Kamphaeng Phet Province, Thailand
Most who visit Thailand head for the major destinations, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Pattaya, or any of the famous southern islands, but there is more to Thailand than this glitzy tourism. Thailand is a nation of farms, small towns, and a long history. One of these small and usually overlooked locales is the province of Kamphaeng Phet (Kam-pang-fet).
Kamphaeng is located 400 kilometres north of Bangkok, half way to Chiang Mai. It can be reached by road, but not directly by rail or air. If or when you grow tired of the endless bustle of the big city and want to experience a more local view of Thailand and see some of the “real” Thailand, head here for a few days or longer. You will find it a surprisingly enjoyable alternative.
The province has 800,000 people, most of whom live on the east side of the Ping River, which flows through the centre of the province. The western side of the River consists of rolling hills and picturesque National Parks. On the eastern shore of the River is the provincial capital (also named Kamphaeng Phet). This is a moderately sized town of 50,000 people—where it is possible to walk from one end of the town to the other without stress. Further east is the endless, green rice fields and agriculture enterprises that produce the wealth of the province.
The greatest attraction of Kamphaeng is the ancient ruins of five centuries ago. At that time Bangkok did not exist, and the capital of the Thai kingdom was a city to the immediate north of Kamphaeng Phet, the city of Sukhothai. Back then Kamphaeng Phet was not a back water, but a major city which faced the sometimes hostile Kingdom of Burma. In fact, the name of the province translates as “walls as strong as stones”, indicating its role as a border fortress town.
The ruins of the ancient city are to the immediate north of the modern city—the Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Park can be easily reached on foot.
Start your exploration of the Park with a visit to The Kamphang Phet National Museum. This museum is located next to the Park and houses an excellent presentation of the history of the region, with artifacts, Buddhist and Hindu statues, inscriptions, and diorama. Signage in both Thai and English. Entry is 150 baht ($5) for foreigners.
Immediately adjacent to the National Museum, which displays the ancient past, there is a City Museum (“Thai House Museum”) which displays contemporary and near contemporary everyday life. This is a personal story of life in the province.
After the Museums spend a few leisurely hours walking through the ancient city—the Historical Park. This consists of the intact brick and stone foundations and walls of the original city of Kamphaeng. These were the temples and palaces, which were built more robustly than the wooden and bamboo homes of the not so prosperous. The temples contain tall towers and mystic Buddha statues.
You are free to walk around, in, and explore these reminders of the past, but—don’t damage.
If ruins are your interest know that there are many others scattered over the entire city area. On the western side of the River are intact forts that once guarded the city against surprise attack. The largest is “Pom Thung Setthi”. It is possible to spend a day or more visiting these reminders of the past.
The modern provincial capital itself is worth a meander through. Small and friendly, with people just a little shy and with no great deal of English spoken. In the town centre there is a large open area where the good cafes and restaurants are located. Also here is where the annual parades and festivals are held. If you are fortunate to come by at this time, take a look. See if you can find bargains for locally produced food and savories!
To get around town rent a bicycle about $1.50 a day.
A word on public transport—not much, and what there is is not designed for tourism. If you need a taxi there are a handful, get the phone number of the driver, but expect to pay. There are tuk tuks, but you need to have your destination written in Thai to show to the driver. The best option is to rent a bicycle. Indicative of a lack of tourism is a complete lack of motorbikes for rent in the city!
In the cool of the evening, there is always a Night Market on the River. Merchants setup stalls to sell their wares, food is prepared and sold, folk play and sing in the small, nearby park, while families sit to enjoy the good company. A little quiet on week nights but on weekends the Night Market is full and busy. Often with bands, singers, and street performers. A fun time to visit.
If you fancy Buddhist temples there are several large in the city (as there are in every Thai city). On the ‘other side of the River’ is “Wat (temple) Phra Borommathat”. This temple is six centuries old and is the oldest in the province. Its most visible feature is the tall, gold-covered, Burmese style pagoda (stupa). The temple grounds also house the “Nakhon Chum Cultural Centre”. This is a beautiful teak building, which displays a collection of antique objects from the temple and the local people.
There are no shiny five-star hotels, but a goodly number of smaller hotels, however, for tourists there is only one real choice—the “Three J Guesthouse”. This guesthouse has good rooms, serves a tasty breakfast, and the family who owns and run the business know local tourism well. They also have a camping ground outside the town and run tours to remote areas in the province. Expect to meet a few others from everywhere in the world. Great fun.
www.threejguesthouse.com Mr Charin is the man to talk to.
Food and cafes abound in the city, but the only, large, western style, and popular cafe is “Coffee Today” in the city centre, near the tower clock. Here the city’s elite, travellers, and giggly university students mix and congregate. Great cappuccino and cake! There is one, small vegetarian restaurant on the south side of the town, down and along a few side streets, ask a tuk tuk driver. There are several small nightclubs—but it is just not a party town.
Outside there are a few attractions worthy of your time. Hop on a motorbike or engage local taxis and drive to the Phra Ruang Hot Springs. This is not a spectacular destination, but there is the occasional geyser and lots of hot, hot water in which to rest your feet or yourself. Private rooms for those who wish to bathe au naturale!
The Hot Spring also has a camping area where you will usually see a school camp with happy students from the province. Feel free to swing by and say hello. You will be invited to speak with the students, who will be rather shy, but willing to practice their English.
The Banana Market. This is more than just a market of bananas—it is a busy and vibrant street market stretching a kilometre or more along the main highway just south of the town (on the Asia Highway the road to the neighboring province of Nakhon Sawan).
This market specialises in a well-known local delicacy—the “egg bananas” (kluai khai). These are small and sweet bananas which are grown in the province. They are exported to and eaten all over Thailand. Here they are available in abundance (hence the name). Also many, many other foods, and also household items from mops and brooms to furniture, plus handicrafts. For local items and souvenirs this is the place to go!
An amazing feature of this market is that tourists are charged the same price as locals!
One other feature of the province is the landscape itself. The sight of the sun shining over the rice paddies at dawn is beautiful. There are also rice fields, villages, and many people to be seen and photographed.
Festivals, there is an endless quantity of rural (Kite Festival, Rice Festival, Buddhist…) festivals. One of the most exciting is the Rocket, held near the middle of the year. Rockets are fired skyward to ward off evil, for good luck, and of course—for fun. Feel free to join in.
When you arrive in Kamphaeng travel information will be available at your hotel. For more specialised information visit the Tourism Office in the town stadium. Here are brochures, maps, and guides for your interest.
From Kamphaeng, you can travel to several nearby and worthy destinations. Of course, Chiang Mai 400 kilometres to the north. Or to the closer destination of Sukhothai, the ancient capital of Thailand, or to Phitsanulok—the big city!
If you do find yourself with spare time in Thailand, and desire to experience a few sights most foreigners rarely even know of, point yourself towards Kamphaeng Phet. You won’t be disappointed