly see the Khmer influences when you enter Wat Si Sawai with its three corncob shaped towers (prangs) and being surrounded by a wall.

Wat Mahathat

This temple was the most important royal temple in the Sukothai Kingdom. It is located right in the middle of the central zone. It is the largest of any in Sukhothai Historical Park and includes an incredibly large number of stupas, prangs (Khmer originated conical towers), and Buddha figures. 

Wat Sa Si

This temple is on a small island and features a very impressive white sitting Buddha backdropped by a large chedi. And was infested by some annoying French tourists who took selfies for what seemed like forever.

Wat Sarosak

Wat Sorasak is a bell-shaped stupa on a brick base. The base of the temple is surrounded by 24 elephant heads (with torso and front legs). The remains of an assembly hall are just east of the stupa. Wat Sorasak was built about 1417 A.D.

The outer zone of temples

We had a day off from sight seeing and then got back into it to do the outer ring of temples. Due to the distances in between them walking was not a reasonable option so we invested $1.50 each to hire bicycles for the day so that we could get around to them all. As you may expect, $1.50 does not rent you a top of the line bike in terms of either, speed, gearing nor comfort.

To circumnavigate the outer ring it is about a 15-20 km loop. It is fairly safe to say that, while there are 190 different ruins, many of them are little more than piles of bricks and are not really that impressive. Having cycled this distance on a very dodgy bicycle, it is also safe to say that my arse hates me and I hate non-motorised bikes.

Despite the spiel about the different zones having fees, we only found ticket booths at the north and central zones. The rest of the time you can get about freely. We came across a school group being taught by some crazy dude dressed in a safari-style outfit which was fine but we did notice the shirt that one of the teenage girls was wearing. Not sure if the meaning (or inference) of this was known – but I’m not sure that you would not get away with this shirt in the Australian schools that I went to.

Is this the death of the tuk tuk?

Heading to the historical park the guest house owners told us to grab a tuk tuk and that it should be 150 baht one way…which it was. To return we hailed a tuk tuk and could not get a price cheaper than 200 baht despite trying to negotiate and haggle. So we rejected this, jumped on the Grab app and found that we could order an air-conditioned car that arrived within a few minutes and took us to our hotel for 130 baht.

The tuk tuk drivers (in every country) have a long history of ripping off tourists and charging ridiculously more than the locals. In India, the tourist price was about 250% the local price with some shady characters trying to charge much more, but with online apps, this world may well be changing. While we are happy to support the locals we are not happy being bilked in the process.

Apps such as Grab will tell you how much it will cost for you to get to your destination in the comfort of an air-conditioned vehicle. Surely any lesser options than these (such as tuk tuk) must be cheaper. They certainly should not be 50% more expensive, which was our experience trying to get home from the historical park.

Important note – If you are heading this way (Asia generally) the Grab transport App should be linked to alternative banking solutions (such as Wise or Revolut) so as to avoid huge bank fees and exorbitant exchange rate charges. In fact, these two are a much better way to avoid a multitude of bank fees charged by the usual banking suspects.

Bangkok, Thailand

This post is well overdue for a number of reasons. reason number one is that it was written and cued on my Ipad…which died upon arrival back in Australia. This means that all of the witty quips and the contemporaneous comments are missing as I try and wrack my brain about what actually took place three weeks ago. Number two is obviously that we are at home now and have been immersed in the “real world” and have as such been busy.


The first thing that must be done is to add a minor amendment to the Phuket post. While we were in Phuket…we were staying at Patpong Beach which is the main tourist area…and it sucked…a lot. During our time there we made two forays to Phuket old town and they were both fantastic. The first time was on a weekend and we did the 17km tuk tuk ride to go and see the market. Now this place is a food lover’s heaven. Immediately we were overwhelmed with awesome food choices at incredibly reasonable prices.

While Thailand is generally considered cheap when compared to Australia, it is highly priced compared against most of Asia…and the tourist zones are comparable to Australian prices for most things (especially food and beers). The old town however was not. It was cheap, hectic, loud and fun. We ate, drank, cruised the rubbish tourist market stalls and generally had a ball…and paid more for the transport to get us to and fro.

Three days later we went back to try again, but a scheduling mixup meant the market wasn’t on so we wandered the streets. This time we paid about a dollar to catch the local bus there rather than the $16 that the tuk tuk drivers charged. It was hot so we stopped in for a refreshing beverage and immediately noticed the difference between this and where we were staying. Cocktails were $3-4 and beers were about $2 and the girl serving was both lovely and efficient…and a girl for that matter.

Upon ordering our second round she apologised that happy hour had kicked in and that alas our first round of drinks would be charged at the full rate of $2 per 600ml stubbie rather than the now discounted rate. As the sun set she directed us to the local street food stall area where we could get good local food. After a short walk we found this and settled in for an absolute feast. We just kept ordering from various stalls and eating and despite 5 attempts to get a bill from my little street vendor… the lady just kept saying “when you finish”. An hour or two later, the 4 of us were completely stuffed and I sheepishly headed for the bill.

As it turned out we were paying about $1 a plate for some of the most amazing food that we had eaten in Thailand thus far. In essence the entire meal for 4 of us in Phuket old town was about that which we would pay per head where we were staying. I guess the main point to be made in all of this is that Phuket does not actually suck…just the tourist beach areas do. If we had our time over again we would stay in Phuket old town and do the day trips to the beach. Had we done this we would have had a much better and cheaper time.


Upon arrival in Bangkok, we headed almost straight to Chinatown for dinner. Wandering the streets we found kerbside restaurants and market stalls that just could not be overlooked or bypassed. From here and on the recommendation of KAT (who spent much time living in Bangkok) we headed out to what he described was his favourite bar in BKK… Wongs Place. We arrived at about 9:30pm to find it still shut so we found another venue which charged us $10 for a little beer while we waited. At 10:30pm we returned to find it still not open so I grabbed some 600ml beer from the 7-11 (for $2) and we settled in for a foot massage across the road.

When it opened we entered this dark dingy little room with the walls lined with photographs of patrons from yesteryear. Our advice was to help yourself to the beer at the back in the fridge and they would just count up the empties at the end of the night. Alas the owner was not there to be able to pass on KAT’s regards and the beer prices had more than doubled to a ridiculous $4 for a beer. A hunt around the walls found some historical gems of photos that had to be captured and shared for posterity.

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Day 2 in BKK was the inevitable shopping expedition during the day, hitting the infamous MBK shopping centre which thankfully was a short walk from our accommodation. Add to this the late night show at Patpong Night Market and we effectively did the normal tourist run through BKK. For those that do not know…Patpong night market is where all the sleazy side of Thailand resides. So as we wandered the streets were met with the usual touts offering us the girlie shows including the firing of ping pong balls and darts from various parts of the anatomy and the offers of some unique forms of entertainment.

While cruising around we stopped into one of the venues for a beer and use of the toilets. There were girls “dancing” on stage where in actual fact they were leaning against the poles holding the roof up. The entertainment was so poor that we started to watch the fish tank as the fish were both better looking and more active than the girls on stage. This was fine for a while but eventually we had to leave when Jill (justifiably) tried to slip a tip into the fish tank thus offending the owner and the girls.

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The next day we were joined by long term friends of Brett’s (Annette and Peter) and we did the day trip out to the Bridge over the River Quai via the floating markets. This is quite a way out of town and for most people other than military buffs or veterans is probably not worth the time or expense to get there. I came here in about 1995 with my mate Nadim and the floating markets were quite the sight…today they are just filled with the same tourist trash you get everywhere else but at a greater price than elsewhere.

We took the long boat to the market which was a zig zag through the canals to get to the market…in reality we could drive right up to them and save 40 mins. It was once authentic…now it is a farce. The cemetery was interesting but the museum was a bunch of reproduction photos with little or no explanation…an hour of googling and a printer could get you the same result. In hindsight this trip was overpriced and really not worth the effort.

Our last day was spent at shopping centres eating, drinking and having overpriced coffee while we waited for our late night flights.