THE  ANCIENT  KHMER  RUINS
IN  ISAN @ THAILAND
Prasat Hin Phimai - Korat @ Thailand
  ...MONUMENT   TO   A
GLORIOUS   EMPIRE...

Cambodia's Angkor Wat may be the largest and greatest of the monuments to the ancient Khmer, but Thailand, too, possesses a wealth of temple ruins that boat attest to the architectural genius of the Khmer and are also readily accessible.

With its capital at Angkor in Cambodia, the Khmer civilization flourished from AD 802 to 1431, when Angkor was abandoned after being defeated by the Thais. At the height of its power, from the 11th century to the early 13th century, the Khmer Empire extended well beyond the borders of present-day Cambodia and included large areas of what is now Thailand.

Although our knowledge of Khmer history beyond Angkor is still incomplete, there is sufficient evidence to suggest the considerable importance of the territory today encompassed by Thai borders. It is estimated, for example, that more than 300 stone temples were erected in the Moon River valley alone, where the main temple, Phimai, was linked to Angkor by a 225 Km. " Royal Way ", which was punctuated by ornately decorated rest stations.

While many of the ruins seen today are of comparatively late construction - dating mainly from the 11th and 12th centuries - it is known that the Khmer Empire began extending into northeastern Thailand soon after its founding. A stone inscription dated 886, found near the Thai provincial centre of Ubon Ratchathani, mentions the Angkorian King Indravarman I, whose influence in the region can be traced today in the ruins of Prasat Hin Phanom Wan, in Nakhon Ratchasima, which echoes the architectural style of Preah Koh built by Indravarman near Angkor.

Early in the 11th century, the Khmer greatly extended the borders of their empire, exerting authority in the Chao Phraya River basin and creating Lawo (the present-day Thai town of Lop Buri) as a provincial capital. In the following century, the Khmer pushed the limits of the empire to their furthest extremities with a series of military campaigns that included drives against the Mon, the then dominant culture.  

For the dedicated history buff, several smaller Khmer sites are found in other northeastern provinces, especially Surin. Less imposing than the region's most famous monuments, these ruins are worth visiting to get a fuller appreciation of the extent of the ancient Khmer empire. Touring these smaller locations in the Northeast is easiest by car.

Elsewhere in the Kingdom, Lop Buri, Phetchaburi and Kanchanaburi have small, less well-preserved Khmer ruins. Located, respectively, 153 Km. north of Bangkok, 123 Km. south and 128 Km. west, these three destinations can be visited on excursions by road from the capital.

Prasat Hin Phanom Rung - Buri Ram @ Thailand
Prasat Hin Phanom Rung - Buri Ram @ Thailand

At the height of its power,
from the 11th century to
the early 13th century,
the Khmer Empire
extended well beyond
the borders of present-day
Cambodia and included
large areas of what is
now Thailand.

Prasat Hin Mueang Tam - Buri Ram @ Thailand

Prasat Hin Mueang Tam

This 11th-century temple lies on the plain at the foot of the hill crowned by Prasat Hin Phanom Rung, and although much smaller and overshadowed by the latter's magnificent setting, it is nonetheless a significant monument. What Prasat Hin Mueang Tam lacks in size it makes up for with its air of considerable charm.

Until a short while ago a jumble of tottering stones given a melting Daliesque appearance through land subsidence, the temple complex has now been painstakingly restored, which allows for a full appreciation of what is a compact yet fascinating Khmer monuments.

Firstly, the temple is " flat " in that no attempt has been made to elevate the sanctuary, but, as with other Khmer monuments, it is meant as being symbolic of Mount Meru, the abode of the dogs. Secondly, the five towers are laid out in a front row of three and a back row of two, instead of the more common quincunx pattern. Adding to the interest of the overall design are four L-shaped ceremonial ponds set in the corners of the outer enclosure.

Prasat Si Khoraphum - Surin @ Thailand

Surin

Surin town lies about 100 Km. west of Sri Sa Ket, and the province, which borders Cambodia, boasts a number of Khmer sites. None match the size and magnificence of the more famous monuments, yet they present unique sightseeing opportunities to be included on any tour of the Northeast. Among the most interesting ruins are:


Prasat Si Khoraphum

Some 30 Km. northeast of Surin town, these ruins near Sri Khoraphum municipality can be reached by car or by rail. The sanctuary comprises five brick towers raised on a single base and displaying a blend of Baphuon and Angkor architectural styles. Of special note are the stone carvings, particularly on the door to the central tower, which include two relief carvings of apsaras (celestial dancers) in excellent condition. The apsara is a common motif at Angkor, but these are the only examples found in Thailand.

Prasat Baan Phluang - Surin @ Thailand

Prasat Baan Phluang

Located some 30 Km. south of Surin town, this small 11th-century Khmer monument consists of a single unfinished tower built in the Baphuon style and raised on a laterite platform. Interest lies in the pure excellence of the building, which has been carefully restored.

Prasat Taa Muean - Surin @ Thailand
Prasat Taa Muean - Surin @ Thailand

Ubon Ratchathani

The main sights in the southeastern corner of Thailand's Northeast region are located in Sri Sa Ket, town, offers the greater options for accommodation and dinning facilities. From Ubon Ratchathani, excursions can be made to the major ruins of Preah Vihear (also sometimes referred to as Khao Phra Wihan), as well as to the smaller but still important Prasat Kamphaeng Yai.


Preah Vihear

This hilltop temple, with a setting arguably more stunning than that of Prasat Hin Phanom Rung, is in fact located in Cambodia, just over the border with Thailand. A dispute over ownership was settled by a ruling of the International Court of Justice at The Hague in 1962, but regardless of the merits of the legal settlement, Preah Vihear can only be conveniently reached from Thailand and visitors do not require a Cambodian visa.

The temple has not yet been restored, but its overall design, as well as its unforgettable location that affords superb views, more than make up for the neglect it has not so much suffered as survived.

Dating from the late-9th to mid-12th centuries, Preah Vihear is aligned along a north-south axis and is dramatically approached by a long causeway that passes though five entrance pavilions to reach the main sanctuary. The complex of pavilions, halls and libraries, in addition to the hilltop sanctuary, are adorned with the remains of fine sandstone carvings.


Prasat Sra Kamphaeng Yai

Set in the small village of Baan Kamphaeng, 22 Km. from Sri Sa Ket town, this large Khmer sanctuary dates from the 11th century and is built mostly in the Baphuon style. The complex consists of six buildings, including a main sanctuary, entrance pavilion and libraries, while carved pediments and other decorations make it even more appealing.

 

Set in the small village
of Baan Kamphaeng,
22 Km. from Sri Sa Ket
town, this large Khmer
sanctuary dates from
the 11th century and
is built mostly in
the Baphuon style.

 

 

Nakhon
Ratchasima
( Korat )

One of the most famous Khmer sites in Thailand, Prasat Hin Phimai, and a smaller but charming temple ruin, Prasat Hin Phanom Wan, are located just north of Nakhon Ratchasima. Both can be comfortably visited on a day excursion from the city by either car bus.


Prasat Hin Phanom Wan

Reached by turning right off Highway 2 some 15 Km. north of Nakhon Ratchasima, Prasat Hin Phanom Wan is a comparatively small Khmer temple though well worth visiting.

The attractive 1,000-year-old sanctuary faces a modern monastic building but otherwise stands in an isolated walled compound. Recently restored, the main building is in good condition and comprises a vaulted chamber leading to a tower with a rectangular based. Echoning the architectural style of the late 9th-centuary temple of Preah Koh near Angkor, Prasat Hin Phanom Wan displays characteristic Khmer architectural devices, such as false and true windows, while over the north entrance to the sanctuary tower a fine carved lintel remains intact.

Atypically, the temple is still in use and several Buddha images, enshrined long after construction, are found inside the chamber. The sight of them, decorated with gold leaf offerings, along with the sweet smell of incense, gives a sense of religious awe.

 
 

 

Prasat Hin Phimai - Korat @ Thailand

Prasat Hin Phimai

One of the greatest Khmer sites in Thailand, Prasat Hin Phimai slightly predates Angkor Wat and may have served as a model for the famous temple in Cambodia. It is located about 30 Km. further north along Highway 2 from Prasat Hin Phanom Wan and then a further 12 Kms. Off to the right.

Meticulously restored and set in a well-kept historical park, Prasat Hin Phimai was in ancient times connected to Angkor by road, the " Royal Way ", and acted as an important administrative hub. Such status is reflected in the impressive ruins seen today.

Dating from the end of the 11th century, the original settlement of Phimai occupied an artificial island on the Moon River and a number of remains are scattered around the present town. The principal sanctuary tower, however, stands within its own imposing boundary walls with four entrance pavilions. The 28-metre-high tower itself and its accompanying gopuras are finely proportioned and richly decorated with sandstone carvings of Hindu subjects.

Among other impressive remains are the prangs of flanking sanctuaries in the inner courtyard by the southern gateway, and four corner ceremonial ponds in the outer courtyard. On the left as you cross the Moon River to enter the town of Phimai, the Natiional Museum houses a splendid collection of carved lintels from Phimai and other Khmer sites in the Northeast.

Prasat Hin Phanom Rung - Buri Ram @ Thailand

Buri Ram

Lying about 150 Km. east of Nakhon Ratchasima, the provincial capital of Buri Ram is the base for visiting the major Khmer monuments of Prasat Hin Phanom Rung and Prasat Hin Mueang Tam. Both well restored, the latter quite recently, the temple ruins lie within the same vicinity.

Prasat Hin Phanom Rung - Buri Ram @ Thailand

Prasat Hin Phanom Rung

Located about 120 Km. south of Buri Ram town, Prasat Hin Phanom Rung is as striking for its spectacular site as for its superb architecture. Occupying the summit of a 383-metre-high extinct volcano, the ruins command breathtaking views of the Khorat Plateau and the Dong Rak Mountains that form the border with Cambodia.

The temple, like Prasat Hin Phimai, was originally dedicated to the Hindu god Siva and was built, expanded and exbellished over the years between the early 10th century and the late 12th century. As such, the architectural form blends influences from the styles developed at Baphuon, Angkor Wat and the Bayon in Cambodia.

In a design that takes full advantage of its natural site, prasat Hin Phanom Rung is laid out along an axis running several hundred metres east to west, with a laterite causeway and a series of stairs and terraces leading up to the hilltop sanctuary. The latter, set within the walled compound, comprises a chambered gateway, and a square based sanctuary tower with entrances and antechambers at the four cardinal points. Also noteworthy are the pediments and carved lintels of interior and exterior doorways, and the decorative friezes on walls and pillars. The lintels in particular display exquisite workmanship.

Prasat Hin Mueang Tam - Buri Ram @ Thailand

This 11th-century temple
lies on the plain at
the foot of the hill
crowned by Prasat Hin
Phanom Rung, and
although much smaller
and overshadowed
by the latter's magnificent
setting, it is nonetheless
a significant monument.

Prasat Hin Mueang Tam - Buri Ram @ Thailand
Prasat Taa Muean - Surin @ Thailand

Prasat Taa Muean

Situated 12 Km. from Baan Taa Miang on the Thai-Cambodian border, these are arguably the most evocative of Surin's ancient Khmer ruins. The site comprises three separate sanctuaries within a few hundred metres of each other: Prasat Taa Muean itself, a relatively small monument built in the late-12th or early-13th century; Taa Muean Tot, a ' hospital chapel ' consisting of an entrance pavilion, library and main sanctuary; and Prasat Taa Muean Thom, an extensive sandstone complex dating from the 11th century and built in the Baphuon style.

 

Prasat Phumpon

Set in a traditional village at Tambol Dom, 10 Km. from the district office on the Sangkha-Buachet road, Prasat Phumphon dates from the 7th century and thus ranks as the oldest Khmer sanctuary in Thailand. The site consists of a single brick prasat and surrounding remains.

Prasat Taa Muean - Surin @ Thailand
Prasat Sra Kamphaeng Yai - Sri Sa Ket @ Thailand
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


 
 
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