MUEANG KANBURI (เมืองกาญบุรี)
(Ruins of NNW fortress)
Photographs, text & maps by Tricky Vandenberg
March 2016
(Ruins of the SSW fortress)
(Ruins of Wat Khun Phaen)
The ancient town of Kanburi could date back to the period the Khmer ruled the
Maenam basin from Lopburi in the late 12th century. Mueang Singh, an ancient Khmer city
dating from the reign of  King Jayavarman VII (reign 1177-1237 AD) was situated in a
strategic position along the Khwae Noi River with Mueang Krut, another Khmer town
about 4.5 Km to its east. Likely there was a trade route between Tavoy (1) and Kan Buri
to Lopburi since the Khmer period. Kan Buri is situated on the same NE-SW axis as both
Khmer cities in relation to the western passages over the Tenasserim Range.

The route from the Three Pagoda Pass (2) to Kan Buri was the most important route along
the western border. Kan Buri was  strategically important being situated along a war route
directly connected to Ayutthaya and which was used more than 20 times from the 16th till
the 20th century. [1]

The old town is located in Lat Ya Sub-district of Kanchana Buri. Kan Buri was strategically
located at the confluence of the Mae Klong River, along a stretch called since last century
the Khwae Yai River, and the Taphoen River. The town was situated in a grassy plain at
the foot of the 220 meters high Khao Chon Kai (Cockfight Hill).

Kanburi must have been an important border and trade post as well as a garrison town to
protect the western and north-western flank of the Ayutthaya Kingdom. It was a fortified
town, surrounded with a rectangular earthen wall measuring 167 meters by 355 meters.
Remnants of the four corner fortresses still can be seen today. A number of ruins of old
temples can be found on the northern side of the town.

Kanburi is for the first time mentioned in the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya on the event of
the Burmese invasion of 1548-1549 by King Tabinshwehti of Taungo. The Burmese forces
entered the Kingdom of Ayutthaya through the Three Pagoda Pass and attacked the
western frontier post of Kan Buri. The provincial town was no match for the large Burmese
forces on the way to Ayutthaya. The attack of Ayutthaya finally did not take place and the
Hongsawadi Army retreated after encamping three days at Thung Lumphli.

The King of Hongsawadi then moved his army in swiftly by way of the Three
Pagodas Pass and attacked
Kancanaburi. Captured officials, under questioning,
[BCDF: testified] [E: stated] that it was true that the Capital had been in confusion,
but that at present Prince Thianracha was on the royal throne, and that all the
ministers and counselors, and all the provinces, were united and at peace. The King
of Hongsawadi declared that, “We have come too far [BDEF: at this point] already.
If we simply go home, it will look as though we have no dignity at all. We will
[CDEF: have to] go on in [BCDE: until we have trod] [F: and tread] on the
outskirts of the city. As soon as we have seen the Capital we will return. In addition,
we will get to observe the skill of the soldiers of Ayutthaya and see which people
come out to meet our army.” [BCDF: Having spoken,] [E: So] he took his army to
[BCD: attack] [EF: capture] Suphanburi. Then, crossing the plain, he entered
[BCEF: at the back of] Mok Forest, traversed it with his men, and went on to
establish his main stockade in the Municipality of Lumphli.

Ruins of temples

Wat Pa Lelai
is locally known as Wat Pha Ok. The mondop once enshrined a seated
Buddha image in the gesture of subduing Mara, which was drilled through the chest - ‘Pha
Ok’ in Thai. An image of the Buddha receiving offerings from a monkey and an elephant
known as ‘Palilayaka’- Pa Lelai - was later constructed to replace the former one. Remains
of architecture within the temple include a mondop, a vihara and a round brick chedi with
clay mortar and cement coating.

Wat Khun Phaen includes a prang, an ordination hall, a vihara and satellite chedi.

Wat Mae Mai (Nua) is located some 300 meters to the east of Wat Khun Phaen. There
are 2 groups of architectural remains. The remains in the north include a large round Chedi
situated on a plinth and rectangular west-facing vihara. The remains in the south include a
medium-scale east-facing vihara, satellite chedi and rectangular boundary wall, with a so-
called ‘Sa Lang Kraduk’ or ‘bone-washing’ pond in between. The latter is called Wat
Kanchanaburi or
Wat Mae Mai Tai.

Kanburi is mentioned in the long narrative poem about love and death
Khun Chang Khun
Phaen as the place were Phlai Kaeo (the later Khun Phaen) and his mother Thong Prasi
had to flee after the execution of his father Khun Krai Phonlapai. The king of Ayutthaya
gave order to seize Thong Prasi, but she was timely warned and fled from Suphanburi. Phlai
Kaeo remained in Kan Buri until he became fifteen. At a later stage he would become the
Governor of Kan Buri; hence the names for some temples in the area related to the epic
poem (Wat Khun Phaen, Wat Nang Phim).

The old town of Kanburi is located in geographical coordinates: 14° 6' 55.38" N,  99° 23'
58.96" E.


(1) Tavoy, today called Dawei, was part of the Ayutthaya Kingdom since its establishment.
It was lost to the Burmese in 1564 after the White Elephant War. Tavoy was taken back in
1594 and lost again in the next century. In 1740 the area came back under Siam, but was
lost again in the Siamese - Burmese war of 1760.
(2) The pass north of Sangkhla Buri was used since olden times as the easiest point to cross
the Tenasserim Hills into the central plains of the Chao Phraya. The war route started in
Martaban (Mottama) and followed the Ataran River (known as Mae Kasat by the
Siamese) until its source at the confluence of the Winyaw and Zami rivers. From there it
went over land to the pass and further down to the confluence of the Noi, Lante and Bikhi
Rivers. From this point it went by boat to Sai Yok, crossing over land to the Mae Khlong
(Khwae Yai today) and then further down to Kan Buri. [3] Over the centuries, traders and
migrants using the pass marked their passage by adding a stone to the stacks and the pass
became known as Hin Sam Kong (Three Cairns). In 1929, the ruler of Sangkhla Buri, sent
up people to arrange the three piles of stones properly and got them cemented into the form
of a stupa, hence today's naming of the pass the Three Pagoda Pass. It has to be mentioned
that although today the three chedi are wrapped in orange cloth (sabong), they have no
religious status as the stupa never contained relics and are considered as markers. The
wrapping of the cloth should be viewed in the same way as some monks try to protect trees
from felling by wrapping a sacred cloth around the trunk. In an event occurred in King
Narai's reign around 1662, the Royal Autograph Chronicle of Ayutthaya mentions that
there was a customs station at the Three Pagoda Pass. [4]


[1] Pongsawat, Pitch - Border Partial Citizenship, Border Towns, and Thai-Myanmar
Cross-border Development: Case Studies at the Thai Border Towns (2007).
[2] Cushman, Richard D. - The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya (2006) - page 27-8 /
Source: Phan Canthanumat, British Museum, Reverend Phonnarat, Phra
Cakkraphatdiphong & Royal Autograph - War With Burma, Early 1549.
[3] Rajanubhab, Damrong - Our Wars with the Burmese (1917) - White Lotus, Bangkok
[4] The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya - Richard D. Cushman (2006) - page 257 / Source:
Royal Autograph.
Ruins of NNW fortress
Ruins of the SSW fortress
Ruins of Wat Khun Phaen
Ruins of Wat Mae Mai Nuea
(Ruins of Wat Mae Mai Nuea)
(Ruins of Wat Mae Mai Tai)
Ruins of Wat Mae Mai Tai
Ruins of Wat Pa Lelai
(Ruins of Wat Pa Lelai)
View of Cockfight Hill
(View of Cockfight Hill)
(Inside the monastic hall of Wat Pa Lelai)
View from the SSE fortress
(View from the SSE fortress)
The Three Pagoda Pass Anno 1945 - Source: Australian War Memorial
(The Three Pagoda Pass Anno 1945 - Source: Australian War Memorial)