Prasat Hin Phimai – The Largest Khmer Temple in Thailand

Phimai Historical Park is a Mahayana Buddhist sanctuary and one of the largest Hindu Khmer temples in Thailand, located in the northern borders of Nakhon Ratchasima province, and constructed during the 11th and 12th century, during Khmer empire era.

Located in the northern borders of Nakhon Ratchasima province, Phimai Historical Park is one of the most significant tourist attractions in Thailand. This structure goes over 1,000 meters by close to 600 meters across, making it the biggest of all Khmer temples in Thailand. The ruins contain some of the finest Khmer architecture in the country. (Photo by Arian Zwegers via Flickr)

 

Facts about Prasat Hin Phimai

In the 11th and 12th centuries, Phimai, which is officially called Prasat Hin Phimai, was built in the Khmer Empire. An old road connected Angkor (Siem Reap in the present day) to this historic building. Also, other Khmer ruins like Muang Tum and Phanom Rung were between them on this highway.

Despite the fact that the Khmer who constructed it was Hindus, this temple was constructed as a Mahayana Buddhist temple. Many Hindu deities are portrayed on their carvings, and some design elements – notably the main shrine’s distinctive prang tower – were reused at Angkor Wat. Temples have stood at this naturally fortified site since at least the 8th century, but most of the present structures were later built by Khmer King Jayavarman VI.

From the temple’s architecture, which is similar to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and its size, we can assume that Phimai was a popular temple in its era. The Phimai temple is located in the direction of Angkor in Cambodia, facing southeast, where usual Khmer temples face East. It has often been stated that Phimai faced the south aligning itself with Angkor, though historians acknowledge that it does not directly face Angkor.

UNESCO listed the Phimai historical park tentatively as a World Heritage Site during the second half of the 1960s.

 

Welcome to this Masterpiece!

The southern gate of the outer wall, measuring 565m by 1030m, welcomes you over the cruciform naga bridge, which symbolizes the passage from earth to heaven. There is a small structure to the left of the Naga bridge that was probably used to prepare the King for sacred ceremonies in the inner sanctuary.

 The temple complex’s Southern outer wall is accessible through the gopura, which is the gateway to the temple complex after passing the Naga bridge. The inner sanctuary and the 28m-tall chief shrine of white sandstone and covered in excellent carvings are accessed via a long walkway, which formerly had a tiled roof, providing a huge view of the temple structures, including the massive prang at the center. Located on the outside of the inner sanctum are two libraries containing old holy scriptures.

This ancient Khmer temple is similar to another Khmer temple along the same ancient road called Phanom Rung toward the South East. Prasat Hin is surrounded by inner, outer, and moat walls, as well as several ponds that represent the encompassing oceans around Mount Meru.

 

Inside the Temple

The building has a sanctuary inside surrounded by galleries and gopuras providing entry. There are finely carved depictions of Shiva and Ramayana on the heads and pediments of the gopuras.

Three prangs can be found in the inner sanctuary. Mountain Meru in the Hindu cosmology symbolizes the center of the universe, and it is represented by the central and largest one. The temple enshrined the sacred linga, a symbol of Shiva, the Hindu god of creation. 

There are inscriptions dedicated to the Buddha on the central prang, indicating that Phimai was designed like a Buddhist sanctuary. It is believed that this sandstone prang was built in the 11th or 12th century. The other two towers, the Prang Hin Daeng and the Prang Bhramadat, are much smaller in size and were probably built in the 13th century. This later prang has a sculpture of Khmer King Jayavarman VII on display in the nearby Phimai National Museum. 

An interesting museum nearby

A large number of artifacts from various sites in North East Thailand are displayed in the Phimai national museum. Among the museum’s objects available for viewing are wonderfully sculpted lintels with wonderfully painted details, as well as a statue of Jayavarman VII, King of the Khmer empire in the 12th century. Besides the statue, the museum has items from the nearby Ban Prasat archeological dig area that was inhabited up to 3,500 years ago, including ceramics pottery.

 

Do Not Lose These Neighboring Constructions 

Wat Doem

In contrast to the Khmer architecture of Phimai, Wat Doem has Lao-style Buddha images. There are numerous attractions in this temple. Among the most important is a three-meter Buddha image that holds a calm expression on its face. It is surrounded by smaller Buddhas varying from gold to dark crimson designs. 

This temple features a specific hall in which Buddha images depict the meaningful life of Buddha; one depicts Buddha’s deceased body. Another explained the awareness of the dead Buddha’s body as it sank into Nirvana. The wax workshop at this temple is another interesting feature. Here, experts create sculptures of renowned Buddhist and Hindu Patriarchs. Wax figures are placed on a flat during a cultural parade called Khao Panda, which occurs every year in July.

Sai Ngam

There is a grove of huge banyan trees known as Sai Ngam, which is one of the most daunting attractions in the world. The place is located just a few kilometers east of the town of Phimai. Likewise, in horror movies, this tree is thought to possess spirits that capture passengers forever. Depending on the estimates, Sai Ngam’s total area is estimated at 1,350 square meters. A spirit house near the 350-year-old trunk of the Sai Ngam tree often receives redolence sticks and colorful streams of flower coronal from the locals. 

The clock tower in the center of Phimai will take you to Sai Ngam. Go east and left a couple of times before turning right and following the signs directly east past the ancient Phang Reservoir. You will not be charged for entrance.

 

How to Get There

Almost 300 kilometers northeast of Bangkok, in the provincial capital of Nakhon Ratchasima, is the small town of Phimai, where you will find the Phimai historical park. Phimai is reachable by public transportation, private cars, train, and taxi. A GPS would be helpful if you were to travel alone with a private car in order to ensure you stay on track and not get distracted. These roads can be followed by buses and cars: 

Road 1

Although it is longer (approximately 273km), this road is chosen for its fantastic scenery at the time of travel. Take Highway 304 through Min Buri to Chachoengsao. The following cities can be reached from Chachoengsao: Phanom Sarakham, Kabin Buri, Wang Nam Khiao, and Pak Thong Chai. The last city from which you turn towards Nakhon Ratchasima is Pak Thing Chia.

Road 2

Drive along the Phahonyothin Road, also known as Highway 1. This road passes Don Mueang Airport and goes through Wang Noi and Nong Khae. Nakhon Ratchasima can be reached via Nong Khae (also known as Saraburi), which is adjacent to Highway 2. This route is approximately 259 kilometers long.

Road 3

On the way to Nakhon Nayok, travel on Highway 305, which runs through Thanyaburi and Ongkharak. Take a right turn from Nakhon Nayok to Highway 33, follow the road to Kabin Buri, and then take a left along Highway 304, passing Nakhon Thong Chai and Wang Nam Khiao to Nakhon Ratchasima.

It costs 220 baht to take the bus from Bangkok. Apart from Bangkok, you can travel to Nakhon Ratchasima from these cities: Chiang Rai, Mae Sai, Chonburi, Hua Hin, Rayong, Nakhon Sawan Pattaya, Chiang Mai, Lopburi, Hat Yai, Phuket, Chanthaburi, and most provincial capitals in Isaan. Air transport is not available into Nakhon Ratchasima (also called Korat). 

Also, you can travel by train. Throughout the day, approximately 12 trains run at intervals. It takes about five to six hours to complete the journey, with the last train departing at 11:40 pm. The fares are quite reasonable. You can call 1690 to get information about the train schedule).

When you get to the Nakhon Ratchasima, the easiest and the most usual way to get to the historical park is by bus. There are buses that run every twenty minutes from Nakhon Ratchasima’s Bus terminal 2. Take a taxi or tuk-tuk or Songthaews to this bus terminal. 

It is always a good idea to ask the hotel’s receptionist where the nearest bus stop is so that the bus can be flagged down on its way to Phimai. Buses leave the terminal every 90 minutes at a fare of 50 baht. 

Other places have a fare of 213 baht from Talad Kae in Nong Kha, 200 baht from Nong Khai, and 13 baht to Phimai. Near the clock tower and nearby museum in Nakhon Ratchasima are the ruins of Phimai Historical Park. A bus makes stops at the museum and clock tower as passengers request. 

 

Best Time to Visit

There are three seasons in Nakhon Ratchasima, hot, cold, and rainy. There is no doubt that the Rainy Seasons (May-October, August-October) are not the most suitable times for traveling. Nakhon Ratchasima is less hot in November and December as compared with January-April. These are the best times to explore the city. Visiting at sunrise will not provide you with the best experience. It is best to visit during the preparatory times before sunset, so perhaps at 3 pm. 

 

Opening Hours and Entry fee

Phimai historical park is open every day from 8 am until 6 pm, and Phimai national museum is open every day from 9 am until 4 pm. Admission in Thai Baht is charged at the ticket booth:

  • Historical Park: 100 for both Adult and child 
  • Phimai national museum: 50 for both Adult and Child 

 

Where to Stay

Phimai does not provide accommodation to tourists who may wish to spend the night in the town. By the way, there are still affordable accommodation choices available at reasonable rates. These include guesthouses, hotels, and resorts — budget accommodation is usually no more than 400 baht. 

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