Nakhon Si Thammarat—An Out of the Way City and Province in Southern Thailand
Southern Thailand is known for its famous tourist islands, but… not much else.
This is an oversight. There are a dozen provinces and 15 million people in southern Thailand, each with a story and their own uniqueness. In an effort to escape the tourist circuit you should visit at least one of these out of the way places on your tour through the Kingdom.
One such stop is Nakhon Si Thammarat
Abbreviated to “Nakhon Si”. This small city is eight hundred kilometres south of Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand. It is the capital of a large, rural province of the same name. Its streets are filled with low-rise construction, most of which are elderly and worn. There are small shops, restaurants, and many not so busy merchants and vendors of every type. The streets are moderately full with a mix of people—school students in their white uniforms, mothers, and grandmothers being helped along the street by their children, ‘motorbike taxi drivers’ in their orange vests standing, smoking and chatting on street corners as they wait for a fare. People going about their everyday life.
Nakhon Si closes early, there is no busy Bangkok-like nightlife stretching into the small hours. By 8 pm most shops are shut, but many close earlier, at or soon after sunset.
To understand the layout of the town, it is ‘stretched’ north to south. In days gone by the town was located on the coast and followed the shoreline, however, with time and tide, the coastal area has silted over and the town is now ten kilometres inland.
As with most south-eastern provinces of Thailand there are few tourists or tourist facilities in the town. You will have to make do with finding your own way around, and with accommodation.
One fine place to rest your head is the Green Place Guesthouse, about 2kms north of the town centre, just back from the main road. This is a little out of town, but a ‘baht bus’ into the town centre is only 20 baht (50c) and these come by frequently.
This is the best place for a traveller to reside, but there are better and worse hotels in town if you desire a more local experience.
The town is not a food drawcard, but there are a few places. The owner of the Green Place also runs a small restaurant and cafe in the town centre, one street east from the train station. This is the “JE Cafe and Restaurant”. Another good selection of western styled restaurants lies to the immediate north of the Provincial Hall (in the south of the town).
For local food, just look around the street, as in most Thai towns there is food for sale on every street corner. If you enjoy seafood then you will like Nakhon Si. There is an abundance, caught fresh every day.
New City Museum
Things to see and do, not a huge amount in the city itself. There is a new City Museum, which is worth a look. It is located to the north of the town, a few signs on the main roads will point you the way. At the southern end of the town is the Nakhon SI branch of the national museum, which is not as splendid as its city equivalent. There is also a shadow puppet museum and theatre near the Provincial Hall. Shadow puppets are a local cultural custom, something of a must-see.
For those with an academic interest, 20 kilometres north of the city is the leading university of southern Thailand—Walailak University. It is a centre for archaeological research and high-level general learning in the region. The campus grounds exhibit splendid architecture.
Historically, the city and province stretch back a thousand years or more and were occasionally independent of Thailand. There are numerous archaeological sites scattered through the town, including a long, former city wall. In the past, the city was a major trading centre leading east and west.
The major attraction in the town is the most important wat (temple) and chedi (relics) of southern Thailand. This is Wat Phra Mahathat. It dates back to the founding of the town. The centrepiece of the Wat is the large and impressive Chedi that houses a tooth of the Buddha. The Chedi is a major feature of the province. On Buddhist holy days, ceremonies are performed there, and there are always people visiting in search of a blessing from the Buddha.
The temple is worth a visit—a forecourt of bells, gongs, Buddha statues, and monks going about their business. There is also a small temple museum on the grounds. Admission is free, but a donation is courteous.
To the north of the town is Thalad Park, a small park, but pleasant for a local picnic. For sun and surf grab a tuk tuk heading west and visit the largely unoccupied white sands of the local beach.
Outside the city, there are vast swaths of untouched beaches, hills, mountains, and waterfalls. For a few days of peace and quiet, lounging on truly untouched (by tourists at least) beach, this is the place. A hut on the beach can be had for a few dollars, a few dollars more will give you aircon and all the basic amenities. There are a few, small 3-star resorts in the provincial hills, if you want to escape—but in comfort.
Getting to Nakhon Si is unchallenging. The southern Thai rail service runs through the town and province, so an easy overnight from Bangkok. There is also a local airport, and dozens of buses from Bangkok and other southern provinces. From the bus station take a tuk-tuk (50 baht) to your hotel or guest house.
You will not be amazed by what you see here, but you will see a few things rarely seen by outsiders, and you will amaze a few of the locals who will be very pleased (and surprised) to see you—especially the children. Have fun!