Prasat Phanom Rung and its sister site, Muang Tam, are probably the best preserved and most spectacular set of Khmer ruins in Thailand. They’re located in southern Buriram province, some 50 kilometres north of the Cambodian border and 27 kilometres southeast of the small city of Nang Rong. Yes, Phanom Rung is worth a trip into the middle of nowhere.
Situated high above rice paddies on an extinct volcano, Phanom Rung was a religious sanctuary built between the 9th and 12th centuries as part of the larger Angkor Empire. The temple was dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva, with the 402-metre-high volcano subbing for India’s Mount Kailash as the god’s heavenly abode. Reached by a dramatic stone stairway and punctuated by several exquisite lintels, “heavenly” is the right word.
A quick ride southeast of Phanom Rung takes you to Muang Tam, another impressive site that was once part of a bustling Khmer city. A single 150-baht ticket gets you entry to both sites. Several smaller Khmer ruins can also be visited while in the area, including the haunting Ta Muan in the far southwestern corner of neighbouring Surin province. Many of the locals speak a Khmer dialect, getting their water from reservoirs built by their distant Khmer ancestors.
Surprising given the splendour of Phanom Rung and the typical Thai penchant for constructing 20 small hotels around anything with a hint of tourism potential, there’s virtually no tourism infrastructure in the villages closest to the ruins. Most visitors come on a day trip from Surin or Buriram towns, both around 80 kilometres to the north and northeast, or settle into Nang Rong for a night or two.
While Nang Rong makes a convenient base for exploring the ruins, the town itself is right up there with Thailand’s most boring. Clustered around Highway 24, which is a major trucking route connecting Bangkok to lower Isaan, Nang Rong hosts little more than a fresh market, some shophouse eateries, a football field, bus station and hospital. With no ruins located in the town itself, you don’t get the evocative new-atop-the-old-feel of a Phimai or Ayutthaya.
Surin definitely makes a more interesting base, but you can’t beat Nang Rong for its proximity to the ruins. Local guesthouse owners understand that travellers come here specifically for the Khmer sites and they have the local knowledge to ensure a good experience. We especially recommend English-speaking Mr Kris of Honey Inn, who can help you to hit the ruins in a few different ways.
Phanom Rung Historical Park is located near the villages of Baan Ta Pek and Baan Tako, around 10 kilometres south of Highway 24, which runs straight west to Nang Rong. Muang Tam is an easy ride further southeast from Phanom Rung.
You’ll find the Nang Rong Hospital in the centre of town on Highway 24, and the Surachet Hospital just east of town. The police station is located northeast of town on a side road that cuts left off Mit Ari Road. ATMs can be found at the downtown bank branches and at the many filling stations just outside of town.
We wouldn’t call any part of Nang Rong charming, but some old wooden houses and the usual shophouse eateries and stores are found south of the highway on Sangkharit, Phakdi Borirak and Pradit Pana roads. Just east of town, Highway 218 shoots north to Buriram town.
By David Luekens. Last updated on 8th October, 2016.