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.
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.
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.
The town's two principal roads, Anantajinda and Tha Songkran, intersect at the digital clock tower. Attractions and services are mostly concentrated on the east-west running main road, Anantajinda, while north-south running Tha Songkran (which turns into Route 206) leads in and out of town.
Banks are plentiful and offer the standard withdrawal and exchange services. Most have 24-hour ATMs. ATMs can also be found attached to the town's convenience stores, three of which are within easy walking distance of the Prasat and are open 24 hours.
Just adjacent to the Prasat, a tourist police booth offers a good selection of maps and area information.
The post office lies on the western border of the park -- from the Prasat, go past the tourist police and take the first right. The post office is a block and a half up on the left.
Bicycles (20B per hour or 100B per day) and motorbikes (250 B per day) can be hired at Boonsiri Guesthousefor. Should Boonsiri's motorbikes be taken, you can also rent one at the Honda shop on the main road just over the river, also for 250 B per day -- be sure to bring your passport as you'll need to leave that as a deposit on the motorbike.
Internet is available at Boonsiri, Paradise Apartments, and Phimai Inn for 30 B per hour. Alternately, there's a proper internet café by the name of J Net (20 B/hr) at the corner of Sa Songkran and Chom Sa (Rte. 206), just northeast of the Prasat.
Phimai Hospital is about 2 km out of town toward Korat on Route 206.
Bangkok Bank: 8/1 Moo 6 Anantajinda Rd, Phimai. T: (044) 471 299; (044) 471 315. Mon-Fri 8:30-15:30.
Honda: Moo 14 Tom Boon Nai, Phimai. Closed Sunday.
Kasikorn Bank: 248 Moo 14 Chomsudasaget Rd, Phimai. T: (044) 287 400; (044) 471 352. Mon-Fri 8:30-15:30.
Movie Theatre: Haruethairome Rd. at Suriya Asssadong Rd, Phimai.
Phimai Hospital: Route 206, Phimai. Tel: (044) 471 288.
Post Office: 123 Wonprang Rd, Phimai. Tel: (044) 471 342. Mon-Fri 8:30-16:30, Sat 8:30-12:30.
Tourist Police: Next to the park, Anantajinda Rd, Phimai. T: 1155; (044) 341 777.
By David Luekens.