Photo: Tree shaded ruins at Kamphaeng Phet.

Eat and meet

You won't find many burgers or even English menus in Kamphaeng Phet, but you will be happy if local food is your style.

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While various small markets are dotted around Kamphaeng Phet, none should be confused with the Night Market that sets up daily from 17:00 in a semi covered area just south of Chakungrao Hotel on Tesa 1. The market's outer stalls mostly feature clothing and fresh fruit (Kamphaeng Phet is famous for its durian and short, stumpy bananas), but it's when you get into the thick of it that real treats can be found. Spicy central Thai curries and chilli pastes, coconut and palm sugar sweets, northern and northeastern Thai style sausages, khao man kai (chicken rice), noodle soup and fiery Thai salads are just a sample of what's on offer. With most items fetching under 30 baht, you can buy up loads of incredible food on the cheap, and if you stay at Three J Guesthouse, you can use their dishes to lay out a proper feast. The market runs until midnight but it's best to arrive before 20:00 to for the full selection.

For a day market experience that rivals any in upcountry Thailand, head to the bustling market that sets up just off Bumrungrat Rd, across the street from Bumrungrat Soi 1. This sprawling affair feels like the centre of Kamphaeng Phet's universe, and it's a great place to pick up Thai finger foods while perusing the locally grown produce. They definitely don't see many foreigners here -- we caused quite the excited commotion while walking through.

All around town you'll notice an abundance of local kitchens by day, some with curries and stir-fries laid out in steel pots and others with whole ducks, chickens, slabs of pork, noodles and veggies hanging in their windowed displays. Roast duck with ba-mii egg noodles are a favourite, but many food shops can whip up practically any Thai standard, from tom yum soup to pak bueng fai daeng (sauteed morning glory). We had a tasty bowl of boat noodles with melt-in-the-mouth pork shoulder at a shop set in an old wood house with high ceilings just across from the police station on Tesa 2 -- look for the old wooden rowboat that's used as counter space out front. A couple of hundred metres west of that, also on Tesa 2 and just south of the old city walls, an ahaan jay (vegetarian) shop sells a range of pre-made veggie curries and meat substitutes for dirt cheap. The sign out front says "Vegetalion Food".

As for local specialties, hundreds of Kamphaeng Phet residents converge each night on one of the many muu ka-ta (do-it-yourself pork barbecue) joints scattered around town. These can seem a bit intimidating at first, but they're actually pretty simple; collect your desired pork and veggies from the central buffet and use chopsticks to cook it yourself at the round grill in the centre of each table. It's exclusively a night-time treat that's best enjoyed with cold beer. A huge muu ka-ta restaurant gets packed every night with young locals just down the road from Three J Guesthouse, but if you don't feel like being stared and giggled at by hundreds of young Thais, Chaa Chaa (sign only in Thai) on the corner of Tesa 1 and Tesa 1 Soi 9 has a more relaxed atmosphere. To satisfy your sweet tooth the local way, keep an eye out for chao kuai, black strips of sweet grass jelly served over ice with sugar syrup and toppings like jackfruit, dried pineapple and banana. You can find it in the night market, but we had a delicious cup at a street stand that sets up most nights on Charoensuk Rd, just west of Vijit 2 Rd.

One of Kamphaeng Phet's best bakeries is Phayao (the only English on the sign says "Real Coffee"), an old school spot near the night market on Tesa 1 that serves up whole cakes, ice cream, Western style baked goods, steamed Chinese-style rice flour buns (sala bao) and dim sum. A good place to start the day is Chai Bakery to the south of Ratchamnoen Rd, around the corner from the Navara Hotel. They sell excellent northern Thai coffee and a range of baked goods in a smart, air-con space -- a small piece of their tasty sponge cake kept us full until early afternoon. A few other clean, modern-style coffee shops worth mentioning are Sugar Cane on the corner of Ratchadamnoen Soi 7 and Vijit 2, Coffee Today just east of the roundabout on Kamphaeng Phet Rd, and the aptly named Coffee, just down the street from Three J Guesthouse.

If you're hoping for Western food, the best bet is probably Steak BKK, just east of Ratchadamnoen Rd on Ratchadamnoen Soi 2. While it probably won't cure your homesickness, it offers steak, fries, burgers and sandwiches aimed at the Thai palate. A makeshift stand also sells personal-size Thai-style pizza next to Sugar Cane Coffee, and Western breakfasts are available at Chakungrao Riverview's restaurant. A tiny Japanese restaurant serves sushi, tempura and noodle soups to the west of Tesa Soi 9.

There's little in the way of eating and drinking options near the ruins, but the multi-pupose Forrest makes the perfect rest stop right before the gates to the northern section of the historical park. It serves cold beer, fresh coffee, cake and a smattering of Thai food in a spacious open-air garden.

When it comes to nightlife, Kamphaeng Phet is a surprisingly happening place. If you're really looking to let loose, head to the large-scale clubs of Bumrungrat Rd. The long-running Eagle Pub and newer Banana Pub both get absolutely jam packed on weekend nights from 22:00 on. For something more relaxed, Long Tiem (sign only in Thai) just east of Tesa 1 on Tesa Soi 9 is a cosy spot with wooden tables, dim lights and live guitar music from 21:00 to midnight. Not far from that, next to the basketball court a few hundred metres north of the night market on Tesa 1, Z Through is a similarly chilled out spot with low key live music, fairy lights and a full bar.

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Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Kamphaeng Phet? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Thailand.

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