Nakhon Si Thammarat Tourist Attractions
The town of Nakhon Si Thammarat, rich in traditions, is located 780 km (485 mi.) south of Bangkok on the Malaysian Peninsula, whose east coast lies only a few miles away.
The mountains, covered with lush vegetation, climb gently from the fertile coastal plain to the 1835 m (6020 ft)-high summit of the chalk massif Khao Luang. Fruit growing and mining brought wealth to the town, while the Niello technique, which attained the heights of perfection here, made it into a center of the Thai craft industry. Its long past gives Nakhon Si Thammarat an air of venerable superiority.By car: from Bangkok highways 35/4/41/401; from Surat Thani either south or first east along the coast.By rail: from Bangkok-Hualampong two trains daily directly to and from Nakhon Si Thammarat (832 km (517 mi.), about 14 hours); otherwise to Thung Song, then change.By bus: from Krabi, Surat Thani, and Bangkok Southern Bus Terminal.The town once bore the Malaysian name of Ligor and has always been an important station on the trade route between Europe, Africa, India and China. During the first centuries ad Nakhon Si Thammarat is supposed to have been the chief town of a Tambralinga (Tampaling) principality, which survived until around 1360. It is certain that Nakhon Si Thammarat evolved in the 8th c. ad under the sovereignty of the Srivijaya kingdom, which encompassed Sumatra and large parts of the Malaysian Peninsula. A stone tablet from this time reports that around the year 775 the king of Srivijaya and Buddhist monks built a temple, in which the teachings of Mahayana-Buddhism would be disseminated. Towards the end of the 10th c. a prince of Tambralinga conquered the Mon kingdom of Lopburi, which already belonged to the Khmer empire, and declared himself king of Angkor Wat under the name of Suryavarman. In 1292 King Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothal conquered Tambralinga; like the kingdom of Sukhothai it then became, in the second half of the 14th c., first a vassal state and subsequently part of the kingdom of Ayutthaya.King Rama Thibodi II (1491-1529) permitted the Portuguese to found a trading settlement in Ligor in 1516. When Ayutthaya was destroyed by the Burmese in 1767, the Tambralinga principality became independent again for a short time, until King Taksin, the immediate predecessor of the present reigning Chakri dynasty, assimilated it into his newly-founded kingdom.Nakhon Si Thammarat played an important role in art; a number of well-known artists, famous for the special quality of their depictions of Buddha (Nakhon Si Thammarat School), came from here.The town originally adjoined the sea (now 26 km (16 mi.) away), its main street following the coastline. It has now expanded across its northern border (fortification site) and the old town, containing the majority of the sights, has virtually become a suburb. Restored ruins of the town wall can be found in the center of the old town.The niello technique has enjoyed a long tradition in Nakhon Si Thammarat. It probably originated in China and first became native to Thailand in this town. Even now the most artistic pieces of work are said to come from Nakhon Si Thammarat. The niello technique involves carving a drawing into a piece of metal (mostly silver) and filling it in with a melted black alloy. Many of the town's shops sell niello tins, little boxes, ashtrays and pieces of jewelry.
Ho Phra Sihing
Ho Phra Sihing, a small chapel in the courtyard of the Thai-style prefecture (in the town center, where Highway 4019 turns off to Thung Song), houses a famous figure, the Buddha Phra Sihing (Sukho style). In both the Bangkok National Museum and in Chiang Mai in Wat Phra Singh there are identical copies, whose authenticity is questioned. The original is thought to have come from China. Of note are the two Buddha figures dressed in gold and silver.
Amongst Thailand's most famous temples is Nakhon Si Thammarat which is identified by its distinct gold spire. The temple courtyard features 156 bell shaped chedis.
Nakhon Si Thammarat's National Museum in the town's main road was opened in 1974 and is well worth visiting. It contains a large number of art objects both from the local area and from far afield in a variety of styles. Particular attention should be paid to three stone portraits in the Indian Pallava style (about 9th c.), depicting Vishnu with two adoring figures (a man and a woman). Neolithic finds (stone chains), eating and cooking implements from the third century, and the magnificent tympanum of the Wat Sa Riang, built in 1769, are further attractions.A unique 5th c. Vishnu figure is the oldest such figure ever to be found in south-east Asia. Agricultural and domestic tools can be seen in the museum's upper floor. Coaches and litters stand in the inner courtyard, while a neighboring room displays particularly elaborately decorated sticks, used to fend off snakes.
Wat Phra Du
Wat Phra Du, another interesting temple, can be found in the extreme north of the city in a side street which turns off from Ratchadamnoen Road up at the railway station. The tomb of King Taksin is reputed to be located in a Chinese shrine. Contrary to historical tradition, he escaped execution in 1782 and is said to have spent his last years in a rocky grotto in the mountains near Nakhon Si Thammarat.
Wat Sema Muang
Wat Sema Muang, also on the right-hand side of Ratchadamnoen Road, was founded in 775. Remains of the construction are no longer in evidence. Only a few steps away stand two red-roofed Brahman temples from the Srivijaya period. The shrine on the right contains several Lingams (phallic symbols of the god Shiva).
Nkahon Si Thammarat - Wat Maheyong
Follow Ratchadamnoen Road, with its beautiful wooden houses, southwards to reach the old town wall on the Wat Maheyong, within which stands a marvelous bronze Buddha in the Nakhon Si Thammarat style.
Next to the Wat Mahathat, Wiharn Luang's very graceful interior and exterior pillars (typical of the Ayutthaya period) catch the eye. Monks live in Wat Na Phra Boromathat, diagonally opposite on the other side of the road.
Nangyai shadow theatre originates from Indonesia and can only now be seen in south Thailand, predominantly in Nakhon Si Thammarat and especially on Buddhist holidays. Shadow pieces (often made from heavily tanned buffalo skin) can be bought in a number of shops.
Try to visit the animal market held regularly near the bus station. Monkeys, elephants, snakes and, occasionally, wild cats are sold here.
The area surrounding Nakhon Si Thammarat is very charming and full of variety: vast rubber tree plantations dominate the region inland, while the coast offers some beautiful beaches. The mountains in front of the town contain numerous caves such as Taksin Grotto (Highway 4051 in the direction of Lan Saka). Located near to this grotto is Wat Khao Phun Phanom, a temple situated in the middle of grandiose jungle scenery, with several notable statues of Buddha and one of King Taksin. A visit to Phrom Lok Waterfall can be recommended (north-west, Highway 4061); bathers can swim in its pool.
Khao Luang National Park
Khao Luang mountain (1834 m (6019 ft)), which has given its name to the surrounding national park, lies 30 km (19 mi.) west of the town (north of the road to Chawang). Opened in 1984, the park can be reached by driving to the village of Ban Ron and then following the signs. Particularly worth viewing is Nam Tok Karom, a waterfall whose cascades tumble over steps to a depth of approximately 40 m (131 ft). A path begins at Nam Tok Karom and crosses a fascinating, unspoilt landscape, passing a total of nineteen waterfalls.