The Northeastern part of Thailand , also known as Isaan, is a rarely visited region in what is a heavily visited country. If you need a place to escape the crowds in Thailand and yet still witness some magnificent sights, this is one of the best places to visit. Deep within this off-the-beaten path locale lies Phimai Historical Park or Prasat Hin Phimai, one of Thailand’s finest ancient Khmer temple ruins. Coming here, it is easy to spot similarities with Angkor Wat, with ornate carvings made of sandstone and laterite as well as the three towers akin to its more famous counterpart in Cambodia.
making my way to the central prang of phimai
I took my nifty Casio Exilim EX-FR10 out for a spin at the temples of Phimai – all photos you see here are also taken with it. As a freestyle action camera, it comes with a wireless controller which allows me to split the camera into 2 and shoot photos remotely.
How to Visit Phimai From Bangkok
Despite Thailand’s relatively extensive public transportation system, getting here involved several hours of road travel with multiple transfers. This probably partly explains why not a lot of foreigners come here. From Bangkok’s Mo Chit Bus Terminal, I boarded a bus to Nakhon Ratchasima, the largest city in Isaan (with departures every half hour). Once at Nakhon Ratchasima’s bus terminal, it’s either another bus or a taxi to Phimai. Total travel time from Bangkok is about 5 hours (Bangkok to Nakhon Ratchasima = 4 hours + Nakhon Ratchasima to Phimai = 1 hour).
Inside Phimai Historical Park
the outer walls of phimai’s temple ruins
Phimai Historical Park is rectangular in shape, 655 meters wide and 1,030 meters long. While it is tiny in comparison to Angkor Wat, it is an attraction worth seeing, especially when combined with other ancient Khmer ruins around Isaan such as Phanom Rung and Prasat Muangtam (more about that in another post).
entrance to the naga bridge
I walked into the temple complex via the main entrance, a cross-shaped bridge decorated by naga (serpent/dragon-like) images which aimed to represent the link between heaven and earth. This led to the southern portion of the outer gopura or the outer walls of the temple complex – a series of large pillars laying in ruins. The layout evoked more images of Angkor, except that here, one will be hard-pressed to see any trees trying to engulf the temple complex.
After walking past the outer wall, I found yet another large grassy field, from where another walled enclosure lay in front of me. I walked towards the inner wall, past a smaller chamber until I found myself finally at the center of the temple complex. That was one dramatic entry point!
by the central prang of phimai – taken with the casio exilim ex-fr10 with the lens detached from the controller and mounted on a platform
main entrance to the central prang
buddha statue replica inside a chamber in the central prang – the ex-fr10 works well even in low light conditions
The highlight of the ancient ruins at Phimai is undoubtedly the main prang, the tallest tower within the complex and the most elaborately decorated one. Unlike the other towers which are made of red sandstone, the central tower is made of white sandstone which enables it to stand out easily. Inside, one can find ornate carvings showing various episodes from the Ramayana and the life of the Buddha. In the largest chamber inside the central prang, there is also a statue of the Buddha. It is a reproduction as the original figure sits in the Phimai Museum which is elsewhere in town. During my visit, I witnessed some people praying by the statue and making offerings there.
Overall, I found Phimai to be a very localized attraction that few people outside Thailand know about. It’s worth coming all the way here for this alone and despite being in the tentative list as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, I had only encountered at most, 2 other foreigners during my time there.
As for the Casio Exilim EX-FR10 camera, I found it to be a worthy companion while exploring the temples. While it’s not positioned as a photographer’s camera, the automatic configuration was very convenient especially when taking “at the moment” kind of shots. Photo quality was good (am satisfied with how the photos turned out) though could do a bit more in terms of saturation – a small issue easily solved by doing simple editing. The detachable feature also made it a lot easier in taking selfies and from positions that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to access in an archeological site such as Phimai.
Admission fee to Phimai Historical Park: THB 100 (around US$3)
All photos are taken with the Casio Exilim EX-FR10 camera