Kamphaeng Phet (กำแพงเพชร) is a city in Lower Northern Thailand. Its historical park with ruins of 14th- to 16th-century temples, city fortifications and Buddha statues is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site "Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns".
In the lower north of Thailand on the bank of the Ping River, Kamphaeng Phet is about halfway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. To its east are riverine flatlands while the western areas are made up of high mountains lush with fertile forests where a number of national parks have been established.
Areas along the river bank at present-day city used to host several ancient towns which had played a major role as strategic front-lines since Sukhothai was the kingdom's capital down through the times of Ayutthaya and early Rattanakosin (Bangkok) eras. In fact, the name Kamphaeng Phet actually means "walls as strong as diamonds".
Its great history fell into oblivion and Kamphaeng Phet was an ordinary, smallish province city until the establishment of the historical park and its listing as a World Heritage site in 1991. Still, Kamphaeng Phet is—unlike its well-known neighbour Sukhothai—ignored by the main flow of tourists. This is why the city has barely any offers geared to the needs of international travellers. Some may view this as a drawback, but those looking to experience the authentic, upcountry Thailand, are coming just to the right place.
Moreover, Kamphaeng Phet is a "banana capital". Its local speciality are "egg bananas" (kluai khai in Thai), whose fruit are only about 10 centimetres (4 inches) long, almost ovally shaped (hence the name) and much more aromatic then the run-of-the-mill long, bent banana varieties sold in most non-tropic countries. Kamphaneng Phet Province exports bananas worth 200 million baht each year.
The closest international airports are Bangkok-Suvarnabhumi (BKK) and Don Mueang (DMK), 370 and 340 km from Kamphaeng Phet, respectively. Flying to the regional airports of Phitsanulok or Sukhothai only makes sense if you are picked up or rent a car there, as public transportation from these airports to Kamphaeng Phet is inconvenient and very slow.
Kamphaeng Phet is not connected with the rail network. The next train station is in Phitsanulok, from where it takes nearly three hours bus ride to Kamphaeng Phet.
The most usual way to get in, is by bus. Buses from Bangkok's northern terminal (Mo Chit) and from Chiang Mai arrive about hourly. There are also some overnight connections. The ride from Bangkok takes five to six hours and costs 204 or 263 baht, depending on the class of coach. Most buses from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Uttaradit, Mae Sot, Sawankhalok or Sukhothai stop in Kamphaeng Phet and may be used (ask the personnel at the counter).
Non-AC regional buses from Phitsanulok run hourly, from 5 AM to 6 PM. For just 100 km, they take nearly three hours, due to frequent stops and detours to villages along the way. The ticket costs 59 baht.
From Sukhothai you may either get on a bus towards Bangkok and hop off at Kamphaeng Phet, which takes some 1½ hours and costs around 70 baht (though passengers who book all the way to Bangkok may be preferred) or take the more rustic songthaeo (converted pickup with passenger benches on the bed) that departs whenever there are enough passengers, takes up to 2½ hours and costs 60 baht.
The government-owned Transport Company's 1 bus terminal. used by most intercity buses is somewhat incoveniently located, about 2 km outside the city centre, on the other bank of Ping River. From there, irregularly running songthaeos, tuk-tuks or motorcycle taxis (if available) take you to the city centre. Preferrably, you ask your hosts to arrange a pickup. Wintour buses on their way from Bangkok to Sukhothai (or back) instead stop at the 2 bodhi tree. close to the city centre.
Kamphaeng Phet is conveniently accessible via Route 1 (Asian Highway 1), about halfway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. It is a four to 4½ ride from either city. From Sukhothai it takes just over one hour, from Phitsanulok 1½ hours via decently paved roads.
Kamphaeng Phet lacks an actual public transportation system. The city is not well prepared for tourists. There are no regular taxis, and even tuk-tuks, motorcycle taxis or rickshaws are pretty rare. Reddish-brown painted songthaeos (converted pickups with benches on the bed) circuit through the city, between bus terminal and Big C shopping mall, their departure times are irregular. Other songthaeo lines connect with the surrounding province, departing either from the bus terminal or the large day market in the city centre. It may be difficult to find out where exactly they are going without speaking Thai. They do not have exact departure times either, but go whenever there are enough passengers for a certain destination.
To be independent and be able to do individual excursions to the hinterland, it is best to arrive with a hired car (e.g. from Phitsanulok) or to rent a motorcycle (e.g. at Three J Guesthouse).
Most distances within the city centre can be covered by foot. Moreover, Kamphaeng Phet is relatively bicycle-friendly (at least, in comparison to most Thai cities). While there are no designated cycleways, traffic on the roads is quite overseeable, and there are quite a lot of green areas. To discover the historical park, the bicycle is just about the ideal means of transportation: it is a little to extensive to walk all the way, while you cannot see that much from inside a car. Some guesthouses lend or rent out bikes to their guests. Another rental location is right at the entry to the historical park (Khet Aranyik)—30 baht per hour, mountain bikes for 50 baht.
Kamphaeng Phet's Historical Park of temple ruins, Buddha statues, old walls and forts from the 14th to 16th centuries is part of the UNESCO World Heritage and the town's main sight. It consists of three separate parts. Admission to either the "inner district" or Khet Aranyik costs 100 baht each, a combined ticket for both sections is available for 150 baht. The walls, forts and the sights of Nakhon Chum can be accessed without ticket. The zones that are surrounded by fences are open daily 8AM-6PM.
- 1 Khet Nai ("inner district"). The ruins of the temple district of the ancient city of Cha Kang Rao, including Wat Phra Kaeo and Wat Phra That. The Reclining Buddha of Wat Phra Kaeo is arguably the most beautiful statue in the park and one of the most well-made depictions of the Buddha's serene smile from the Sukhothai period. The zone is surrounded by 5-metre high laterite walls and a 25-metre wide moat. Four of once ten forts and gates are relatively well-preserved and can be visited.
- 2 Khet Aranyik ("forest district"). For long, Thailand's Buddhist clergy was divided into "town monks" who studied, taught and performed ceremonies for the believers, and "forest monks" who went into retreat, dedicated to meditation and asceticism. The bigger part of the historical park, covered with light forest, consists of the hermitage ruins of the latter group. Thanks to the canopy of leaves, it is very pleasent to visit on foot or by bicycle (can be rented by the main entrance). Its main sites are Wat Chang Rop (with its remarkable chedi that is surrounded by 68 stucco elephant figures), Wat Phra Non (with a relatively well-preserved chedi and remains of a Reclining Buddha statue), Wat Phra Si Iriyabot (with the park's only surviving, 9-metre high Standing Buddha statue). Next to the main entrance to this zone is also the park administration.
- 3 Mueang Nakhon Chum. Kamphaeng Phet/Cha Kang Rao's sister city on the opposite bank of the Ping River is even older. Its fortification and temple ruins are however in a worse state of preservation. Unlike on the other bank, there is no actual park with fence, cashier and trim paths, but the ruins are simply dispersed among the landscape, widely ignored by locals and tourists alike. The only historic temple that is still in use, is Wat Phra Borommathat (see below, in the temples section).
- 4 Wat Khu Yang, Th. Wichit 1. Old temple in the town centre whose history dates back to c. 1600. The present buildings however stem from the 1850s. Especially notable is the ho trai, i.e. the monastery's library, a traditional wooden house standing on stilts amidst a water ditch. Its roof is covered with characteristic fish-scale shaped tiles. The ubosot is nice to look at too, especially at dusk when the colourful glass elements of the elaborately decorated pediment shimmer.
- 5 Wat Phra Borommathat (วัดพระบรมธาตุ), Nakhon Chum. This temple is one of the oldest in Kamphaeng Phet (its history probably dates back to the 14th century) and the only ancient monastery of the historic park that is not a ruin but still active. Its most visible feature is the tall, gold-covered pagoda in Burmese Mon style that can be seen from afar. Originally, the chedi was Sukhothai-style, but it was redesigned during a renovation from 1870 to 1907, sponsored by a rich timber merchant. The temple compound also hosts the "Nakhon Chum cultural centre" in a traditional teak building, with a collection of all kinds of antique objects, that however lack explanations (at least in English).
- 6 Wat Sawang Arom, Nakhon Chum (West of the Suan Mak canal, some 800 m off the Route 1/Asian Highway. Turn left at the Esso gas pump before the bridge, at the end of the road turn right through the underpass, then left, past the small market, after 450 m left again, across the bridge, and another 100 m to the temple entrance). Old temple with a beautiful, 3-metre high, Chiang Saen-style Buddha statue in the "calling the earth to witness" posture.
- The hot springs of Phra Ruang, not far from the main town. Follow Hwy 101 north (towards Sukhothai) out of Kamphaeng Phet for 13 km, then turn left and 12 km up this road you'll come upon the springs.
- Kamphaeng Phet is famous for a small, round, sweet and aromatic banana variety called "egg bananas" (Thai: kluai khai).
The night market in Kamphaeng Phet is particularly good for cheap and varied eats. It's located on Tesa 1 between Bumrungrat and Soi 14.
During the day Ton Pho Market between Tesa 1 and Rachadumnoen, first soi south from Kamphaengphet/101 is a good bet for food.
While a handful of restaurants are open until around midnight much of the town shuts up pretty early, between 8PM and 9PM; even the night market is winding down by that time. Bear this in mind when planning your dinner.
Like any Thai town with more than a handful of people, Kamphaeng Phet has been overrun with cafes serving a wide range of espresso-based beverages. Most also have a selection of cakes.
- Cake Pound (เค้กปอนด์) (Intersection of Tesa 1 and Kamphaengphet/101). 7AM-?. Bakery, coffee shop. Lots of breads, mini pizzas and cake options at reasonable prices. Two muffins for 30 baht, tasty and a good deal. Air-con Espresso 35 baht.
- 1 Coffee Today, town centre (Intersection of Tesa 1 Rd and Kamphaengphet Rd. Look for the clock and the fountain). A popular coffee shop. Cappuccini at 50 baht, selection of sweet snacks, Wi-Fi. On the street corner opposite the town fountain.
There are at least three cafes on Wichien/Rachavitee. Starting from Rachadumnoen heading towards 3J Guesthouse, look on the south side of the road...
- Ba-Gan Tim. 9AM-9PM. Identifiable by the cute cow sign next to the chalk board. Serves cakes. Has A/C. espresso 30 baht.
- In Coffee. A small stall affair with only a couple of tables. espresso 25 baht.
- Coffee Club. 8AM-6PM. Comfortable sofas and some great coffee. They also provide a free pot of green tea with each cup of coffee. Has A/C and WiFi, and serves cakes. espresso 30 baht.
Vigit 2 has two cafes within 200 m heading south from Wichien, the first in a bookshop (9AM-8PM, espresso, 30 baht, air-con, free Wi-Fi) and the next, Sugar Cane Coffee (espresso, 40 baht, air-con, free Wi-Fi) about 50 m further on. Both are on the east side of the street and also serve cakes.
- Riverside Scenic Resort, 325/16 Tesa 2 Rd, ☎ . Relaxing place to stay. Lots of local info and near the old city. 1,500+ baht.
- 1 3 J Guesthouse, 79 Rachavitee Rd (About 2km S of city centre), ☎ . Check-out: noon. Low cost, basic rooms (entirely adequate and clean), fan or air-con, very pleasant garden environment. Small range of food offered, motorbikes for hire (200 baht a day). Family-run business, good spoken English, helpful advice about touring the town and ruins. 250-500 baht.
|Routes through Kamphaeng Phet|
|Chiang Rai ← Tak ←||N S||→ Nakhon Sawan → Bangkok|