Once upon a time, the temples of Prasat Hin Phimai and Phanom Rung Historical Park were once a major stopover en route to Angkor Wat and the heart of the Khmer empire. These architectural marvels were built during the reign of Suyavarman I (1001 – 49). You might be surprised to learn that these Khmer temples are in northern Thailand.
Prasat Hin Phimai
Prasat Hin Phimai is a beautifully restored Khmer temple in Thailand.
While ancient temples are often located in isolated jungle spots, Prasat Hin Phimai’s charm lies in its position in the centre of the town of Phimai.
We arrived in time to see the preparations for a light show.
The dancers looked beautiful in their traditional northern Thai silk outfits, glittering jewellery and ornate hairpins.
They sat on the ancient stone slabs munching on potato chips and drinking Coca-Cola.
As we wandered around the temple’s courtyards, we were able to imagine an ancient civilisation.
The temple started off as a shrine dedicated to Shiva and was later transformed into a Mahayana Buddhist temple.
Two orange-robed Buddhist monks approached us and offered us meditation CD’s and Buddhist neck amulets.
Later, we spotted the same monks taking photographs of the temple with brand new digital cameras.
We clambered up the steep narrow stone steps for a closer look at some of the temple’s lintels and pediments, many of which portray ancient scenes from the Indian classical epic Ramayana.
Phnom Rung Historical Park
The Khmer dynasty had some of the world’s greatest ancient architects. They built elaborate temples that symbolized the divine connection between their rulers and gods.
King Suryavarman II (1112-1152) built Angkor Watt and is believed to have drawn his inspiration from another Thai temple, Prasat Hin Phnom Rung.
Located on top of an extinct volcano, Prasat Hin Phnom Rung is a grand 12th century Khmer temple complex.
We slowly climbed the endless staircase built to symbolize the spiritual journey from earth to Hindu heaven.
In the temple grounds, we followed a group of young novice monks past the Naga Bridge, a structure guarded by serpent deities, into the eastern chamber.
In the chamber, there was a statue of Nandin the bull, the mythical mount of Hindu deity Shiva.
The Naga Bridges are identical to those in Angkor Wat.
The Khmer kings were also skillful astronomers and Phnom Rung’s buildings were astronomically aligned.
Visit during April around the time of the Songkran Festival (Thai New Year) and there’s a chance you’ll see the rays from the rising sun through all 15 doors of the stone sanctuary.
It gets pretty busy at that time of the year as crowds often camp out in the grounds at night to be the first in line to get into the temple.
At the foot of the Phnom Rung Mountain lies the remains of Prasat Muang Tam.
Phnom Rung was constructed exclusively for the ruling class but Muang Tam was open to the common folk.
Although most of its chambers lie in ruins, it has a picturesque L-shaped ornamental lotus pond.
In April, thousands of visitors flock to Thao Suranari to honour the memory of Khun Ying Mo, a brave local woman who saved the city from the Laotian army.
In 1825 Prince Anuwong of Vientiane moved his troops into this city hoping to free Vientiane from the Bangkok kings.
The city was taken by surprise and Khun Ying Mo (the wife of the Deputy Governor) cleverly plied the troops with liquor and gathered the townsfolk to fight for freedom.
If you love Khmer design, go to Dan Kwian as it’s a treasure trove for keen home decorators.
You’ll find plenty of sandstone statues, bowls and dishes, jewellery, chimes, carved sandstone wall hangings and vases.
Dan Kwian is also well-known all over Thailand for its red clay pottery.
The area’s main city is Nakhon Ratchasima, which is famous for its night bazaar.
This is a crowded market with lots of food, clothing and craft stalls.
Prices here are cheaper than most other (more touristy) places in Thailand and shopping here is quite different to shopping in Bangkok.
We wandered around the market munching on local food such as delicious sticky rice stuffed with fried pork and sausages stuffed with rice, meat, vegetables, garlic and pepper.
We even tried some crispy fried grasshoppers, water bugs, silkworms and a few other crunchies.
Prasat Hin Phimai and Phanom Rung Historical Park are in the Isaan region of northern Thailand. When visiting northern Thailand, here are some things to do:
While in Bangkok check out: