Priceless Legacy

At its height Kamphaeng Phet was an extension of Sukhothai. Archaeological remains still standing bear testimony to that period in history

  24/03/2010 09:56

Kamphaeng Phet, a province in Thailand's lower north, offers just the right assortment of attractions, scenic beauty, friendly locals and mouth-watering seafood to make for an eventful sojourn.

The ‘mondop’ at Wat Phra Si Iriyabot once boasted Buddha statues in walking, sitting, standing, and reclining (Sukhothai style) postures, but today only the standing Buddha facing to the south can be seen. Inside the prayer hall are laterite pillars which once supported the roof.

Travelling to its western part you will spot eye-catching undulating mountains where the province's streams and tributaries originate before merging to form the province's lifeline, the Ping River.

Steeped in history and tradition, Kamphaeng Phet is the seat of a civilisation dating back to prehistoric times, the remnants of which can still be spotted strewn across the province's eleven districts.

For a good perspective on the province one must visit Khamphaeng Phet Historical Park, a World Heritage Site. Located in the heart of Muang district, its highlights include archaeological remains of ancient sites such as Muang Chakangrao _ the ancient Kamphaeng Phet town _ and Muang Nakhon Chum.

Aside from ancient religious monuments, it boasts a rich diversity of flora and fauna, and occasionally you will be rewarded with sightings of deer, among other animals. For visitors who prefer to explore at their own pace, there are bicycles for rent. Before checking out the locale, it is advisable to visit the park's museum which chronicles Kamphaeng Phet's history from the time it was a colony of the Sukhothai Kingdom until present day.

Archeological evidence indicates human settlements along the Ping River dating back through the Dvaravati, Sukhothai and Ayutthaya periods to the current Rattanakosin period.

Also not to be missed is the Mae Wong National Park which was home to Hmong, Yao, Muser and Karen hill tribe people before being declared a national park in 1987. It offers activities such as bird-watching and forest treks, and accommodation in the form of camping and bungalows manned by service-minded and friendly staff.

For a feel of village life, we dropped by Ban Non Chan in Sai Thong Watthana district and observed residents make hand blown glass products. You too can try making them, as did I, but the outcome _ a pig lacking all sense of proportion _ wasn't exactly a pleasing sight. Thereafter, I visited Talat Kluai Khai to savour its noted banana chips that come in various flavours and forms.

Kamphaeng Phet is approximately 385km from Bangkok and the province offers a varied choice of accommodation ranging from budget guesthouses to three-star hotels. For night entertainment and dining, there are riverside restaurants, beer gardens and nightclubs.

- For information on inter-district bus schedule, call the Kamphaeng Phet Bus Terminal at 055-799-103.

- Kamphaeng Phet Historical Park: 055-854-736 to 7.

- Mae Wong National Park: 055-766-027, 055-766-436; fax: 055-766-436. For transport from the bus terminal to the park, call Khun Atsadavuth at 089-271-6968.

- For Ban Non Chan, call Khun Narong at 081-361-3591.

- Tourism Authority of Thailand's Sukhothai office: 055-616-228 to 9; fax: 055-616-366; email: [email protected] and

This ancient reclining Buddha image in what used to be the prayer hall of Wat Phra Kaeo now sprawls over a lush area. There is an elevated laterite base in the front of the temple on which rests the image, and there are elephants around the core of the central chedi sculpted in Sukhothai style. The bell-shaped chedi stands on three receding tiers which take the form of a lotus flower.

Laid out in a rectangle Wat Singha was originally surrounded by laterite walls, a portion of which can still be seen. Evidence from old paintings and photographs taken during the reign of King Rama V, and fragments of architectural mouldings of the building suggest that the central brick chedi was bell-shaped with a tiered base. Inside the ordination hall you will spot a raised structure above the floor: it is for monks to sit on and a pedestal for the main Buddha Image. This building was initially used as a prayer hall and, later in the Ayuthaya period, as an ordination hall.

Wat Chang Rop is yet another centuries-old Sukhothai style temple whose remains include the bell-shaped main chedi. At its base is a large prayer hall and a laterite pond. From the floor of the main chedi rise stairways on four sides leading to the upper floor used for religious rites. Unfortunately, not much of the guardian lion sculpture at the gate is visible today. Park superintendent Pathom Rasitanont attributed the damage to ancient artefacts to theft and looting. Only the base of some structures are still standing. However, these stucco elephants at the base of the main chedi somehow managed to survive.

Ponds and toilets are a stone’s throw from the temple ground. Water from the ponds was used to wash oneself before prayer and for religious ceremonies. The monks’ quarters had a common toilet but the head monk had his own for private use, built within the confines of his residence.

Mae Wong National Park in Khlong Lan district straddles parts of Kamphaeng Phet and Nakhon Sawan provinces. Blessed with evergreen forest, the park offers view points from where visitors can admire scenic mountains, streams and lush trees including teak. The park is home to elephants, bears, tigers, gaurs, marbled cats and so forth. Chong Yen, 28km from the park headquarters, is the highest peak about 1,340 metres above sea level. The average temperature is around 20°C all year round. The place is best for bird watching and to capture glorious sunsets. The day we arrived the temperature dropped to 15°C, and strong winds and fog made our trip all the more memorable. There are camping areas and bungalows if you wish to spend the night, complete with a pantry. Or you can have meals cooked for you by the park staff. Remember to carry your own repellent, garbage bags, flashlight and sweater.

Trekking is a great way to explore the area. There is a good chance you might spot wildlife. During our trek we watched an elephant from safe distance and a white-throated fantail perched precariously on a tree. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to capture the latter on camera. Our guide informed us that Chong Yen is home to over 305 species of birds, a haven for bird enthusiasts. A popular trekking route is the Umphang trail. Only 100 metres down the route you’d spot several birds and after crossing a ravine, which is to your left,—a tricky affair indeed—you enter a lush forest area dotted with towering and ageless trees that’s home to small niltavas and whitethroated fantails.

Schools regularly organise field trips to the park, and I was pleasantly surprised running into these cheerful kindergarten students the day I was visiting. Dressed in red and yellow school uniforms, they seemed impervious to heat from the sun beating down relentlessly that afternoon. Or perhaps, like me, the ruins and the surroundings had a spiritually calming affect on them.

These two bird watchers—one Finn, the other a Kiwi—visit the park every year in search of rare birds. This year they took the trail leading west from the forest rangers’ lodging and walked steeply downhill, and were rewarded with the white-throated fantail, a Rufous-throated partridge, sunbirds and bulbuls. The best I could do on this trek was to capture this pretty butterfly on camera.

Ban Non Chan is a village reputed for hand blown glass items it has been producing for almost a decade, thanks to its headman Narong Saeng A-no, who taught the locals the skills needed to make them. Some 60 families now work round the clock to meet orders, some of which are placed by vendors operating in faraway Bangkok’s weekend market. Visitors are welcome to take a tour and even try their hands at making blown glass items that make good souvenirs.

Kamphaeng Phet is famed for banana chips sold at Talat Kluai Khai located at Km 343 marker on the Kamphaeng Phet- Nakhon Sawan route. The open-air market is full of vendors and stalls hawking the same snack —fried ‘kluai khai’ banana slices flavoured with sugar, butter, honey and pandan leaves.

(Sources: Bangkok Post)




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