On the banks of the Nan river in the center of Phitsanulok is the Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat, a Royal temple dating to the 14th century. Local people often refer to the temple as the Wat Phra Si or Wat Yai, which means “big temple”.
Phra Buddha Chinnarat image
The temple is famous for its golden Buddha image named Phra Buddha Chinnarat, considered by many to be the most beautiful Buddha image in Thailand. It is one of the most highly revered images in the country, which makes the temple an important pilgrimage site for Thai Buddhists.
The temple was founded in 1357 by King Phaya Lithai, King of the Sukhothai Kingdom. The King ordered the casting of three large Buddha images to be enshrined in the newly built temple. Some of the most famous artisans of his time were invited to do the job.
While the first two images came out perfect on the firs try, the last image took three castings. When it was completed, it turned out to be the most beautiful of the three and was named Phra Buddha Chinnarat. The 375 centimeter high Sukhothai style image is in the subduing Mara posture.
In the early 17th century gold plating was applied to the bronze image. A distinguishing feature is the aureola, shaped like flames, that surrounds most of the image. Of the three images that were cast, today only the Phra Buddha Chinnarat remains in this temple, the other two are now in the Wat Bowonniwet in Bangkok.
The Buddha image is depicted on the provincial seal of Phitsanulok province. A copy of the Phra Buddha Chinnarat is housed in the Wat Benchamabophit, also known as the “marble temple” in Bangkok.
Standing Buddha in front of Ayutthaya style prang
The temple houses another famous Buddha image, the Phra Attharos. The large standing image is found in front of the temple’s prang. In front of the image are the ruins of a large chapel. Behind the Phra Attharos is a 36 meter high prang in the Ayutthaya style that enshrines relics of the Buddha. The corncob shaped top of the prang in gold color contains 4 rows of niches enshrining images of the Buddha.
Lanna style viharn
The Lanna style viharn was built during the reign of King Boromakot, who reigned the Ayutthaya Kingdom during the mid 18th century. The building has a multi tiered roof with stylized Naga serpents at the ends of the roof barges. The wooden doors are inlaid with with ornate mother of pearl decorations. In the Rattanakosin era of the 19th century murals were added to the viharn with depictions of the Jataka tales, the stories about the previous lives of the Buddha. The cloister around the viharn houses a large number of seated and standing Buddha images.
Foundry & Museum
To watch how Buddha images were made centuries ago, visit the foundry on the temple grounds, where replicas of the Phra Buddha Chinnarat and other images are cast. A museum on the site displays artifacts from the Ayutthaya and Sukhothai era, including a number of Buddha images.
How to get to the Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat
The temple is located on the banks of the Nan river in downtown Phitsanulok, about 100 meters North of Highway 12 near the Naresuan bridge.
Nok Air has 4 flights daily from Bangkok’s old airport (Don Muang) to Phitsanulok. Fares start at around 1,100 Thai Baht one way.
The State Railway of Thailand’s Northern Line serves Phitsanulok from Bangkok and from Chiang Mai. From Bangkok, trains depart from Hualamphong station about 10 times per day. The 389 kilometer trip takes 5 hours or more, depending on the type of service. Fares are 69, 159 and 324 Thai Baht for third, second and first class respectively. From Chiang Mai the 362 kilometer trip takes six hours or more depending on the type of service. Fares are 65, 150 and 305 Thai Baht for third, second and first class respectively. Check the State Railway of Thailand website for more details.
Entrance fee & opening hours
The temple opens daily from 6.30 am until 6 pm. Entrance fee is 40 Thai Baht per person. The museum opens 5 days a week (closed on Monday, Tuesday and public holidays) from 9 am until 5 pm.
Since the temple is an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists, it can get very crowded, especially during weekends, Buddhist holidays and Thai national holidays. Please dress respectfully, which means no short pants, no bare shoulders. Sarong like clothing is available for use at the temple’s entrance.
Signs in the viharn request visitors not to stand while making photos, so other people’s views are not blocked and people paying respect to the Phra Chinnarat Buddha image are not disturbed. Taking photos is allowed, please stay seated on your knees. Donations for the upkeep of the temple are highly appreciated.