The ruins of Prasat Hin Phimai are a welcome but incongruous sight in the town centre.
The ancient, crumbling towers are surrounded by a peaceful sea of manicured grass before a simple hedge and low brick wall meet the main streets and busy shopping district.
Constructed of laterite, white and pink sandstone, the Angkor period ruins actually pre-date the temple of Angkor itself. Exploring the ruins entails navigating between cool and cavernous enclaves and sunny expanses of stone. Steep and difficult to manoeuvre at times, be sure to bring your trainers and plenty of water.
Begun in the late 10th century by the Khmer King Jayavarman V, the Prasat was later finished by King Suriyavarman I. Intricate sculptures remain over the doorways, but otherwise a lot of the detail has worn away or is housed at the nearby museum. Like the temples of Angkor, the stone sanctuaries of Phimai are dedications to icons of the ancient Khmer's mixed spiritual cosmology -- depictions of Shiva, Rama, and Buddha may all be found here.
After you've gone through the main inner sanctums and their mystical air, don't overlook the quiet rear of the grounds, where you'll find picturesque “grave yards” of ancient sculptures and other pieces that were never integrated back into the larger ruins when the Prasat was restored in the 1960s. Aesthetically, the Prasat at Phimai cannot compete with the larger scale temples of Angkor, but it offers a feel for the outlying parts of the ancient Khmer empire, and as it would have almost 1,000 years ago, Phimai takes you off the beaten track. .
By David Luekens
Last updated on 2nd December, 2014.