After visiting three of the best known cities in northeastern Thailand, my train journey through the Isan region is coming to an end. I’m currently in Surin; Tomorrow I’ll catch a bus south to Chong Chom and cross the border into Cambodia.
None of the cities that were on my route are particularly interesting or have much to offer travelers; they are most definitely off the tourist path. I like to visit working town and cities, places where tourism is of lesser importance or non existent. Mostly I picked these places because they are all within striking distance of ancient Khmer temple ruins. Also, from Surin the border town of Chong Chom is easy to reach by bus. Chong Chom has a reputation as a stress free border crossing point and is close to my first stop in Cambodia Anlong Veng.
Here is a list of towns that I visited and a summary of Isan’s best known Angkor era temples:
Korat / Phimai / Prasat Hin Phimai
Located 37 miles (60 km) from Korat’s city center, in the town of Phimai, is Prasat Hin Phimai Thailand’s largest Khmer built temple. This fantastic historical site is considered to be the most important of the Thai Angkor era temples. This is not only due to its impressive size but also its position at the end of the ancient “highway” from Angkor Wat. Most of the temples built at this time (11th-12th century) were oriented in an east to west direction. However, Phimai faces to the south, in the direction of Angkor, the former capital of the Khmer empire. After extensive restoration this temple is now in excellent condition and is well worth a visit. Also worth a visit is the Phimai National Museum, a ten minute walk from the historical park. This is an excellent museum which contains many interesting artifacts recovered from Phimai. In addition to the local finds, the museum displays antiquities from a number of different areas and time periods of Thai history.
It is very easy to reach Phimai from Korat by either bus or van (mini bus). Large air-conditioned city buses depart bus terminal number two approximately every 40 minutes to an hour. The fare is 50 baht and the trip takes around an hour and fifteen minutes. The Phimai Historical Park is less than a five minute walk from the bus stop in Phimai’s town center.
Buriam / Nang Rong / Prasat Phanom Rung / Prasat Muang Tam
Located 43 miles (70 km) south of Buriam City are the restored temple complexes of Phanom Rung and Muang Tam. Built in the 10th-13th centuries Phanom Rung is the larger and more impressive of the two, it sits at an elevation of 1,319 (402 m) on the rim of an extinct volcano. Muang Tam lies another 4 miles (7 km) to the south of Phanom Rung.
My original plan was to visit Phanom Rung by bus from Buriam’s bus terminal but after thoroughly researching a suggested route I found on the internet, deemed this journey to be impractical. These temples can really only be reached from Buriam by car or motorcycle. Tours can be arranged using taxis at a cost of $50 USD which includes stops at several sites. The other option is to use the town of Nang Rong as a base. However Nang Rong is still 26 miles (40 km) away without any public transportation options. I decided to give these two sites a pass as I still have many more Khmer temples to visit.
Surin / Sikhoraphum / Prasat Sikhoraphum
Prasat Sikhoraphum is a small temple complex built in the 11th to 12th century, located in the town of the same name. Sikhoraphum is easily reached by train from Surin, the 22 mile (35 km) trip takes approximately 40 minutes and third class tickets can be purchased for as little as 7 baht or 20 cents each way. Tuk tuks and moto taxis are available at the Sikhoraphum railway station or take a twenty minute stroll through town, past the central market, to the temple.
Until next time,