Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park
Kamphaeng Phet historical park is truly a magnificent and beautiful example of Thai history and Buddhism. Dating back to the 14th century, it was formerly known as Chakangrao. The complex was started by the Sukhothai kingdom and progressed throughout the Sukhothai period and into the Ayutthaya period. It was used at times by both kingdoms as a defense against the Burmese and Laotians. Further to the south and to the south-east there are temples of the Khmer empire such as Mueang Sing in Kanchanaburi which was built in the 13th and 14th centuries and is of equal beauty and historical significance. Kamphaeng Phet was built at the time of the Khmer empires downfall and was definitely a sign of a new beginning and indeed a period of Siamese strength and dominance until the sacking of Ayutthaya in 1767 by the Burmese. Most of the temple remnants are devoted to Ceylonese Theravada Buddhism but there is one shrine devoted to the Hindu deity Siva.
Kamphaeng Phet historical park lies in the province of Kamphaeng Phet in the lower north or central region of Thailand. The river Ping runs through the centre of the city which is a tributary of the chao phraya river, which in turn, runs through bangkok (Krung Thep) and into the gulf of Thailand. This area is truly one of my favorites in Thailand. The surrounding provinces also offer a lot of outdoor activities and historical sites such a sukothai and many national parks with some great hikes. The area itself has a deep ancient history with archeological finds from the dvaravati period and pre-historical finds.
The park itself is vast with beautiful laterite temples, buddhas, shrines and chedis. It is divided into two districts, the town district and the forest district commonly referred to as the Arunyik district.
the first district is in the south surrounded by the old walls and the second district, separated by an irrigation canal in the north; It is a few k's away in the more natural area called the Arunyik district. I would advice spending a good amount of time at both, a full day would do but make sure you stick around for sunset as there is definitely an awe about the place during this time and if you come during the week, it is really quiet and peaceful. The reddish sun is beautiful against the dark chocolatey laterite brick.
The main temples and shrines are Wat Phra Kaeo, Wat Phra That, The Siva Shrine, Wat Chang Rop, Wat Phra Si Iriyabot and the ancient Palace or Sa Mon. The national museum lies in the town district and tickets can be bought in both districts. There is also an information centre in the forest district. The Siva shrine is notable as it is the only imagery of Hinduism in Kamphaeng Phet historical park. Hinduism was the initial religion of the Khmer empire and the Dvaravati period, from the 6th to the 11th century, was heavily influenced by Indian culture. One example of this, is the use of 'Dharmachakra's', meaning wheel of law.
Entrance fees are 100baht for 1 area or 150baht for both areas. Bicycles, guides, maps and headphone guides are readily available but at an additional charge. Getting to and from the parks is not difficult or expensive, a motorbike to the Arunyik district, should cost no more than 100baht from most areas of the city. A good UV umbrella is advisable for the elderly or children as there is little shade. I would advise wearing trainers, not only as a mark of respect but also as a defense against the numerous massive red ants scurrying about the place.
the nearest train station is Phitsanulok which services routes to both the north and south, It is about 100km drive to Kamphaeng Phet or about an 1hr30mins. Phitsanulok is another great little town, a university town with some cool bars, restaurants and an amazing Saturday night market. make sure you go to the Buddha Chinnaraj and grab a coffee on the steps of the river Nan. I had a great burger at Robber Den and stayed at the amazing Shinnabhura Historic Boutique hotel.
The nearest decent airport is also in Phitsanulok with services run by, Nok air, thai air Asia and thai lion air, to and from bangkok - Don Mueang.
Buses run daily from Mo chit bus terminal in Bangkok. A cheap but lengthy way of getting around Thailand. However, I have warm memories of using buses before I bought a car. It gives you the chance to mingle with your ordinary Thai. You will never truly know about a country and its people if you do not mingle with the ordinary folk, you will usually find, they are the nicest people around.
Driving by car will take over 5hrs with some stops and is always a great way to travel in Thailand as you get to see so much of the real Thailand, its people and its culture. Just take route 1 out of bangkok the whole way there.