Nakon Si Thamarat is not a city that is high on most travellers Thailand itineraries. In fact many tourists to Thailand haven’t even heard of the city. Much of the city is bland, but it also has a few beautiful sites. The city also has a laid-back and friendly atmosphere, and allows you to see the real southern Thailand unchanged by tourism. Nearby Khao Luang national park has a wealth of natural attractions too, including the tallest mountain in southern Thailand.
This guide will help you slip off the tourist trail and make the most of visiting this overlooked corner of Thailand.
Nakon is one of the oldest cities in Thailand, having been founded sometime in the 8th century. The city was originally on the coast, and became an important crossroads for regional trade. Known as Ligor to foreigners, it was the capital of a powerful kingdom that controlled much of the Malay peninsula in the 13th century.
By the end of the 14th century it had become part of the kingdom of Siam (Thailand). Ligor was briefly independent again after 1767, before being invaded and reincorporated into Siam. Nakon became a full province of Siam in the late 19th century.
SIGHTS AND THINGS TO DO
Wat Phra Mahathat
This impressive temple complex is a sight to behold, and easily the best attraction in Nakon Si Thamarat. This temple is the most important in southern Thailand, and is as old as the city itself. It’s an important pilgrimage site for Thai Buddhists.
The temple includes a glistening 78 metre tall white chedi, and 173 small chedis. There are also numerous statues and carvings around the complex. It’s a beautiful site, and I found it worth spending a couple of hours exploring it and enjoying the mostly peaceful atmosphere.
Nakon was originally surrounded by a large wall with five gates, but just the north gate and surrounding walls survive. There far from the most imposing medieval walls I’ve seen, but they are scenic and provide a good place to relax in the early evening.
National Museum Of Nakon
This moderately sized museum talks about the history of the city and province. It has artefacts from all over southern Thailand. It’s worth going to if you have an interest in history. Admission is 150 baht.
Nang Talung Shadow Puppet Museum
Yes, there is a tiny museum dedicated to Thai shadow puppets, called Nang Talung in Thai. The museum shows how the puppets are created, and sometimes has demonstrations of the ancient art of storytelling with them. It’s inside a traditional wooden Thai house, in a quiet part of the old city.
Khao Luang National Park
This mountainous national park contains lush rainforest, caves, temples and several scenic waterfalls. If you want a challenge you can climb the tallest mountain in southern Thailand here, which gives the park its name. The park has an impressive array of wildlife, including clouded leopards, elephants and tigers. You’ll be very lucky to see one though, or perhaps unlucky if you get too close.
The national park starts just 27km from the city, so it’s easy to do as a day-trip. However, if you have time I’d recommend doing a homestay in the park, so you can experience rural Thai life and immerse yourself in the forest.
I stayed in a small homestay and liked the experience, the family were extremely friendly and cooked some superb Thai food. I was also able to take a refreshing swim in the nearby waterfall pools at sunset, when the surrounding jungle really comes alive.
I found Nakon to be quite an interesting and nice place to stay. Most of the centre of the city is bland, but it has a few good sights. The locals were very friendly and it was good to experience a Thai city with few foreign tourists. The markets and small restaurants here have some delicious food too, as you would expect from Thailand.
The city doesn’t seem to have much nightlife, but I’m sure some travellers could do with resting their livers. If you are travelling through southern Thailand it’s worth spending at least a day in Nakon, and ideally a couple of days exploring the natural beauty of Khao Luang national park.
Accommodation: Due to the lack of foreign travellers you’ll find budget accommodation options limited here compared to many Thai cities. While you won’t find many guest houses, there are still some adequate budget and midrange options.
Muan Khon Guest House
One of the few guest houses in the city. Has on-suite rooms with TVs and desks, and a garden and terrace area for chilling out. Located in the city centre. One of the best budget options.
Cheap 3 star hotel in the city centre near the train station. This place has large rooms with big double beds.
Good value 3 star hotel located in the city centre. Rooms have air-con, fridges, on-suite bathrooms and come with breakfast. Looks like one of the best deals in the city.
Getting there and away
Train: Nakkon has a train station at the west side of the city centre. There are two trains a day running north, and another two per day south. North bound trains go as far as Bangkok, and stop at locations including Surat Thani and Hua Hin. Southbound trains go to Phatthalung, Yala and the Malaysian border.
Bus: The bus terminal is about a mile west of the city centre in a warren of side streets, you can take a songthaew here for 10 baht. Mini buses also leave from next to the bus terminal.
For most destinations within 4 or 5 hours minibuses will be your main option. Khanom takes 1.5 hours to get to, Surat Thani 2 hours and Krabi 3 hours.
To visit destinations in the national park you can take songthaews from south of the train station. A one way trip should cost around 20-50 baht depending on the destination.