Located in Thailand’s province of Buriram (Buri Ram), Isan, and close to the border with Cambodia, Phanom Rung Historical Park is home to Thailand’s biggest Khmer temple. A wonderfully-restored historical site, it offers a glimpse into the past and to the times when this part of the country was ruled by the Khmer Empire, a mighty regime that was responsible for the magnificent temples of Angkor in nearby Cambodia. An impressive temple with fantastic views, it’s definitely one to add to your list when travelling through Isan (Northeast Thailand).
Phanom Rung: a little bit of history
The full name of the wondrous temple is Prasat Hin Phanom Rung, which translates roughly into the stone castle of Phanom Rung. It was built and extended between the 10th and 13th centuries AD, with much of the construction carried out during the rule of King Suryavarman II. King Suryavarman II reigned over the Khmer Empire between 1113 and 1150, during the empire’s golden age, and was the leader responsible for the stunning Angkor Wat in what is now modern-day Cambodia.
Phanom Rung was originally built as a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva, the transcendent destroyer deity. Located on top of an extinct volcano, Phanom Rung represented Mount Kailasa, the mythological mountain home of Shiva.
Later years saw Phanom Rung being changed into a Buddhist place of worship, with several alterations and additions. Having eventually fallen into disrepair and decay, the site was restored during the 1970s and 1980s to showcase its former glory, reopening to the public again in 1988. Today’s visitors can enjoy exploring the largest and most well-preserved Khmer temple in all of Thailand.
Journey through the past as you explore the large site
A sweeping and wide set of steps leads up the mountain to its crowning temple jewel. A large courtyard sits in front of the main pagoda, and you can explore a number of well-restored buildings and shrines. Walk across bridges with stone nagas (multi-headed serpents) slithering down the sides, symbolising the bridge between the heavens and earth. Visit the pavilion of Phlab Phla / White Elephant House, and see the fancy former changing areas of past royalty. Stroll along the royal walkway, and admire the grand sandstone posts with lovely lotus buds on the top.
The main tower is flanked by two smaller rectangular buildings, believed to have been used to house sacred Buddhist texts. The main tower has four porches that face north, south, east, and west, and the smaller sandstone pagoda has a grand altar. Stroll through the long, narrow rooms over the inner gallery and wander through the various sanctuaries around the complex.
Whilst there are many splendid views available from all around the site, head to the rear for some of the most beautiful views down over the surrounding rice fields and farmland.
Admire the many decorative details and statues
Many surfaces of the temple’s buildings are adorned with intricate carvings that tell stories from Hindu mythology. Carefully pieced back together during restoration efforts, you’ll see depictions of the various incantations of the Hindu god, as well as images of flowers and scenes from times gone by. Learn more about the beliefs of people from the past through the fascinating visual stories.
There are statues dedicated to both Hindu deities and the Lord Buddha. Buddha images in various poses sit alongside sacred Hindu statues, such as cows and the phallic-like lingam. You may also spot small towers of balancing stones, added by faithful devotees during their visits to the complex.
Useful information for visiting Phanom Rung Historical Park
Admission to Phanom Rung Historical Park is 100 THB (approximately 2.80 USD) for non-Thai visitors. If you will be spending a few days exploring the locale, it is worth paying a bit extra for a combination ticket that includes Phanom Rung Historical Park and the nearby Prasat Mueang Tam. The combination ticket costs 150 THB (approximately 4.20 USD).
You can pick up some souvenirs, drinks, and snacks from the handful of vendors that have set up their stalls close to the site’s main entrance.
Several operators run day trips from nearby major cities, such as Nakhon Ratchasima, you can charter a taxi for the day from places like Nakhon Ratchasima, Phimai, and Buriram, or you can reach Phanom Rung by public transport. Public buses run from Buriram and Nakhon Ratchasima to nearby Ban Tako, and you can then complete the journey by songthaew (a converted pickup truck) or motorcycle taxi. There is also a large car park for independent visitors.
Isan is one of Thailand’s least-visited regions, and the beautiful Phanom Rung sees relatively few international tourists. Plan your trip to Phanom Rung Historical Park and enjoy a piece of Thailand’s grand history away from large crowds of tourists and add something a bit different to your travels.
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