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City of southern comforts

Nakhon Si Thammarat

Nakhon Si Thammarat

An evening ride along the old city wall.

An evening ride along the old city wall.

The city pillar shrine is inspired by the Srivijaya architectural style.

The city pillar shrine is inspired by the Srivijaya architectural style.

Traditional foods and temples delight on a biking tour of Nakhon Si Thammarat

For a city that abounds with cultural attractions, the South's Nakhon Si Thammarat is surprisingly short on tourists.

In town to take part in the latest of Nok Air's "fly and ride" promotions, this time dubbed "Song Nong Thong Moradok Muang" (wandering around the city's heritage on two legs), I find it hard to understand why Nakhon Si Thammarat gets so little foreign attention.

There are hotels aplenty and great restaurants too, among them Khanom Jeen Pan Yum, a reasonably priced eatery specialising in the southern signature dish of fermented rice noodles drowning in spicy curry, often made with fish.

Another food item rarely seen in Bangkok but common to this part of the world is mangkud kut, freshly cut mangosteen on a stick. The unripe fruit, which is peeled, soaked in salt water and preserved to delay the browning, has a mixed salt and sweet taste that's very different from the one we usually associate with mangosteen.

The coffee's good and strong too and the best place to visit for a caffeine kick is the Sino-Portugese home of Kopi Coffee, a venerable coffee shop that's been around for 70 years and boasts a faithful clientele.

Pattarapol Manee-on, a wildlife veterinarian attached to the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, considers himself as something of an expert on Nakhon Si Thammarat despite having been born and mostly raised in Surin.

"Today when people ask where I'm from, I tell them I'm khon nakhon [a Nakhon guy]," he says, adding that he wishes more foreign tourists would take advantage of the province's soaring mountains and serene beaches.

One of the oldest towns in the South, Nakhon Si Thammarat's heritage is so rich that it is guaranteed to satisfy the appetite of any culture buff.

The city pillar shrine, which is inspired by the Srivijaya architectural style, is made up of one main building encircled by four smaller ones. These minor pavilions signify the residential quarters of the four guardians of the world and enshrine four Mahayana Buddhist images. The columns are made of valuable ta kien thong wood or Malabar ironwood and the faces of Jatukam Ramathep, the tutelary deity of the city, are engraved at the top.

The ancient wooden pavilion known as Sala Pradu Hok outside the city wall once served as a shelter and a place to sleep for travellers arriving at the gate of this city after it had already been closed. Nearby is the Sword Washing Pond, where the assassin of poet Si Prat is said to have rinsed his weapon.

The city wall itself, which dates back more than a millennium, was renovated in the early Rattanakosin period and again in 1990. It encloses the statue of Phra Chao Sri Thammasokarat, the founder of this city.

Known as a major centre for Buddhism and with close links to India and Sri Lanka, the town is also home to two historical Hindu sites: Ho Phra Isuan (Shiva's Hall) and Ho Phra Narai (Narayana's Hall). Replicas of these bronze images can be admired in the city's national museum.

While ancient sites line both sides of Rajadamnoen Road, the main thoroughfare that runs through the heart of the city, Nakhon Si Thammarat's pride is undoubtedly Wat Phra Mahathat Woramahavihara. Recognised by Unesco last year as a World Heritage Site, this first-class royal temple houses a large bell-shaped pagoda decorated with a gold-coated top. It is surrounded by sculpted high reliefs of elephants and has the duplicated stupas of the Buddha's relics on the four angles of the wall.

In many ways, it is best admired by night when the spotlights give a almost magical quality to the soaring white pagoda and adds an ethereal glow to the yellow roof tiles. Day-time visitors can climb the stairs to the top of the stupa.

Up in the air

_ Nok Air offers five flights per week between Don Mueang and Nakhon Si Thammarat. Flying time is 1 hour and 10 minutes. Find out more at www.NokAir.com.

_ For more about the city's attractions, call, the Nakhon Si Thammarat TAT office at (075) 346 515-6 or the Nakhon Si Thammarat Tourist Business Association at (075) 451 899.


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