NAKHON SI THAMMARAT, south Thailand's second-largest town, is an absorbing place and a major pilgrimage site; relaxed, self-confident and sophisticated, it's well known for its excellent cuisine and traditional handicrafts. especially nielloware and intricate basketware. It's also the best place in the country to see how Thai shadow plays work, at Suchart Subsin's workshop, and the main jumping-off point for towering Khao Luang National Park and its beautiful waterfall, Krung Ching. Though Nakhon has no guest houses or traveller-oriented accommodation, the best of its hotels offer good value in all price ranges.
Nakhon was the point through which the Theravada form of Buddhism was imported to Thailand from Sri Lanka in the thirteenth century and is still the religious capital of the south, and the main centre for festivals. The most important of these are the Tamboon Deuan Sip, held during the waning of the moon in the tenth lunar month (either September or October), and the Hae Pha Khun That, which is held several times a year, but most importantly on Maha Puja (February full moon) and on Visakha Puja (May full moon). The purpose of Tamboon Deuan Sip is to pay homage to dead relatives and friends; it is believed that during this fifteen-day period all pret – ancestors who have been damned to hell – are allowed out to visit the world, and so their relatives perform a merit-making ceremony in the temples, presenting offerings from the first harvest to ease their suffering. A huge ten-day fair takes place at Thung Talaat park on the north side of town at this time, as well as processions, shadow plays and other theatrical performances. The Hae Pha Khun That also attracts people from all over the south, to pay homage to the relics of the Buddha at Wat Mahathat. The centrepiece of this ceremony is the Pha Phra Bot, a strip of yellow cloth many hundreds of metres long, which is carried in a spectacular procession around the stupa.