Phanom Rung is probably the most impressive and significant of the Khmer temples that can be found in Thailand. It was constructed in Angkor style during the 10th until the 13th century as a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva.
Phanom Rung, officially named Prasat Hin Phanom Rung was built on top of a hill in Buriram province on the base of which another Khmer complex, Muang Tum was constructed around the same time. As the main tower is made out of pink sandstone, the complex is also called Phanom Rung stone castle.
The temple was built on top of a hill which symbolizes Mount Kailash, a holy mountain in Hinduism on top of which Shiva lives. Phanom Rung lies on the ancient route from Angkor (the center of the ancient Khmer empire) to Phimai in Nakhon Ratchasima province.
The structures of Phanom Rung
Upon entering the site one sees a 160 meters long processional walkway leading up to the temple. Walking towards the temple provides impressive views of the main tower and the stairs leading to it. A pavilion on the right side of the walkway was built for the King to prepare himself for ceremonies in the temple.
At the end of the walkway you will find the first Naga bridge, followed by the wide stairway to the main tower. After passing a second Naga bridge you will arrive at the gallery that encloses the inner sanctuary. The naga bridges symbolise the passing from the earthly world into the world of the Gods.
The inner sanctuary
The pediments and lintels on top of the entrance gates or gopuras to the inner sanctuary are decorated with carvings of the Hindu Gods Shiva and Vishnu, as well as with scenes from the epic Ramayana.
Inside the inner sanctuary is the main tower that is made out of pink sandstone which measures 23 meters high and over 9 meters wide. This tower represents Mount Meru, the Hindu center of the universe. It enshrined the sacred linga that symbolizes the strength of Shiva.
A smaller tower as well as two brick towers around the main one. These date from the 10th and 11th century and are the oldest structures of Phanom Rung. The inner sanctuary also contains two libraries, where sacred Hindu scriptures were kept.
A number of ponds in the Phanom Rung temple complex symbolise the oceans surrounding Mount Meru.
Future UNESCO World Heritage Site
Phanom Rung was extensively restored by the Thai Fine Arts Department during the 1970’s and 1980’s. The site has been submitted to UNESCO’s tentative list for consideration as a future World Heritage Site. There are informational signs all over the site in both Thai and English explaining about the function of the structures as well as the beliefs of the ancient Khmer people. The complex on top of Phanom Rung hill is set in a scenic environment with views of the rural area in all directions. On the car park you will find food and drink stalls as well as a number of souvenir shops.
Phanom Rung festival
Every year at April 13th the Phanom Rung festival is held when a very special phenomenon occurs. The rays of the sun shine through all of the 15 portals of the temple, creating a mystical environment.On this day a number of traditional ceremonies is performed including a procession to honour the Gods, and traditional dance performances. On this day when opening hours are extended, there will also be a sound and light shows as well as fireworks.
How to get to Phanom Rung
Phanom Rung historical park is located in Buriram province in North East Thailand at about 50 kilometers South of Buriram town. Getting there by public transportation can be a hassle and would involve taking a local bus to either of the nearby towns Nang Rong or Prakhon Chai. From there you would have to take a songthaew bus or motorbike taxi. The most comfortable way to get there is the hire a taxi for the whole day. Most hotels in Buriram town should be able to arrange one for you. Agree on the price before leaving. Alternatively, you can join an organized group tour.
Opening hours & admission
The historical park is open from 6 am until 6 pm. Admission is 100 Thai Baht per person. A 150 Baht ticket is valid for nearby Muang Tum as well. Phanom Rung is a well visited complex. Especially on weekends and Thai public holidays the place can get busy. Best time to visit would be a weekday.