A forest of ruins
Published/Last edited or updated: 14th June, 2016
Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park's northern zone is located around a kilometre northwest of the park's central zone; and it is here where the historical park gets most interesting in our opinion, with venerable trees piercing into the ancient ruins.
Wat Phra Si Ariyabot and Wat Chang Rob are two sites that should not be missed, but we also recommend minor sites like Wat Kamphaeng Ngam and Wat Ma Phi, which are ideal for a few minutes of contemplation. Altogether the northern zone contains 40 different sites spread over a sizeable forested area.
The first major site that you’ll see, on your left, after entering the historical park’s northern zone is Wat Phra Non, a large complex that blends into the forest. The ruins include the remains of several structures built from the 14th to 16th centuries, including a large ordination hall in front and a wihaan that once housed a reclining Buddha image towards the back. A two-metre-high laterite wall with narrow windows rims the sprawling grounds. Sema boundary stones depicting characters from the Ramakien epic were discovered here and can now be seen in the National Museum.
While there are no Buddha images or other individual attractions, the entire complex is a pleasure to wander through. Countless walls and wide laterite pillars stand alongside vast trees, making this is a prime place for a game of hide and seek.
Between Wat Phra Non and Wat Singh in the historical park’s northern zone, Wat Phra Si Ariyabot was named after a large Buddha image that still stands facing the forest at the back of the complex. Up front stands a massive two-metre-high brick base that once supported a wihaan. It must have been one of the largest buildings in the area; with some imagination you can picture it with a broad wooden roof sheltering chanting monks during the Sukhothai period. Off to the sides, a couple of badly damaged chedis still display some of the original circular patterns around the cracked stucco sides.
The highlight is Phra Si Ariyabot, a roughly six-metre-tall standing Buddha image that’s missing a left arm but otherwise is in good shape. While similar to Buddha images of the same name found in Sukhothai, this one has a flatter face that distinguishes it as being part of the Kamphaeng Phet school of Sukhothai-period art. The Buddha image is placed along the back wall of a thick brick mondop. Long ago the other three sides featured Buddha images in the walking, seated and reclining postures, but only the standing Buddha stuck it out through the centuries. If you see his buddies, tell them he could use some company.
Just north of Wat Phra Si Ariyabot, with a name that means the “Lion Temple”, Wat Singh’s dramatic brick-lane entranceway leads under low-hanging branches to a Buddha image sitting high above the ruins. Made of laterite bricks, the seated Buddha reveals a hint of detail in the eyes and nose, and a subduing Mara posture that’s still clearly evident. On either side stand smaller and more damaged laterite images that probably depict the Buddha’s two chief disciples, Mogallana and Sariputta. Wander around the side of the complex, beyond the outer wall, for a great photo of the Buddha seated among numerous flowering trees.
Further back at the base of a collapsed chedi, a series of four large niches face each of the four cardinal directions. Crumbling seated Buddha images remain in a couple of them, fronted by much smaller Buddha statues left by pilgrims. Unfortunately the lion guardian statues that gave the temple its name were carted away long ago.
From Wat Phra Singh, cruise straight west and keep left and, in the northwest corner of the zone, Wat Chang Rob boasts a Sri Lankan-style chedi with an imposing base ringed by what’s left of 68 elephant sculptures. Stretching 31 metres across on all four sides, the roughly three-metre-high laterite brick platform tops a small hill. Steep stairways lead to the top, where only the lower section of the chedi has stood through the centuries -- it must have been huge back in the day. Spindly grasses and flowering weeds reach from the laterite.
While none have held on to their trunks and some have been reduced to mounds of laterite bricks, many of the elephant statues still show off intricate carvings of ornaments around the legs and necks. It’s easy to be distracted by the long lines of elephants, but also look between them to see reliefs of the Buddha meditating under the Bodhi tree along with hints of demons and devas. After encircling the chedi you might step back for a photo of the elephants framed by golden shower trees. You could then take either of two side lanes that shoot south and north from here to a number of minor ruins that blend into the forest.
While the historic park's central zone seems like the obvious place to start, we suggest hitting the much-larger northern zone first, when your energy supply is high. You could then swing down to the National Museum for some air-con and background info before finishing with a bang at Wat Phra Kaeo in the central zone. Plan on losing a solid half-day exploring both zones and the museums by bicycle.
The Northern Zone ruins are best explored by bicycle, which can be rented at Three J and other hotels or at the front gates to both zones for 30 baht. To reach the park, head west past the City Pillar Shrine and turn right (north) and then left (west), following the signs. Cars and motorbikes can be brought into the northern zone for an extra 20 to 50 baht. Admission is 100 baht for only the northern zone, or you can pay 150 baht for the entire historical park.
Walking the entire northern zone and then back into town would make for a very tiring day. A few vendors sell water next to the parking lot at Wat Chang Rob in the northern zone -- there’s a lot of ground in between so do stock up. Fourrest is a good place to grab a bite to eat before or after hitting the northern zone.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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