:: KAMPHAENG PHET

Geographically located in the Lower North on the bank of the Ping River, Kamphaeng Phet is 358 kilometres from Bangkok. To its East are riverine flatlands while the western areas are made up of high mountains lush with fertile forests where a number of national parks have been established.

Areas along the river bank at present-day Mueang district used to host several ancient towns which had played a major role as strategic front-line frontiers since Sukhothai was the kingdom's capital down through the times of Ayutthaya and the early Rattanakosin (Bangkok) eras. In fact, the name Kamphaeng Phet actually means as strong as walls or forts make of diamonds. Kamphaeng Phet covers an area of 8,607 square kilometres.

:: Attractions

Established as a national park in 1982, the area of Khlong Lan National. Park was formerly controlled by Communist insurgents and inhabited by a number of ethnic hilltribes that were relocated to outside the park area. Highlights include the 95-m Klong Lan Waterfall, easily accessible from the parking lot. At the foot of the trail leading to the fall is a small market selling Hmong hilltribe handicrafts.

Adjacent to that is the Mae Wong National Park , ideal for hiking, wildlife viewing, and birdwatching. Initially inhabited by Hmong tribe people, they too were relocated in the late 1980s.

On the east bank lies the impressive remains of the Old City that was once a satellite city of the Sukhothai Kingdom in the early 15th century, and is now part of the Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park. Within its walls is the Kamphaeng Phet National Museum boasting a collection of 16th century bronze Hindu dieties and fragments from the many ruins around the city.

Also within the walls are 2 important ruins from the late Sukhothai period. Nearby the museum is Wat Phra Kaeo , the largest site in the Old City containing the ruins of several wiharns, a bot, a chedi, and remains of numerous Buddha images. Wat Phra That has an octagonal-based chedi.

The city contains many half-forgotten monuments that have fallen into considerable disrepair, such as the brick chedi of Wat Kalothai from the Sukhothai era. Yet, the sheer quantity of these monuments attests to the city's importance during the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya periods.

The red-earthen, square-shaped Phra Isaworn Shrine , located behind the provincial court, contains the sacred Phra Isaworn Buddha image. During the reign of King Rama V, Germans visiting the city stealthily cut off the image's head and hands and sent it to Bangkok. In 1886, the province governor requested the missing parts be returned in exchange for a replica of the intact Buddha image. Presently, the replica is on display at a museum in Berlin.

West of the city, Wat Phra Boromathai contains a large, white Burmese-style chedi that was built in the late 19th century on the site of threee 13th-14th century chedis. A Sukhothai king (1240-70) constructed the earliest of those chedis to house Buddha relics.

Also in the western part are the walls of Thung Setthi Fort , once used to protect the city from invaders.

Northwest of the Old City, but still located in the Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park are the Aranyik Ruins , covering an area of many forest wats used by a meditative sect. Built during the 14th-16th centuries, the sheer number of ruined temples here attest to the popularity of this sect, which achieved prominence during the Sukhothai period. Many Buddha images in the various Wats have been badly destroyed, and are barely recognizable. Parts of the site have been restored and beautifully landscaped, with the aid provided by UNESCO.

Most impressive of the Aranyik Ruins is Wat Chang Rop. It contains the remains of a very large, square-based chedi with the forequarters of elephants protruding from the base, though little of the Sri Lankan-style bell-shaped chedi is left. Many of the other two dozen or so temples are hidden by thick undergrowth. One of the few that has been cleared of vegetation is Wat Awat Yai.