A window on Thai history and culture
People keen on experiencing Thailand’s history and culture should put the historic city of Kamphaeng Phet on their list of places to visit.
Kamphaeng Phet (pronounced gum-peng-pet) is a province housing about 750,000 people in the lower north of the country.
The provincial capital, also called Kamphaeng Phet, is the halfway point by road between Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
Kamphaeng Phet is a UNESCO World Heritage area, part of the area known formally as the Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns, added to the World Heritage listings in 1991.
Although the area was settled 1000 years ago, the city dates back about 700 years, when it was known as Chakungrao. It was an important military and trading outpost in the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya eras.
The name Kamphaeng Phet means diamond wall, a reference to the strength of its fortifications, the remains of which are a key part of its historical interest.
Behind the ancient town wall are the ruins of 14 ancient monuments. Beyond the town area, in a forest area to the north are the remains of 40 temples.
The ravages of war and time have damaged the buildings, yet collectively they provide a fascinating example of early Thai architectural and construction techniques.
A tour of the temple ruins of Thailand’s ancient capitals of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya is not complete without an inspection of Kamphaeng Phet’s Historical Park.
It is literally on the way: about 280km, on good highways, from Ayutthaya, then a further 70km to Sukhothai.
A visit to Kamphaeng Phet also offers an environmental experience: rugged mountains in the west of the province are an area of great natural beauty and are home to national parks, waterfalls, rare wildlife and colourful birdlife.
Kamphaeng Phet is built on the banks of the Ping River, which rises to the north of Chiang Mai, flows out of the hills of Tak province to the north-west of Kamphaeng Phet and broadens as it winds its way through Thailand’s central plains.
This is rice- and sugar-growing country but it is also famous for its small, brightly coloured bananas, called kluai khai or egg-bananas.
Not far from the city are the marble handicrafts and furniture town of Phran Kratai and the relaxing Phra Ruang hot springs.
Lonely Planet describes Kamphaeng Phet as one of Thailand’s more pleasant provincial capitals.
It is a fascinating destination for people wanting to see the Thailand beyond the beaches and shopping malls – a different Thailand holiday experience.
There’s a wealth of information online at
Distinctive temples rated as World Heritage
Just north of the main town is the city’s special point of interest: Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park – one of only four World Heritage-listed historical parks in Thailand.
Kamphaeng Phet in the past was a strategically important military town, part of the Sukhothai Kingdom. The main town, dating from the mid-14th century, protected Sukhothai’s southern approaches and the trade routes between northern cities and the central plains.
It later filled a similar role for the Ayutthaya Kingdom.
It was also a flourishing religious and artistic centre.
These three aspects are reflected in the Historical Park.
Kamphaeng Phet was a fortified town: earthen ramparts supported a laterite wall, with battlements and watchtowers.
The wall was surrounded by a wide moat.
Inside the wall are 14 historical monuments, mostly Buddhist temples, dating from the mid-14th century. At the heart of the town is Wat Phra Kaeo, a large temple for holding religious ceremonies but without rooms for monks.
According to legend the Phra Phutta Sihing and Emerald Buddha icons were once kept in Kamphaeng Phet, presumably in this temple.
Nearby are an area called Sa Mon, thought to have been an ancient palace, and Wat Phra That, with a bell-shaped chedi built in a distinctive Kamphaeng Phet style.
North of the walled town, in a heavily forested area, are 40 temples. They are large and provided livings quarters for monks.
The temples are distinctive: the influences of the Sukhothai, Lanna and Ayutthaya styles combined to what has been called the Kamphaeng Phet school of craftsmen.
Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park is well maintained, with roads winding through the forests and ancient buildings nestling amid the trees.
It is also peaceful: it is like a well-kept secret and attracts only small number of tourists.
The structures, however, are in a state of disrepair.
In the Burmese-Siamese war of 1765-67, Kamphaeng Phet faced a Burmese army some 20,000 strong and was defeated. The survivors fled the town.
After the war townspeople returned but settled outside the walls, suggesting that the destruction caused by the invading army was extensive.
The temples and statues of Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park are real-world monuments. They are not as well preserved as others but they are fascinating as living history.
With the help of their imagination, and of architectural sketches provided alongside the sites, visitors can see in their mind’s eye just how spectacular this extensive array of temples must have been.
Read more about historic Kamphaeng Phet at:
The City’s Museums
Kamphaeng Phet has two museums within the area of the ancient town. They are next to each other and close the to city.
Kamphaeng Phet National Museum features ancient objects and antique artifacts – bronze, stucco and terracotta statues of Buddha and ancient deities, traditional earthenware and celadon products and sculptures of demonic figures used to decorate old temples.
A bronze statue of the Hindu god Shiva is also on display. The head and hands of the statue were removed during the reign of Rama V (King Chulalongkorn, 1873-1910).
The statue has since been repaired.
The garden in front of the museum has the remains of historic temples.
The museum is open from 9:00am to 4:00pm. The entry fee is 20 baht for Thais and 100 baht for non-Thais.
Kamphaeng Phet Provincial Museum has a striking feature: the buildings – a group of beautiful local-style houses made of golden teak.
They were converted into a museum 20 years ago, in honour of the 50th anniversary of His Majesty the King’s accession to the throne.
The formal title of the institute is Kamphaeng Phet Chaloem Phrakiat Museum. It is worth visiting just to see the houses but inside are artifacts representing the history of Kamphaeng Phet province, its minority groups (Muser, Karen and Lisu) tourist attractions and local mining-related activities (marble and oilfields).
The museum is an educational centre for schoolchildren.
The Provincial Museum is open from 9:00am to 4:30pm. The entry fee is 10 baht.
West Bank Historical Features
Across the Ping River from Kamphaeng Phet, on the western bank, is the ancient town of Nakhon Chum. According to local lore, it was the original town in the area and there are reports of it being settled early in the 11th century.
Sukhothai’s rulers viewed Nakhon Chum as the more important area. It was only after the Ayutthaya Kingdom gained control that provincial administration was moved to Kamphaeng Phet.
The heart of old Nakhon Chum is a slice of history. People live and work in wooden buildings fashioned in traditional style. The township has a walk-through market, delicious and inexpensive street food and a floating market on the first weekend of each month.
Nakhon Chum was originally protected by earthen walls, like those at Sukhothai. But the walls and many ancient monuments have largely disappeared over the years.
In the centre of the town, however, is one of Kamphaeng Phet’s biggest and most active temples – Wat Phra Borommathat, thought to date from 1357. Several of its ancient chedi survive, notably its main chedi which was mentioned in an ancient stone inscription.
The original chedi was built in a lotus-flower shape but about 100 years ago it was renovated and redesigned in a Burmese style, with Royal permission, by a rich Burmese trader.
The chedi is big and is painted a gold colour and is a prominent local landmark.
The remains of other notable temples can still be found to the south of Nakhon Chum. These temples were smaller than those across the river and made of brick, rather than laterite.
One monument still standing in relatively good repair is Nakhon Chum’s old fortress, called Thung Setthi. It was a square structure made of laterite, with each wall 84m long but the northern wall, however, has been destroyed. The design of the fortress suggests it may have been influenced by European ideas, dating it to the Ayutthaya era.
Forests, Mountains, Waterfalls and Wildlife
Half of the land area of Kamphaeng Phet province is devoted to agriculture. Almost a quarter, however, is timbered and the province is home to three rugged, heavily forested national parks – Khlong Lan, Mae Wong and Khlong Wang Chao.
Khlong Lan National Park, to the southwest of Kamphaeng Phet city, covers 300 square kilometres. It is in the Dawna mountain range and includes Khun Khlong Lan, the highest peak (1,439 metres).
This mountain provides one of the most picturesque sites in the park: Khlong Lan Waterfall. During the wet season, streams of water spill over a cliff 40 metres wide. The water fills a number of pools, making the area suitable for swimming.
Within the park is a second waterfall – Khlong Nam Lai. Water flows over nine levels, with a pool on each level. Swimming is allowed.
The flow of water in both falls slows during the dry season, meaning visitors can paddle rather than swim.
The falls, however, are still pretty to view.
Camping sites and accommodation are available in the park.
Mae Wong National Park, which adjoins Khlong Lan park, spreads over almost 900 square kms and is shared with neighbouring Nakhon Sawan province.
It is rich in plant life and contains rare wild animals, including elephants and tigers, and colourful birdlife.
It has several waterfalls, of which Mae Krasa Waterfall is the most spectacular: more than 1000 metres high, with water cascading over nine levels. It is reached by walking and the return trip takes three-to-four days.
Other waterfalls – Mae ReeWa and Mae Gee – are also reached on foot.
The highest peak in Mae Wong is called Mogoju and is 1,964m above sea level. According to park publicity, it is hard to get to but many tourists love it.
Another high point is Chong Yen, at 1,340m. Visitors can drive there and it is a good place for bird watching. The name, however, refers to the cool weather: the average annual temperature is less than 18C.
Khlong Wang Chao is another mountainous national park, covering almost 750 square kms and shared with neighbouring Tak province.
The highest peak is Khao Yen (1,898m), in the west of the park.
The park has six waterfalls.
Ta Dam waterfall has three levels, each said to be higher than 200m. It is well inside the national park and in the rainy season can be reached only by four-wheel-drive vehicles.
At Khlong Wang Chao waterfall the water drops 60m into a pool 100m wide. It is near the entrance to the park and driving is said to be easy.
Khlong Samor Klual waterfall is a middle-sized fall, with five levels. The water is a topaz colour. It is only 800m from the park headquarters.
Nearby is Kratae Tai Mai waterfall, another middle-sized fall, with pools for swimming.
Khlong Pong Waterfall (also known as Khlong Nam Daeng) is a slate waterfall of four levels, with the top one being 100m high. Visitors have to walk 20km to get to there and stay overnight. On the way is a hot spring, in which visitors can relax. Orchids grow naturally in the forest along the route.
Nalika Sai is a small waterfall, with a pool, close to the park entrance.
The park has accommodation and camping facilities.
Marble mining (with delightful twist)
Ban Phran Kratai is a prosperous village of about 7,000 people, 25km north of Kamphaeng Phet, on the road to Sukhothai.
It is the centre of marble mining and fashioning – furniture, artifacts and architectural decorations – in the province.
Pink, grey and white colours predominate in the selection of marble products available in the village.
Marble is important to the economy of the province. Extractive industries – oil field and Phran Kratai marble – are the second biggest contributor to provincial income.
The name Phran Kratai is a matter of legend and it turns out it has nothing to do with the town’s big source of income.
Phran Kratai means Rabbit Hunter.
Local lore has it that in the past a hunter (phran) was sent south from Sukhothai to find a good location for a frontier town. In front of a cave where he spent the night, he found a golden-haired rabbit (kratai). The rabbit quickly disappeared.
The hunter reported back to the king in Sukhothai and volunteered to catch it.
He set up a camp near the cave. In time, more people joined him and it grew into a village.
The people called the village Ban Phran Kratai, in honour of the hunter.
Wikipedia’s Phran Kratai page, and
Rural Health Retreat
About 25km outside Kamphaeng Phet, off the main road to Sukhothai, is the province’s rural health retreat – Phra Ruang Hot Springs.
Visitors can relax in private bathing rooms and traditional Thai massages are available.
The Thai Ministry of Public Health has tested the waters and certified them as clean.
Phra Ruang was the dynastic name of the Sukhothai kings and there is a charming legend of “Phra Ruang” travelling in the area and catching a jungle fowl for his dinner. But he needed hot water to scald and pluck the fowl – so he cast spell and caused a hot spring to flow.
The hot springs are open from 8:30am to 6:00pm. The entry fee is 30 baht.
Tourism Thailand’s Phra Ruang page