There has been a settlement at this site on the banks of the Ping River since the 11th century, when a northern prince, fleeing an attack by Myanmar in the area of present-day Fang, brought his followers here. The community initially survived as an outpost of the Khmer Empire and, during the 13th century, as part of the Sukhothai Kingdom.
On the east bank lie the impressive remains of the Old City, dating from the early 15th century, and which once formed part of a satellite city to the mighty Sukhothai. Located within its walls is the Kamphaeng Phet National Museum. In this collection are several fine 16th-century bronzes of Hindu deities, including a standing image of Shiva and torsos of Vishnu and Lakshmi. There are also stucco and terra-cotta fragments from Kamphaeng Phet’s many ruins.
The Old City walls also enclose two important ruins from the late Sukhothai period. Close to the National Museum, Wat Phra Kaeo is the Old City’s largest site, containing the ruins of several wihans, a bot at the eastern end, a chedi from the late Sukhothai period, and the laterite cores of a number of Buddha images. At the western end of the site are three more partly restored Buddha images. Neighboring Wat Phra That has a fine late Sukhothai, octagonal-based chedi. One admission charge covers all ruins in the Old City.
The modern town of Kamphaeng Phet, for the most part, sprawls to the south of the Old City. It mostly comprises commercial buildings, though it also has a riverside park and a few traditional wooden houses, as well as some tourist oriented facilities.
A samlor ride northwest of the Old City are the Aranyik Ruins, the area of many forest wats once used by a meditational order called the Forest Dwelling Sect. Built during the 14th to 16th centuries, the sheer number of ruins at Aranyik attest to the popularity of the sect, which achieved prominence in Thailand during the Sukhothai era. With the assistance of UNESCO, parts of the site have now been restored and landscaped.
The wihan at Wat Phra Non, near the entrance, once contained a large reclining Buddha, but this is so badly damaged as to be almost indiscernible. Nevertheless, a number of laterite columns from the wihan are still standing. On each side of the mondop at Wat Phra Si Iriyabot are images of the Buddha in different postures, though all are damaged. The standing Buddha on the west side has been partially restored.
In the ruined bot of Wat Sing (found in the northern part of the Aranyik site) is the laterite core of a Buddha image.
Most impressive of the Aranyik wats is Wat Chang Rop, consisting mostly of the remains of a very large, square-based chedi, flanked by the forequarters of some elephants in laterite. On a few of these, the original stucco decoration has been restored. However, little of the Sri Lankan-style bell-shaped chedi is still standing. Among two dozen or so other sites dotted around Aranyik, many of them scarcely visible in thick undergrowth, Wat Awat Yai is one of the few now cleared of vegetation.
In the modern part of town, other monuments, such as the Sukhothai brick chedi of Wat Kalothai, can be seen tucked away in quiet lanes. Many such sites have now fallen into disrepair, but their sheer quantity is an indication of the importance of Kamphaeng Phet during the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya periods.
West of the city, the large, white, Myanmar-style chedi of Wat Phra Boromathat was built in the late 19th century on the site of three 13th– 14th-century chedis, the earliest of which was constructed by King Si Intharathit of Sukhothai (c.1240–70) to house some relics of the Lord Buddha. Also to the west are the laterite walls of Thung Setthi Fort, which once protected this side of the city.