The UNESCO-listed ruins at Kamphaeng Phet attract a trickle of travellers, often on day trips from Sukhothai. Those who linger are treated to great food, a scenic riverfront, pristine natural attractions and locals who haven't become jaded by mainstream tourism. If you seek to sidestep the well-trodden track, two days in Kamphaeng Phet could be just the ticket.
A great reason to spend a night or two in Kamphaeng Phet is Three J Guesthouse, one of our favourite places to stay in Thailand. Mr Charin and his son James ease the difficulty of exploring a non-touristy destination by providing maps, info, tours and motorbike/bicycle rental while generally making guests feel welcome in a town where you won’t see many foreign faces.
Set off on a bicycle in the morning, stopping for a northern Thai coffee at one of several bakeries among the city’s solid selection of food offerings. Before you pedal up to the ruins, head down to the day market off Bumrangrat Road to see (and taste) fresh local fruit among the mounds of produce.
With a bundle of stumpy bananas in your bicycle basket, pedal north past quiet temples and the old wooden houses that line Tesa Road. Many homes double as restaurants, dishing out tasty egg-wheat noodle (ba-mii) soup with roasted duck or pork -- a specialty of Kamphaeng Phet. After a bowl (or three), continue north to the historical park’s central zone.
After checking out the Ayutthaya-period Buddha images and elephant sculptures at Wat Phra Kaeo, mosey over to the National Museum and Ruan Thai Museum to gain a deeper understanding of Kamphaeng Phet's place in history. If you're the superstitious type, offer a flower garland at a shrine dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, believed to protect all those who pass through the area.
Pedal northwest from the museums and turn right and then left to the historical park’s northern zone, where temples like Wat Phra Non and Wat Phra Si Ariyabot feature worn laterite Buddha images that resemble the sculptures of Alberto Giacometti. Be sure to make it all the way to the 68 elephant sculptures at Wat Chang Rob before slowing down at some of the minor sites.
After giving your legs a well-deserved rest, your stomach will probably be ready for the night market. Choose from grilled northern Thai sausage, spicy curries, salads, chilli pastes, whole fishes, noodle soup and an array of Thai sweets and fruits. Some shops have a few tables, though you could also collect a bunch of items and bring them back to Three J for a feast, using dishes from the guesthouse’s shared kitchen.
Rise early, hop on a motorbike or in the Three J Jeep and cruise west to Khlong Lan National Park’s 100 metre-high waterfall. The waterfall boasts several streams cascading into a series of pools fit for sirens -- and backpackers. You could bask in the waterfall's beauty for hours, but nature trails beckon visitors to venture deeper into the old growth.
As you leave Khlong Lan, you might stop at a nearby Karen village where traditional wears and foodstuffs can be purchased direct from people who have called these hills home for ages. To explore further into the remote mountains that stretch all the way to Burma, continue west to the solitary viewpoints and waterfalls of Mae Wong National Park. Do be aware that you’ll need more than a day to make the most of Mae Wong.
By the time you arrive back in Kamphaeng Phet the sun will probably hang low over the mountains from where you've just returned. Pass giggling children and open-fronted homes where the scent of family dinners wafts into the twilight as you stride to the riverfront. Relax in one of a few pleasant parks or kick back for a foot massage while watching the sun dip into the Ping River.
The night market may call you back for a second round, or you could stop by Tasty Restaurant for a mix of Thai and Western food in a comfy air-con setup. You could then keep the suds flowing while listening to a local band at one of several chilled out pubs found near the river. Don't worry, Kamphaeng Phet is a small and safe city -- you'll find your way back to Three J.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 13th June, 2016.