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In a nutshell

Haunting Khmer ruins, the biggest banyan tree in Thailand, a great night market and a charming town that moves as slowly as the Mun River's current. Whether you call it quirky or enchanting, we love Phimai.

Some 800 years ago, Phimai was directly connected by a road to Angkor Wat and the centre of the once vast and powerful Khmer empire. Also reachable via the Mun River, the outpost was considered an integral part of the empire, seeing a steady stream of traders and religious travellers passing through its gates.

Today, Phimai is not quite so grandoise, but it remains a charming little town nevertheless -- afterall, how many Thai towns have an ancient set of ruins sitting in their midst? The main attraction is Prasat Phimai Historical Park, and though it's not as impressive as the ruins of Angkor or even Phanom Rung, the fully restored ancient ruins and surrounding gardens are a sea of tranquility in the midst of the sleepy but still vibrant Phimai town.

The area immediately surrounding the ruins is known as Old Phimai, although other than the ruins themselves there is absolutely nothing ancient about it. “New Phimai" is a couple of kilometres away, in a far less inspiring area that features little more than the main bus station and some car dealerships.

Phimai is home to a small collection of guesthouses and restaurants catering to the travellers who'd prefer to overnight here rather than visit on a daytrip from Khorat. Though all the sites may easily be seen in a day, the town's slow pace of life seems to cast a dreamy spell over visitors, so if you've got the time, Phimai is worth a night or two.

Fairly flat and only about 4 sq km in total, Phimai is easily travelled on foot but you may prefer to hire a bicycle to ride to outlying destinations like Sai Ngam -- home to Thailand's largest Banyan tree, and the National Museum. A bike ride along the Mun River is also an enjoyable way to spend a late afternoon.

From around 15:00 the night market starts to set up, and wandering the long main street you'll find great cheap street food as well as clothes, vegetables and other bits and pieces. It's a terrific place for absorbing the colourful local culture, or if you're just wanting to stock up on frog-on-a-stick.

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If time allows, try to visit the ruins more than once -- preferably in the morning and late afternoon. At these times, the light really brings out the colour in the warm stone that forms the central temple. In the middle of the day, escape the glaring light and blazing heat by cycling over to Sai Ngam and taking shelter in the spooky atmosphere of Thailand's largest banyan tree.

During sunset, take a bicycle ride along the vast Mun River, then sample a wealth of homemade foods at the night market. With a handful of inexpensive and comfortable places to stay, budget travellers sometimes find themselves repeating the above routine for a few days.

Text and/or map last updated on 14th October, 2013.

Last reviewed by:
Usually found exploring Bangkok's side streets or south Thailand's islands, David Luekens is an American freelance writer & photographer who finds everyday life in Asia to be extraordinary. You can follow his travails here.

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