ANCIENT KHMER RUINS
IN ISAN @ THAILAND
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Hin Mueang Tam
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
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.
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
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Sra Kamphaeng Yai
in the small village of Baan Kamphaeng, 22 Km. from
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
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.
Ratchasima ( Korat )
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.
Hin Phanom Wan
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hin Phanom Rung
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.
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.
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.
lies on the plain at
the foot of the hill
crowned by Prasat Hin
Phanom Rung, and
although much smaller
by the latter's magnificent
setting, it is nonetheless
a significant monument.
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.
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.
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