For a brief span in the 14th century, after the decline of Sukhothai and before the rise of Ayutthaya, Phitsanulok was the kingdom's capital. Farther back in history, it was a Khmer outpost called Song Kwae, though only an ancient monastery remains of that incarnation. This onetime military stronghold has grown away from its roots, leaving only a few reminders like Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat and the revered Phra Buddha Chinnarat image. The wat is on Naresuan Road, a major thoroughfare named for the city's most illustrious son, Naresuan the Great, who ruled as King of Ayutthaya from 1590 to 1605.

The current city of Phitsanulok, 5 km (3 miles) from the old site, is a hub of commerce, transportation, and communication with few architectural blessings. It does have two outstanding sights to see, however, Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahathat and the Sgt. Maj. Thawee Folk Museum, an engaging collection of quotidian artifacts. In the evening, tempting food stalls line the promenade along the Nan River. Phitsanulok's mix of attractions and access to outward-bound excursions make it an enjoyable diversion, and its modern hotels make it a comfortable place to spend a night or two while touring Sukhothai region.

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