Having seen the majestic Khmer temples at Phimai Historical Park the day before, I set out to see the dramatic volcano temple of Phanom Rung and the nearby Prasat Muangtam, another highlight of the Isaan region, in Buriram province the next day. If Phimai is considered off-the-beaten path, Phanom Rung and Prasat Muangtam are considered even more so, with its middle of nowhere and hard-to-get-to location. To visit these temples, a little bit of preparation is definitely needed.
Getting to Phanom Rung and Prasat Muangtam
I was essentially looking at two ways of getting there. Via public transport, I had to get to another town called Nang Rong, a typical town in Thailand where I could catch a songthaew or minivan that goes to the temples. As I wanted to visit two temples in a day and I was coming from Nakhon Ratchasima, I decided to hire a taxi for the 2 or so hour journey.
Temple on a Volcano – The Scene Can’t Get Any More Dramatic Than This!
the main part of the temple is up there, on an extinct volcano
While Phimai is arguably the biggest and most extensive Khmer temple ruin in Northeastern Thailand, Phanom Rung is probably the most spectacular. The temple’s got a few things going for it. First of all, its location, on top of an extinct volcano 400 meters high is enough to draw oohs and ahs. The weather here was also markedly cooler when I came at noon, even though the temple is not really high up in the mountains.
Second, Phanom Rung has probably one of the grandest entrances I’ve seen for a Khmer temple, rivaled only by the grand entrance to Angkor Wat. To get to the temples, one has to walk on a long processional walkway.
the view of the processional walkway from the top
At the end of the walkway is a series of three bridges surrounded by naga (multi-headed snakes) on both sides. There’s another 3 flights of stairs to get to the top but the resulting view I get from the temple level is just astounding.
lotus ponds just before the entrance to the inner sanctuary
the main tower of phanom rung
Like Phimai, there are a series of galleries and walls to be crossed before arriving at the main tower. The level of preservation here is said to be the best for a Khmer ruin in Thailand and the level of detail in the carvings gives an idea of the extent of work done by the Thai government when Phanom Rung was restored between 1971 and 1988.
an alternative entrance to phanom rung
Apart from the main eastern entrance, there are actually other ways of getting into Phanom Rung temple. A less dramatic but easier way to get in that doesn’t involve climbing 3 flights of stairs is via the back (west) entrance which puts one directly at temple (higher) level.
Enter Prasat Muangtam
A natural inclusion to any trip to Phanom Rung is Prasat Muangtam. A combined ticket for both temples costs THB 150 for foreigners compared to one on Phanom Rung alone which is THB 100.
Prasat Muangtam is a few kilometers down the road from Phanom Rung, down a narrow path back in the lowlands. Of the three temples I visited during this trip to Isaan, Prasat Muangtam was probably the least visited. I could count at most 2 or 3 other visitors when I went there.
the centerpiece of prasat muangtam
Compared to the previous two temples, the entrance here was not as dramatic although the series of lotus ponds leading to the temples were pretty scenic and were even bigger than the ones found at Phanom Rung.
With few other visitors, the place was serene and I would have entertained the idea of spending a longer time there if it were not for my visit during th heat on the midday sun!
All but the first photo were taken with the Casio Exilim EX-FR10 camera