Nakorn Si Thammarat is perhaps the most overlooked tourist destination in Thailand. Although short on tourist facilities, there is an amazing amount of history and culture on display in this pleasant and welcoming city. It may well be the oldest continuously occupied city in Thailand, and is where many of the classical fine arts of Thailand originated.
Although its exact founding date is unknown, references to the city as a major trading center date back as far as the first century. Originally known as Ligor, the city was the capital of Lankasuka and was well placed for trade between southern India and China.
The town came to dominate trade in the area around the sixth century. A century or so later the kingdom came under the rule of the Srivijaya kingdom based on Sumatra. The Khmers ruled here briefly just before the emergence of the first Thai kingdom at Sukhothai. In the thirteenth century, King Si Thammasokarat enlisted the help of Indian traders to build the original city walls. The kingdom remain semi-independent until finally aligning itself to the Thai kingdom in the eighteenth century under King Taksin.
Orientation & Highlights
Nakorn Si Thammarat is a very long narrow city. The main road, Thanon Ratchadamnoen, runs north - south through its center, and almost all the sights of the city are on this street or within a block or two of it. See our map of the city for a complete overview of the city's layout and all the sights covered in this guide. There are no taxis per se in Nakorn Si Thammarat, except for motorcycle taxis that can be useful for short trips. The best way to get around is by songthaew, a small pickup with benches along either side of the bed. They travel up and down the main roads and charge 5 or 10 Baht (about US$0.15 to 0.30) per trip.
The best way to explore the main sights is to start at one end of Thanon Ratchadamnoen and work your way to the other. A trip to Nakorn Si Thammarat absolutely must include a visit to Wat Phra Mahathat. Missing it would be like going to Paris for the first time and not visiting the Eifel Tower. Since the temple is near the southern end of the city, we recommend starting there. The only significant sight further south is the National Museum, but we wouldn't put it on our list of 'must see' places.
On a side street near Wat Phra Mahathat is the home of the south's master of shadow puppetry, Suchart Subsin. Suchart has turned his home into a museum of shadow puppetry where you can see puppets collected from all over the world as well as craftsmen at work making new puppets.
From the puppet museum, you'll want to make your way back to Ratchadamnoen Road and head back towards town. A short distance from Wat Phra Mahathat you'll come to a clock tower at a fork in the road. A little bit further on from here is the provincial administration center, which contains the chapel of the Singh Buddha image.
Further down Ratchadamnoen Road towards town are two tiny Hindu shrines on either side of the road. The Ho Phra Isuan is a Brahmin shrine to Shiva while across the street the Ho Phra Narai is a shrine to Narai, an incarnation of Vishnu.
Just a short walk up Ratchadamnoen Road will bring you to the remains of the old city walls. From here, you may want to cross the old moat and then head west to the shops along Tha Chang Road, or you can continue into town and Wat Sao Thong.