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Cover story : 10 Dec 05 / Vol. 22 No. 17
  Exploring traces of the earliest Siamese civilization through
         Kamphaeng Phet
   Historical Park
By Blue Lotus

Designated as World Heritage Site Number 574 on 12 December 1991 by UNESCO, the ancient city of Sukhothai, along with its former vassal towns of Si Satchanalai and Kamphaeng Phet, is considered the cradle of Thai civilization.

Ruins of a stupa base with a
beautiful indented corner
believed to be puspaka or throne,
on which the Emerald Buddha
image was once placed.

To appreciate the once flourishing civilization, Thaiways would like to present the remains of this first kingdom of Siam, which include masterpieces of the earliest Thai architecture, sculptures, and other art objects.

After introducing the historical parks of Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai in the previous issues, this issue deals with the historical park of the other important vassal town of the Sukhothai Kingdom, Kamphaeng Phet.

Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park is located in Kamphaeng Phet Province, about 358 km north of Bangkok. It is presumed to have been established during the reign of King Li Thai (1347-1371) of the Sukhothai Dynasty and it was formerly called "Muang Cha Kang Rao" and "Na Khon Chum". It was an important city of the Sukhothai Kingdom from the 13th to 15th centuries.

The bronze statue of Siva once housed in the Siva Shrine located within the city wall is now displayed in Kamphaeng Phet
National Museum

Because it was situated in a strategically important position, Kamphaeng Phet had a lot of strong fortresses, city gates, camps, city walls, and watchtowers built in laterite.
Kamphaeng Phet in ancient times was suitably located with an easy access to other settlements in the plains, and thus was a centre for buying and selling goods. Archeological evidence indicates that Kamphaeng Phet has been inhabited since prehistoric times.

Ceramic artefacts found in
Kamphaeng Phet, also displayed
in Kamphaeng Phet National Museum.

At Khao Kalon in Khanuworalaksaburi County, polished stone tools, pottery vessels and human remains have been found. Another site, Ban Khlong Muang in Kosamphi Sub-county, has yielded metal slag, spindle whorls and polished stone axes with shoulders. The excavations in Traitrueng on the west bank of the Ping River revealed Dvaravati artefacts, including glass beads, fragments of clay lamps and unglazed ceramics. The clay lamps are similar to those found in other sites of central Thailand. These cultural materials significantly imply the presence of prehistoric and early historic communities.

The ancient town of Kamphaeng Phet is situated on the east bank of the Ping River in today's Kamphaeng Phet Province. This ancient town was laid out in a trapezoidal plan parallel to the river and enclosed by a town wall 2,200 metres long on the north, 2,000 metres on the south, 500 metres on the east, and 250 metres on the west. About 475 metres of the southern wall has partially collapsed.

Wat Phra Kaeo where the
Emerald Buddha image was
once enshrined.

The town wall of Kamphaeng Phet, covering an area of 503 rai (201.2 acres), was originally composed of earthen ramparts and a moat. A laterite wall was later built and fortified with battlements and parapets with gates and watchtowers on all four sides. In the heart of this ancient town are located two important Buddhist temples, Wat Phra Kaeo and Wat Phra That. Other significant buildings are the Ancient Palace (Sa Mon) and Siva Shrine.

An awe-inspiring perspective
of Wat Phra Kaeo

Wat Phra Kaeo, comprising a large group of ancient monument, was laid out in a rectangular plan. Important buildings were built along an east-west axis parallel to the southern town wall. Considering the different forms and sizes of parts of the laterite boundary wall, the buildings within the temple were presumably constructed and renovated at different times. According to the legends of Phra Buddha Sihing and the Emerald Buddha images as well as a book entitled "Chinnakan Malipakon", these two images were brought to Kamphaeng Phet and enshrined in this temple. When King Rama IV of the Rattanakosin Period visited ancient Kamphaeng Phet, he called a large group of ancient monuments in the heart of the town "Wat Phra Kaeo", and it has been known by this name since then.

Majestic scenes of Wat Phra Kaeo

The second largest monastery located within the city wall, just east of Wat Phra Kaeo, is Wat Phra That. This temple is presided over by a pagoda built of sand stone and bricks, surrounded by sandstone walls having a gate on each side. Like Wat Phra Kaeo, this temple was also laid out in rectangular plan and its buildings were constructed along an east-west axis.

The layout of the buildings is a combination of the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya styles though the form of Wat Phra That is regarded as characteristic of the Kamphaeng Phet architectural style.
The zone outside the town wall, known as the Aranyik area, covers an area of 1,611 rais (644.4 acres) on a small hill. The group of ancient monuments in this area consists of 40 temples.

The Standing Buddha image enshrined
on the west side of the mandapa wall
in Wat Phra Si Iriyabot.
(Photo by courtesy of TAT)

Significant ones include Wat Phra Non, Wat Phra Si Iriyabot, Wat Singha, Wat Khong Chai, Wat Nak Chet Sian, Wat Kamphaeng Ngam, Wat Chang Rop and Wat Awasa Yai.

The principal chedi of Wat Chang Rop,
featuring 68 elephant sculptures with heads
and front legs projecting
from each side of the base.

The group of ancient monuments in the Aranyik area is a unique feature of Kamphaeng Phet. Densely located on a single piece of land on a mound, these ancient monuments were artistically constructed and are examples of an indigenous architecture which reflect excellent craftsmanship and the beliefs of the inhabitants of Kamphaeng Phet at that period. Amidst the well-preserved forest, this group of ancient monuments retains the atmosphere of forest temple in the olden days.

Each stucco elephant figure has a laterite core and ornamental
designs around the neck and legs.

Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park is open daily from 08.30-18.00 hours and admission is 40 baht. You can move from site to site by personal vehicle, basically with a charge of 30 baht for a four-wheel car, 20 baht for a motorcycle and 10 baht for a bicycle.

Tram services are available for charter with a charge of 200 baht for the whole trip, whereas individuals will be charged 20 baht for an adult and 10 baht for a child.

For the correct pronunciation of romanized Thai words, see
Romanization System of the Thai Language.

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