Comprising Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park’s entire central zone, Wat Phra Kaeo and Wat Phra That stand over a large field that was also home to a royal palace during the Sukhothai period, which at the time was the city’s spiritual and political anchor.
Wat Phra Kaeo (also spelt Kaew) translates as Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It was named after a small but valuable nephrite Buddha image that was enshrined here in the early 1430s before being carted north to temples of the same name in Chiang Rai and later Vientiane and Bangkok, where it’s now revered as the Buddha image that’s thought to bring spiritual authority to the Thai king.
Kamphaeng Phet’s Wat Phra Kaeo is now a collection of ruins scattered around a large Sri Lankan-style bell-shaped chedi ringed by niches. At the centre of the complex, a large brick-and-plaster reclining Buddha image lies in front of two seated Buddha images, all displaying beautiful details in the faces and headdresses. Probably added to the complex in the early Ayutthaya era, the images are unique among the ruins of the ancient Sukhothai kingdom.
Keep wandering towards the back of Wat Phra Kaeo and you’ll find more ancient chedis, including one with a few elephant statues attached to a corner of the base. The eyes, tusks and delicate coiled trunks are still fully intact on some. Wat Phra Kaeo also features brick bases and pillars that once supported several wihaans and other structures. Some of these still have Buddha images so badly eroded that all you can see are the laterite cores looking like emaciated aliens.
Fronting Wat Phra Kaeo is Wat Phra That, featuring a massive Sri Lankan-style chedi with multiple tiers leading up to a slender spire that’s missing the uppermost piece. After you’re finished here you could pop up to the Shiva Shrine and National Museum before stopping by the City Pillar Shrine on the way to the historical park’s northern zone.
How to get there
The Central Zone can easily be explored on foot and a few vendors sell water at the City Pillar Shrine near the zone. The gate to Wat Phra Kaeo and Wat Phra That is located to the east, just north of Ratchadamnoen 1 Road and south of the National Museum. Admission is 100 baht for only these two sites, or you can pay 150 baht for the entire historical park.
By David Luekens.
Last updated on 13th June, 2016.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.