Aug 08 2012
The Angkor-period temple of Muang Tam in Buriram province is closely associated with neighbouring Phanom Rung. Prasart Muang Tam lies four or five kilometres as the crow flies on the plain beneath the extinct volcano on which Phanom Rung is sited. And while the latter was certainly the most prestigious religious site and pilgrimage destination of the area during that period, the former is considered to have been the main urban centre and capital of the region.
What you can see at Muang Tam would have been the central temple of that urban area and would have been surrounded by wooden and bamboo housing, roads and reservoirs — the largest of which is still in use — while an ancient road heading towards the nearby hilltop temple can also be clearly seen.
Dating the temple is problematic since, as with the majority of Angkor period sites, they were continually upgraded by successive rulers and kings but most of what you can see today is probably 11th century, so slightly earlier than its neighbour Phanom Rung. The central brick towers are consistent with a late 10th century design — that is, the Rajendravarman or Jayarvarman V period — so the site was likely inhabited for a period of no less than 200 years. Indeed the simpler earlier version with just five central brick towers and surrounding moat can clearly be seen with the more elaborate outer gallery, wall and gopuras being a later addition.
The later additions of impeccably proportioned entrance gopuras and outer gallery plus the attractive four L-shaped ponds, these days are full of crimson water-lilies, make the temple particularly pleasing to the eye and even though it’s a less prestigious and well known temple than Phanom Rung, for most visitors it is the more aesthetically pleasing of the two.
Furthermore Muang Tam is far less crowded with visitors than its neighbour, which is a big plus when exploring such sites as this where atmosphere is a big part of the experience.
It’s also notable that Muang Tam has many fine carved lintels which are often in better conditions than the Phanom Rung ones, particularly the oldest ones in the central brick towers.
Bear in mind that the wonderful lintel above in high relief was carved the best part of a thousand years ago. This one features Shiva and Uma on an ox above the doorway’s guardian figure Rahu.
We reckon the above is Krishna, though wouldn’t guarantee it. Regardless, it’s another beautifully preserved 10th/11th century carving.
One of the reasons there are so few, at least foreign, tourists is that Muang Tam is unfortunately not easy to access under your own steam. It’s easy enough by motorbike or car from Buriram but even worse than Phanom Rung by public transport.
From Nang Rong, the nearest town to Phanom Rung with accommodation, you ought to be able to find a taxi of some description — songthaew or moto — and if you’re overnighting in Nang Rong then your guesthouse will help out but we wouldn’t want to name a price. If you were lucky you might be able to find some similar transport for the short hop from Phanom Rung but this isn’t guaranteed. The nearest town to the site is Prakhon Chai so if you are starting out in Buriram town you would need to find a local bus heading that way and then grab a moto to the site. It’s worth the effort of getting there, but your easiest option maybe to take an organised day tour from Buriram, Surin or even Khorat.
Admission to Muang Tam is 100 baht for foreigners or a 150 baht ticket gets you into this and Phanom Rung. Open 06:00-18:00, daily. There is a small exhibition centre near the entrance and a car park with drinks and souvenir stands but at time of writing no more food stands. More architectural details can be found at this site.
Travelfish.org always pays its way. No exceptions.