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The view of the looming statue of five sitting Buddhas at Wat Pha Sorn Kaew.

What you missed out in between Chiang Mai and Bangkok

Going to Chiang Mai from Bangkok or vice versa? The 13-hour overnight train is a great way to experience sleeping in a berth, meet locals and wake up to a beautiful sunrise. However, by taking this direct route, you have just missed out on all the goodness in between that Thailand has to offer.

So where is this place that could possibly convince you to break your 13-hour ride into two, more comfortable rides? Literally halfway along the Bangkok-Chiang Mai route lies Phitsanulok, a bustling city and a gateway to great food, stunning mountain vistas and beautiful temples. Locals know it well, but this area is still off the international tourist’s radar. Here are 6 things you can do in and around Phitsanulok that are worth breaking up your 13-hour train ride between Bangkok and Chiang Mai:

1. Visit Wat Pha Sorn Kaew

Front view of the five sitting Buddhas at Wat Pha Sorn Kaew.

Set on a 830m peak, Wat Pha Sorn Kaew in Phetchabun is a temple like no other. Adorned with more than 5 million beautiful mosaic tiles, Wat Pha Sorn Kaew is colourful and literally a dazzling compound. As you walk into the temple grounds, you will surely notice an enormous statue of five white sitting Buddhas, which seems to elude a feeling of power and peace. Look in the direction of the sitting Buddhas and you will be greeted with a gorgeous mountain panorama. Wat Pha Sorn Kaew was the most spectacular temple I have seen in Thailand, and it is definitely worth two hours of your time.

2. Drive up the summit of Khao Kho

View of the Khao Kho mountain range at the Khao Kho summit viewpoint.

One of the most famous nature spots, Khao Kho in Phetchabun is impressive all over – from the moment you go up the winding road to the view points at the summit. Go for short treks around the mountain and visit the Ratanai lake or various waterfalls such as the Sri Dit waterfall. For the less adventurous, sit at the outdoor patio of the cafes around the mountain and relish the scenery and fresh air. In the evening, stay out to watch the stunning sunset and visit the lively night market in the cosy town of Khao Kho. If you have enough energy for an early morning, you will not regret watching sunrise over the towering and magnificent mountain range.

3. Gawk at the rock fields at Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park  

Watching sunset at the rock fields at Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park.

Nature bewilders. The rock fields at Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park in Phetchabun may not be a natural wonder, but it is definitely a bizarre sight. Imagine an enormous bubble-wrap, but this time made of rock-hard stone. Walk along the creases of the “bubble-wrap” or jump from “bubble” to “bubble”. When you are exhausted, sit at the edge of the rock field and admire the beautiful views of the forest below. As you explore the national park, do not forget to check out the Man Daeng waterfall, which is just by the highway. Although small, the multiple uneven tiers make it a beautiful and therapeutic sight.

4. Drive along the Phitsanulok-Lom Sak highway

This is a part of the Phitsanulok-Lom Sak route along highway 12.

Wat Pha Sorn Kaew, Khao Kho and the Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park can all be accessed via the Phitsanulok-Lom Sak highway, otherwise known as Highway 12. This 131km portion of the highway connects Phitsanulok and Lom Sak and passes through amazing scenery and a charming countryside. If you have the chance, stop by the many viewpoints to slowly take in the beautiful views. Otherwise, head to one of the many cafes along the route for an enjoyable coffee break. Even if you do not drive, a bus to any attractions along the highway will take you through this breathtaking route. Remember to sit by the window!

5. Cycle around the ancient city of Sukhothai

This is a well-preserved chedi at Sukhothai.

A lesser-known sibling to the ancient city of Ayutthaya, Sukhothai offers a more immersive historical experience. The Sukhothai ruins are fairly spread out in a forested area, which creates an alluring and dreamy atmosphere. While you have to pay to enter the main palace compound in the old city centre, the more interesting temples are the free ones outside the city walls. Cycle to the temple ruins south and east of the city, or climb up the temple on a small hill to the west for nice views of the area. If you are staying in Sukhothai for the night, head to the morning market at the eastern part of the old city for a sumptuous local breakfast. The morning market offers an interesting spread of food and is a great place to observe the local way of life.

6. Walk along the Nan river in Phitsanulok

This is the local market at Wat Tha Maprang in Phitsanulok, along the Nan river.

Phitsanulok is an underrated city. Many tourists skip it for Sukhothai or Phetchabun, which makes a day or two in Phitsanulok a very local experience. In the evening, walk along the Nan river that runs through the heart of the city. Have dinner at one of the many street food vendors along the river promenade. If you are in Phitsanulok during the weekend, join the locals at the Saturday night market located near the main railway station. Phitsanulok is a great city to relax and recharge from all the sightseeing at Sukhothai or Phetchabun.

Do not miss out Phitsanulok and the surrounding places on your way to Chiang Mai or Bangkok. This area is pretty much off the beaten tourist trail, yet it provides a heightened sensory experience for any tourist daring to try. Moreover, visiting Phitsanulok gives you a good reason to break up your 13-hour train ride into two relaxing ones. Next time you are thinking of booking that Bangkok-Chiang Mai train ride, book that ride to Phitsanulok instead. No regrets!

Were you convinced by these 6 things to do in and around Phitsanulok? Share with me in the comments below. If you enjoyed this article, share it with your friends on social media! Your friends will thank you for giving them a reason to break up their 13-hour train ride into two.

Image credits: (2) – Hotel room search; (3) – wichianduangsri / Getty Images; (4) – Jealousyreloaded; (6) – Osmnorth

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