Aug 04 2012
The southern reaches of Northeast Thailand or Isaan is one of our favourite parts of the kingdom. From west to east, the provinces of Buriram, Surin, Si Saket and Ubon Ratchathani abut the Dandrek Mountains and the border with Cambodia, and indeed in the southern parts of these provinces you’re just as likely to hear Khmer spoken as Thai. The Khmer atmosphere in further enhanced by the region’s numerous Angkor-period temples. The people are friendly, food great, scenery picturesque and there’s plenty to see.
The furthest west of the Thai/Khmer provinces, Buriram is remarkable for its famous Angkor-period temples but on a more mundane level its capital, also Buriram, is remarkable for being the only town in Thailand where the local football team is more popular than Man Utd or Liverpool. Buriram is football mad and everywhere you go in town you’ll see posters, pennants, flags, badges, wall clocks and T-shirts for Buriram United. At time of writing they were placing third in the Thai premier league, which they won in 2011, and the home team is this relatively small and otherwise fairly insignificant provincial town’s pride and joy. (Well, nothing much else happens in Buriram!) A trickle of foreign tourists come to visit the awesome temple sites of Phanom Rung and Muan Tam, but even a lot of them elect to stay in the larger and more happening neighbour of Surin.
Buriram is a pleasant enough little town though, with a couple of decent hotels and some good food; it’s not a bad spot to spend a day if you’re wandering through these parts, though it isn’t perhaps worth going out of your way to visit. Buriram wasn’t always such a backwater though — Phanom Rung and Muang Tam were clearly important outposts of the Angkor Empire and are well worth going out your way for though, even if you do prefer to overnight in Surin or in the small town of Nang Rong, which has the closest accommodation to the temple sites.
The southern part of Buriram rises to meet the Dandrek Mountains which form the border with Cambodia and there’s some great scenery here. The remainder of Buriram is flat paddy, with the occasional rock outcrop such as the hill — actually an extinct volcano — that Phanom Rung temple was built upon.
As with neighbouring Khorat and Surin, Buriram city was also inhabited during the Angkor period and indeed the old city moat is still clear to see, forming a rectangle around the old city site, but no walls or temples remain in the town itself. During the 19th century the tiny town of Buriram was closer to the Thai province of Khorat than the Lao outpost of Ubon. Since then it has grown into a mid-size provincial town servicing the surrounding farmland and villages with a predominantly Sino-Thai urban population, ethnic Laotians in the north and Khmer speakers in the south.
The town’s format is standard Thai: an old centre boasts a city pillar, temples and moat, which is surrounded by the new town with markets, concrete shophouses and residential streets, then a new ring road with housing estates and shopping malls.
The town is a lot smaller than Khorat, a lot quieter than Surin, and lacks the latter’s numerous old wooden buildings, but it’s leafy and there are some pleasant parks around the moat and a fun albeit small night bazaar.
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