Kamphaeng Phet Province: Thailand's ancient Royal City & much more
Updated: Feb 11, 2020
Are you traveling to Thailand and looking to avoid the crowded tourist locations? Consider visiting the province of Kamphaeng Phet, rich in historical importance; this former Royal City is well worth including on your trip.
A province (Changwat) of Thailand located in the upper center of the country. Its neighboring provinces are Sukhothai, Nakhon Sawan, Phitsanulok, Tak, and Phichit.
In Lao or Thai Kamphaeng means 'wall' and Phet means 'diamond.' The name means 'wall as hard as a diamond.'
The old name was Khao Kampeng, refers to a 'mountain wall' between the two countries.
Kamphaeng Phet History
Once a royal city in the Sukhothai Kingdom in the 14th century, then known as Chakangrao. It formed an essential part of the defense system of the kingdom, as well as later of the Ayutthaya Kingdom.
Symbols of Kamphaeng Phet
The provincial seal of Kamphaeng Phet shows the city walls surmounted with diamonds since the city name means 'wall of diamonds' (from the shape of the ramparts of the old city walls).
The provincial tree of Kamphaeng Phet is the Areca Nut Palm (Acacia Catechu), and the provincial flower the bullet wood (Mimusops Elengi).
Kamphaeng Phet Districts (Amphoe or Amphur)
The province is divided into eleven districts (Amphoes).
These are then further subdivided into 78 sub-districts (Tambons) and 823 villages (Mubans).
Mueang Kamphaeng Phet (Thai: เมืองกำแพงเพชร)
The capital district of Kamphaeng Phet Province
Postal code: 62000
Sai Ngam (Thai: ไทรงาม)
In the east of Kamphaeng Phet Province
Postal code: 62150
Khlong Lan (Thai: คลองลาน)
The westernmost district of Kamphaeng Phet Province
Postal code 62180
Khanu Woralaksaburi (Thai: ขาณุวรลักษบุรี)
In the south of Kamphaeng Phet Province
Postal code 62180
Khlong Khlung (Thai: คลองขลุง)
In the central part of Kamphaeng Phet Province
Postal code: 62120
Phran Kratai (Thai: พรานกระต่าย)
The northernmost district of Kamphaeng Phet Province
Postal code: 62110
Lan Krabue (Thai: ลานกระบือ)
The northeasternmost district of Kamphaeng Phet Province
Postal code: 62170
Sai Thong Watthana (Thai: ทรายทองวัฒนา)
A central district of Kamphaeng Phet Province
Postal code: 62190
Pang Sila Thong (Thai: ปางศิลาทอง)
The southwesternmost district of Kamphaeng Phet Province
Postal code: 62120
Bueng Samakkhi (Thai: บึงสามัคคี)
In the east of Kamphaeng Phet Province
Postal code: 62210
Kosamphi Nakhon (Thai: โกสัมพีนคร)
In the northwestern part of Kamphaeng Phet Province
Postal code: 62000
Kamphaeng Phet Province total area
Total - 8,607.5 km2 (3,323.4 sq mi)
Current population of Kamphaeng Phet province
Total - 730,000
Located in the lower north of Thailand on the banks of the Ping River, Kamphaeng Phet is approximately halfway between Chiang Mai and Bangkok.
To the east are riverine plains while the western areas are made up of high mountains lush with forests where many of Kamphaeng Phet national parks are located.
Areas along the river banks at present-day city used to host several ancient towns which played a significant role as strategic front-lines since Sukhothai was the kingdom's capital down through the times of Ayutthaya and early-Rattanakosin (Bangkok) eras.
Kamphaeng Phet importance gradually declined over time and became an ordinary, smallish provincial city until the establishment of the historic park and its listing as a World Heritage site in 1991.
Still, unlike its well-known neighbor Sukhothai, Kamphaeng Phet is overlooked by most tourists. This is why the city has few offerings geared towards the needs of the international traveler. Some visitors may view this as a drawback, but those looking to experience authentic, upcountry Thailand, are coming just to the right place.
Kamphaeng Phet is a "banana capital." Its local specialty is "egg bananas" (Kluai Khai in Thai), whose fruit is only about 10 centimeters (4 inches) long, almost oval shaped (hence the name) and much more aromatic than the typical long, bent banana varieties sold in most non-tropical countries. Kamphaeng Phet Province exports bananas worth 200 million baht each year.
The Ping River (Thai: แม่น้ำปิง)
Along with the River Nan, is one of two main tributaries of the Chao Phraya River.
It originates from Doi Thuai in the Daen Lao Range, in the Chiang Dao district of the Chiang Mai Province. After passing through Chiang Mai, it flows past the provinces of Kamphaeng Phet, Lamphun, and Tak.
At the confluence with the Nan River in Nakhon Sawan (also named Paknam Pho in Thai), it forms the Chao Phraya River.
Getting to Kamphaeng Phet
Travel by air
The closest international airports are Don Mueang (DMK) and Bangkok-Suvarnabhumi (BKK) and Don Mueang (DMK), 340 and 370 km from Kamphaeng Phet.
Flying to the regional airports of Sukhothai or Phitsanulok only makes sense if you rent a car there, or you are picked up. In the main, public transport from these airports to Kamphaeng Phet is very slow and inconvenient.
Travel by train
Kamphaeng Phet is not connected with any rail network. The closest train station is Phitsanulok, from which it's a nearly a three-hour bus journey to Kamphaeng Phet.
Travel by bus
The best way to get to Kamphaeng Phet is by bus. Buses from Chiang Mai and Bangkok's northern terminal (Mo Chit) arrive about every hour.
There are also some overnight connections. The ride from Bangkok takes 5-6 hours and costs 210 or 270 Thai Baht, depending on the class of the coach. Most buses traveling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Uttaradit, Mae Sot, Sawankhalok or Sukhothai stop at Kamphaeng Phet and can be used (ask at the ticket counter).
Non-AC regional buses from Phitsanulok run on the hour, from 5 am to 6 pm. Although only 100 km, they take almost three hours due to frequent stops and detours to villages along the way. A ticket costs 60 Thai Baht.
From Sukhothai, you can get on a bus towards Bangkok and hop off at Kamphaeng Phet (1.5-hours and costs around 70 Thai Baht.) Alternatively, you can take a minibus that departs when there are enough passengers; journey time is up to 2.5-hours and costs 70 Thai Baht.
The government-owned Transport Company's bus terminal used by most intercity buses is somewhat inconveniently located, about 2 km outside the city center (on the other bank of Ping River.) From there, irregularly running songthaews, tuk-tuks, and motorcycle taxis take you to the city center. Preferably, ask your hosts to arrange a pick up for you. Wintour buses traveling between Bangkok and Sukhothai stop at the Bodhi Tree close to the city center.
Travel by car (recommended)
Kamphaeng Phet is conveniently accessible via the Route 1 (Asian Highway 1), approximately halfway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. It is a 4.5-hour drive from both cities. From Sukhothai, it takes just over an hour, from Phitsanulok 1.5-hours via decently paved roads.
Kamphaeng Phet, unfortunately, lacks an actual public transportation system. The city is not particularly well prepared for tourists. There are few regular taxis, and even tuk-tuks, motorcycle taxis, or rickshaws are quite rare. Reddish-brown songthaews cruise throughout the city, between Big C shopping mall and the bus terminal. Their departure times are irregular.
Other songthaew lines travel to the surrounding province, departing either from the bus terminal or the day market in the city center. It can be a bit tricky to find out exactly where they are heading without speaking fluent Thai. They don't have exact departure times either but go whenever there are enough passengers for a particular destination.
To be more independent and be able to do excursions, it is recommended to arrive with a hire car (e.g., from Phitsanulok) or to rent a motorbike (e.g., at Three J Guesthouse or Praepimpalai Resort).
Travelling by foot or bicycle
Most distances within the city center can be reached on foot. Moreover, Kamphaeng Phet is relatively bicycle-friendly (compared to most Thai cities). While there aren't any designated bike paths, the traffic on the roads is reasonably minimal, and there are plenty of green areas.
To best explore the historical park, the bicycle is the ideal means of transportation: it is a bit too far to walk for most, while you can't see that much from the inside of a car.
Some guesthouses rent or lend out bikes to their guests. Another rental location is right at the entrance to the historical park (Khet Aranyik) - 30 Thai Baht per hour, mountain bikes for 50 Thai Baht.
UNESCO World Heritage - Historical Park
Wat Phra Kaeo, Kamphaeng Phet - Historical Park
Kamphaeng Phet's Historical Park of Buddha statues, old walls, temple ruins, and forts from the 14th - 16th centuries is part of the UNESCO - World Heritage and the town's main sight. It consists of three main parts.
Admission to either of the "inner district" or Khet Aranyik costs 100 Thai Baht each. A combined ticket for both areas is 150 Thai Baht. The sights of Nakhon Chum, walls, and forts can be accessed without purchasing a ticket. The zones that are fenced are open throughout the week from 08:00-18:00.
Khet Nai (Inner district)
The ruins of the ancient temple district of the old city of Cha Kang Rao, including Wat Phra That and Wat Phra Kaeo. The Wat Phra Kaeo Reclining Buddha is undoubtedly the most beautiful statue in the park and the best depiction of the Buddha's serene smile from the Sukhothai period. The zone is surrounded by five-meter high laterite walls and a 25-meter wide moat. Four of ten forts and gates are quite well-preserved and can be visited.
Ruins of Wat Sing - Khet Aranyik (Forest district)
Thailand's Buddhist clergy was divided into "town-monks" who studied, taught and performed ceremonies for the believers, and forest-monks who went into retreat, dedicated to meditation and asceticism. The more significant part of the historical park, covered with forest, consists of the hermitage ruins of the latter group. Thanks to the cooling canopy of leaves, it is enjoyable to visit on foot or by bicycle (they can be rented by at the main entrance). The main sites are Wat Chang Rop (with its impressive chedi which is surrounded by 68 elephant figures), Wat Phra Non (with a well-preserved chedi and remains of a Reclining Buddha figure), Wat Phra Si Iriyabot (the park's only surviving, 9 m high standing Buddha statue). Next to the main entrance is the park administration.
Mueang Nakhon Chum
Kamphaeng Phet / Cha Kang Rao's sister city is located on the opposite bank of the Ping River is older. Its fortification and temple ruins are unfortunately in a worse state of preservation. Unlike the site on the other bank, there is no actual park with a fence, cashier, and trim paths, but the ruins are dispersed naturally among the landscape, widely ignored by locals and tourists alike. The only historical temple that is still in use is Wat Phra Borommathat.
Kamphaeng Phet Temples (Wat)
Wat Khu Yang, Th. Wichit 1
An old temple in the town center whose history dates to the 16th-century. The present buildings date from the 1850s. Notable is the monastery's library, a traditional wooden house balanced on stilts amid a water ditch. The roof is covered with characteristic fish-scale shaped tiles. The Ubosot is beautiful to look at too, especially at dusk when the colorful glass elements of the elaborately decorated pediment shimmer.
Wat Phra Borommathat
(Thai: วัดพระบรมธาตุ) - Nakhon Chum
This temple is one of the oldest located in Kamphaeng Phet (its history dates back to around the 14th century) and the only ancient monastery in the historical park that is not in ruins but still active. Its most visible feature is the tall, gold covered pagoda in Burmese Mon style that can be seen from afar. Initially, the chedi was Sukhothai-style, but it was redesigned during a renovation from 1870 to 1907, sponsored by a wealthy timber merchant. The temples compound also hosts the Nakhon Chum cultural center in a traditional teak building, containing a collection of various antique objects, that however lack explanations in English.
Wat Sawang Arom - Nakhon Chum
(West of the Suan Mak canal, about 800 m off the Route 1/Asian Highway.
An old temple with a beautiful, three meters high, Chiang Saen-style Buddha statue in the "calling the earth to witness" posture.
Museums in Kamphaeng Phet
Kamphaeng Phet National Museum (Thai: พิพิธภัณฑสถานแห่งชาติกำแพงเพชร) Phiphithaphanthasathan Haeng Chat
Exhibition of pottery and bronze sculptures from different periods of Thai art. The highlight is an early 16th century bronze Shiva statue. Its hands and head were cut off in 1886 by a German trader who attempted to smuggle them to Europe. Thankfully they were confiscated before he could send them abroad and were reunited with its torso. A replica was then made at the request of King Rama V, given to the German crown prince and it is now exhibited at the Berlin Museum of Asian Art.
Admission is100 Thai Baht.
Chaloemphrakiat Museum (พิพิธภัณฑสถานกำแพงเพชรเฉลิมพระเกียรติ, Phiphithaphanthasathan Kamphaeng Phet Chaloem Phrakiat
Also known as " The Thai House Museum," พิพิธภัณฑ์เรือนไทย, Phiphithaphan Ruean Thai)
Elegant replicas of traditional wooden Thai houses, hosting an exhibition about local and regional history and lifestyle.
10 Thai Baht; multimedia room 250 Thai Baht per group.
Next to the Thai House Museum, there is a banana orchard. Officially named the "The Centre for Collection of Banana Varieties" (ศูนย์รวมสายพันธุ์กล้วย), growing banana plants of more than 150 different varieties.
Out and about in Kamphaeng Phet
Stroll, jog or cycle along the palm-lined two waterside promenade on the bank of Ping River (Rim Ping, ริมปิง); enjoy a foot massage (200 Thai Baht per hour); relax at Sirichit Park (สิริจิตอุทยาน.) It offers free outdoor gym machines, a small children's swimming pool, tennis court and plenty of stalls selling snacks and refreshments. You can also cross the bridge to the quaint little island in the middle of the river (Ko Klang Maenam Ping, เกาะกลางแม่น้ำปิง).
Traditional Thai massage
Pa Phim (นวดแผนไทยโบราณ)
Rachavitee Rd 1 (200 m west of Three J Guesthouse, next to Suea Yim Coffee Club). The owner is an alumna of the famous Wat Pho massage school in Bangkok.
2 hrs for 200 Thai Baht.
Festivals / Regular events
Nop Phra Len Phleng festival - Makha Bucha, i.e., full moon in late February or early March, commemorated the donation of a Buddha relic to Nakhon Chum (a precursor of Kamphaeng Phet) by king Li Thai back in 1357.
An inscription which describes a procession in honor of this relic is one of the earliest documents of local history.