Aug 06 2012
One of the most famous Angkor period temples in Thailand, Phanom Rung lies atop an extinct volcano some 50 kilometres southwest of the provincial capital in Buriram‘s Nang Rong district. It was never completely overgrown and ruined as with many Khmer temples and it was never a battlefield either, so consequently it remained in relatively good condition before a Thai Fine Arts Department makeover restored it to the near-pristine state you see today.
There aren’t many temples from that period in Thailand or in Cambodia in such great condition, and while giant roots and crumbling masonry certainly adds to the charm of some Angkor temples it is interesting to see one, lacking only a coat of stucco and whitewash, in an otherwise near original condition. (Though there would have been, of course, wooden components to the original temple which can only be guessed at.)
The main entranceway, facing east and these days leading up from the car park and souvenir stalls, is a masterpiece and there’s a great sense of suspense created as you climb the naga-bordered staircases to see the tower of the main shrine gradually appearing ahead and above.
The main entrance gopura is also in immaculate condition and the ponds you can see either side of it are said by some to be relics of the original volcano crater, though we wouldn’t guarantee that. Earliest constructions at the site probably date to the ninth and you can see some older brick towers in the inner courtyard from the early 11th century, but most of what you see today dates from the reign of Suryavarman II and the early 12th. You can find a detailed description of the temple’s lay out and architecture here so we won’t go into lengthy details for now but will continue with some pretty images of this highly photogenic site.
The overall site may be slightly over-manicured to some tastes and it can be difficult getting a shot of the temple without including one of the well-intentioned bilingual information signs that clutter the temple site, which in turn is surrounded by very well-maintained gardens and lawns. Yes, it’s a very different feel to Preah Khan or Beng Melea but as a historical park, with the emphasis very much on park, it is a highly pleasant spot for a stroll and at least you can dispense with a guide to talk you through the salient temple features with all the info to hand.
Clearly some looting of carvings went on before the Thai Fine Arts department stepped in and many of the carved lintels and pediments sadly have figures missing, though plenty of fine reliefs remain.
Check out the war elephant above or the well preserved reclining Vishnu below.
Few foreign tourists make it to these parts; any you do see probably live locally and are out for a excursion with the family. But Phanum Rung is popular with Thai tourists and at weekends and public holidays can get very crowded. It’s best to visit as early as possible then and indeed the climb up the long staircase can get pretty warm towards the middle of the day. The temple isn’t a large one, so 30 to 45 minutes will allow you time to see pretty much all of it, with perhaps an extra 10 minutes to stroll through the lush gardens and check out the flowering trees and plentiful bird-life. The new visitors’ centre near the foot of the steps is also worth a peek.
The entrance fee is 100 baht for foreigners, though a 150 baht ticket gets you entrance to Phanom Rung and the nearby associated site of Muang Tam. The car park has plentiful souvenir stalls and some cafes for drinks or simple lunches. The first link (to Phanum Rung) in this piece gives directions on how to get here.
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