As Angkor period temple sites in northeastern Thailand go, Phanom Rung, Phimai and Muang Tam are the three big ones, but the entire southern part of Isaan is littered with ancient Khmer temples and some of the lesser sites are well worth a look if you happen to be in the area. One of our favourites is the charming little temple of Sikhoraphum in Surin province, just a few kilometres from the provincial capital itself.
Prasart Sikhorapum is its correct name — Sikhorapum also refers to the district and small town where the temple is located, and which interestingly has kept its ancient Sanskrit name. Phanom Rung is Khmer, while Phimai and Muang Tam Thai are recent names, so it’s just possible that the modern town of Sikhorapum was known by the same name when it was an Angkorian province. Incidentally, Sikhorapum is a lively little provincial town and a great place for a stroll around too, as the main covered market spills out into the surrounding streets, providing a bustling scene of local farmers’ produce and supplies, noodle and snack stalls and not a foreigner in sight.
The temple itself dates from the 11th or early 12th century and has a simple layout of five brick shrines on a laterite platform with a surrounding moat. Two of the towers are relatively complete, with the others missing their upper parts, and the whole site has been restored by the Thai fine arts department. Some criticism has been levelled at the restoration though the site had probably been messed around with in earlier times in attempts to give the Hindu temple a more Buddhist feel.
Decoration is minimal, but there are still a few carvings in good condition; some nagas and apsaras plus the highlight of the temple, a magnificent lintel over the doorway of the main shrine.
The central figure is Shiva above some hamsas (sacred geese), standing over the guardian demon Rahu while images of Vishnu, Ganesha, Brahma and Durga also feature. All are surrounded by garlands, leaves and secondary figures in deep relief. It’s one of the most spectacular lintels we know of outside of Banteay Srei and considering it’s the best part of a thousand years old, in remarkable condition, and probably worth the visit in its own right.
Don’t expect this to be as spectacular as Isaan’s larger Angkor sites, but a trip to Sikhorapum town and temple make for a great excursion if you’re in the area.
How to get there
Sikhoraphum is 35 kilometres east of Surin and is just off Route 226, which is the main highway to Si Saket and Ubon so be prepared for some big trucks and dust if you motorbike it. Many songthaews and local buses can also take you here from the bus station or central market, or you can come by train (from Surin -- anything Ubon bound). The town is tiny and the ruins are a short walk east of the train station.
By Mark Ord.
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