Kamphaeng Phet Historic Park

A whole historical park to yourself!

Photo of Kamphaeng Phet Historic Park, , Kamphaeng Phet

What we say: 4 stars

When compared to the historical park at Sukhothai, the first thing you'll notice is the much wider use of laterite, particularly in sculpting Buddha images. The erosion over the centuries has created a fascinating array of figures that slightly resemble the aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The park is separated into two sections, each with separate entrances. The central zone is located within the old city walls and includes two of Kamphaeng Phet's chief attractions: Wat Phra That and Wat Phra Kaew. Because it borders Tesa 2 Rd, the central zone isn't quite as tranquil as the northern zone, which is lushly forested and in more remote surrounds. The central zone's front gates are located on the east side of the park, but you can also enter through the western side near the City Pillar shrine. Directly northeast of the central zone are Kamphaeng Phet National Museum, Ruan Thai Museum and San Phra Isuan shrine.

The more sprawling northern zone's front gate is located a short bicycle ride northwest of the central zone. With banyan trees and mossy footpaths intermingling with the ruins, the northern zone posseses a sense of remoteness that's quite similar to Si Satchanalai. It's also spread over a much larger area than the central zone and contains more extensive ruins -- over 40 sites in total -- including Wat Chang Rob and Wat Phra Si Ariyabat.

If you arrive on a weekday, chances are you'll have both sections almost completely to yourself. On our latest visit, the only other person we came across amid the ruins was a meditating white-robed Buddhist nun and a few napping dogs. If you visit on a Saturday or Sunday, you may need to share the ruins with a busload or two of Thai tourists, but Kamphaeng Phet never gets as crowded as Sukhothai or Ayutthaya.

While we've highlighted a handful of the largest and most prominent sites below, different sites are appreciated in different ways by different people -- just because we haven't listed it doesn't mean it's not worth experiencing.

Both sections of the park are open daily from 08:00 to 18:00. Tickets for foreigners cost 100 baht for each zone, or you can buy a single ticket valid for both zones for 150 baht. Bicycles can be rented at the gates of either zone; the cost is 30 baht for a single-gear city bike or 50 baht for a mountain bike. Food and drink is limited to a few street carts outside the central zone and nonexistent in the northern zone, so be sure to stock up on water before you arrive. Note that each of the museums charge additional entry fees.

Wat Phra Kaew
One of Kamphaeng Phet's top sites
Shaded by tall trees to the west of the central zone, this sprawling complex is fronted by a large laterite and brick platform with a seated laterite Buddha image whose face has worn away over the years. Behind this image is what's left of what was once a very tall chedi but has since been reduced to little more than a base. Luckily, several of the exquisite Sukhothai-style elephant sculptures that surround the chedi are in pristine condition -- a handful even have their complete rounded trunks still attached.

Continuing west down steep ancient stairs, a large bell-shaped chedi stands in good condition. Nearby is a secondary base where another weathered laterite Buddha with arms that look to have been severed at the elbows makes for an eerie sight. Along with the elephants, the highlight of Wat Phra Kaew is a family of three well preserved Buddha images -- two seated and one reclining -- towards the rear of the complex. These are believed to have been added during the early Ayutthaya period.

Owing to an ancient text that claims the Emerald Buddha (Phra Kaew) image now found in Bangkok's Grand Palace compound was once brought to Kamphaeng Phet, King Rama VI guessed this to be the temple where the image was housed and it was he who named it Wat Phra Kaew not even 100 years ago.

Wat Phra That
A mix of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya
If you enter the central zone from the main gates to the east, the first major site you'll encounter is Wat Phra That. While not as awe-inspiring as some of Kamphaeng Phet's other temples, it's interesting for the design qualities that include both Sukhothai and Ayutthaya influences. The chief bell shaped chedi is made of brick in classic Sukhothai style and mounted on a laterite base. Later, during the Ayutthaya period, the complex was redesigned in the Ayutthaya style, evidenced by the L-shaped gallery wall that cuts through the complex.

Wat Phra Non
Where's the hidden passage?
One of the first sites encountered after entering the northern zone, Wat Phra Non is perhaps more notable for its jungle atmosphere than its history. Surrounded by mossy zig-zagging brick walkways and shaded by tall trees, it's the sort of place that feels like it could be out of an Indiana Jones movie. The complex was once an important Buddhist monastery, but all that's left today are the many laterite brick walls, wide pillars that no longer have a roof to hold up, and a few Buddha images so weathered that they look like other-wordly beings.

Wat Phra Si Ariyabot
A towering Buddha beneath the trees
The highlight of this extensive complex, known locally as Wat Yuen, is a towering mandapa that once featured Sukhothai-style sculptures depicting the four bodily postures of the Buddha -- standing, walking, sitting and reclining. The images on three sides have been reduced to nothing but a piece of a leg here or a foot there, but the standing image, which is at least 12 metres tall, remains in very good condition save a missing arm. Peering into the dense jungle that flanks the temple to the rear, the standing Buddha is one of the best preserved and most photogenic in Kamphaeng Phet.

Wat Chang Rob
68 elephants and a view
The northern zone sprawls for quite some distance to the north, and it's worth putting in the extra peddling effort to reach this distinctive monument. Perched on the area's highest hill, a 30 metre-wide laterite base is surrounded by 68 limestone elephants sculpted in Sukhothai style. All are missing most of their trunks and many have been reduced to nothing but a pair of legs, but the intricate stone work in the eyes and ears can still be seen on many. The base once supported a massive chedi, though most of it has since toppled. Still, it's worth climbing the steep stairwell to the top of the base, from where you can gaze down on the entire surrounding area through ancient triangular passageways.

More details
Opening Hours: Daily 08:00 - 18:00
Last updated: 19th August, 2013

Last reviewed by:
Usually found exploring Bangkok's side streets or south Thailand's islands, David Luekens is an American freelance writer & photographer who finds everyday life in Asia to be extraordinary. You can follow his travails here.

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