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The Timeless Tapestry of Nakhon Si Thammarat

Updated: Jun 19

By Sally Aka Shlomi Selim Benbasat, one of Magic South Creators

04 February 2024


As I sit to pen down my experiences in Nakhon Si Thammarat, I find myself grappling with where to begin. This isn't just a place; it's a vibrant narrative woven through time, a cultural tapestry rich with the threads of history, religion, and tradition.


Nakhon Si Thammarat, or Nakhon as it's often affectionately called, is one of the oldest cities in Thailand. Nestled in the southern region, it is a treasure trove of Thai heritage, and its chronicles are as enchanting as they are enduring.



A morning view from my hotel's window
Nakhon Si Thammarat


The heart of the city is the Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan, a majestic temple that stands as a testament to the city's spiritual significance. It houses a relic of the Buddha, making it an essential pilgrimage site for Buddhists. This temple's towering pagoda, juxtaposed against the cerulean sky, isn't just a sight to behold—it's a journey through the epochs of Buddhist architecture.

Walking through the streets of Nakhon Si Thammarat, I was struck by the harmonious coexistence of the old and new. The city breathes through its markets, where traditional shadow puppets are sold alongside modern-day trinkets, and the sound of monks' chants intermingles with the everyday banter of the locals.



Tha mian Temple
Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan


What truly endears me to Nakhon is its people. Their lives are intricately interwoven with the city's heritage, be it through their craft, cuisine, or celebrations. The locals are the custodians of the city's legacy—each one, a storyteller of the lore that Nakhon Si Thammarat embodies.

My sojourn here introduced me to the art of nielloware, the exquisite black and gold metallic craft that this region is renowned for. Each piece is a labor of love and patience, a craft passed down through generations, encapsulating the city's artistic spirit.


The annual Hae Pha Khuen That festival was a spectacle that left me awestruck. It's a fusion of faith and festivity, where the sacred Phra Boromathat Chedi is draped in a ceremonial cloth amidst a parade that paints the town in vibrant hues of culture and camaraderie.


As I reflect on my time in Nakhon Si Thammarat, I am reminded of how travel is more than just seeing—it's about immersing oneself in the essence of a place. Nakhon is not merely a destination; it is a living museum, a custodian of stories that span the sands of time.


And so, I invite you, dear reader, to walk through the gates of this historical marvel. Come, witness the legacy, live the heritage, and be part of the timeless narrative that is Nakhon Si Thammarat.


History


Nakhon Si Thammarat stands as one of Thailand's most storied cities, tracing its origins back to the ancient settlement of Tha Rua. A trove of Song dynasty ceramics, unearthed and dating back to the 12th century, marks the area's early significance. The locale shifted slightly over time, aligning with the Tambralinga Kingdom and the influential Srivijaya maritime empire, which by 775 had a stronghold in the region known for constructing Buddhist sanctuaries.





The city's foundation is traditionally linked to the 13th-century King Sri Thammasok of the Tambralinga Kingdom. Renowned for building the revered Wat Phra Mahathat and fostering the spread of Singhalese Theravada Buddhism, his reign symbolized a golden era. Nakhon Si Thammarat, under his rule, commanded a realm stretching from Chumphon to Pahang.


The city's narrative continued through the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya periods, with it serving as a prominent center of power in the south. By the 15th century, under King Trailokanat, it was a principal city, its governorship a position of prestige and power.


The 17th century saw an eclectic mix of governors, including the Japanese adventurer Yamada Nagamasa, and French influences, as evidenced by the city walls' renovation during King Narai's rule. However, after the 1688 Siamese revolution, the city faced a rebellion that led to a shift in its governance.





Post-Ayutthaya's fall, Nakhon Si Thammarat (then known as Ligor) witnessed local warlords and a reassertion of control by King Taksin. By the late 18th century, despite Burmese invasions, it had emerged as a cultural linchpin of Southern Siam.


The city, recognized for its autonomy during Chao Phraya Nakhon Noi's tenure, was a bustling center, boasting a significant population. Its status evolved with King Chulalongkorn's reforms, becoming part of Monthon Nakhon Si Thammarat and eventually a provincial capital when the monthon system dissolved in 1932. Today, Nakhon Si Thammarat is a tapestry of its rich past, an enduring symbol of Southern Thailand's cultural heritage.


Places on Interest


Wat Phra Mahathat Vihara is the crown jewel of Nakhon Si Thammarat, and the pinnacle of the region's spiritual heritage. Built at the dawn of the city's establishment, it houses a sacred Buddha tooth relic. The temple is crowned by a stunning 78-meter-high chedi, encircled by a constellation of smaller ones. Although its present structure reflects Sri Lankan influences, it is believed to stand atop an older Srivijaya-style base. The chedi, recently restored to its former glory, is a testament to the city's enduring faith.





Beneath this towering stupa lies the Viharn Tap Kaset, a sanctuary adorned with Buddha images and elephant sculptures. It leads to the Viharn Phra Song Ma, housing the staircase to the chedi's upper walkway. Guardian yaksha statues stand sentinel at the stairs, embodying the temple's protective legacy. Nearby, Viharn Kien hosts a trove of historical treasures within its temple museum.






Flanking the south side of the chedi, the expansive Viharn Luang shelters sacred spaces, while monk quarters reside across the street. This chedi's image is synonymous with Nakhon Si Thammarat, adorning the province's seal and featuring on currency.


The City Walls



When the city life meets history
Nakhon Si Thammarat Ancient City Walls


The city's historical narrative extends to its formidable walls, enclosing a square kilometer and revealing tales of ancient defenses. Only the northern gate remains, a silent narrator of a once impregnable fort.

Walailak University, established in 1992, is a bastion of learning, blending tradition with modern educational ethos. Named after Princess Chulabhorn Walailak, it's a testament to the city's commitment to progress.


Wat Chedi Ai Kai


Wat Chedi Ai Kai's lore is interlaced with that of the revered Luang Pu Tuad. Ai Khai, a disciple, is said to have guarded sacred treasures upon the monk's command. This site, once avoided, was revived in 1957 and has since become a haven for those seeking blessings.



A hen is a great symbol in the Buddhist Tradition
Wat Chedi Ai Kai


In the aftermath of Ayutthaya's fall, the indomitable Phra Palat Nu asserted control, only to be subdued by King Taksin. The city, once autonomous under British-acknowledged rulers, was integrated into Siam's central administration during King Chulalongkorn's reign and remains a vibrant cultural hub.



A breathless moment especially when the weather is tropical
Wat Chedi Ai Kai from my Drone


Walailak University





Walailak University, established in 1992, is a bastion of learning, blending tradition with modern educational ethos. Named after Princess Chulabhorn Walailak, it's a testament to the city's commitment to progress.




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