Daily Archives: February 22, 2009

Phanom Rung: A Khmer Classic

When most expats in Bangkok read the place name of Buriram, the first things that spring to mind are images of the capital’s ever hard-working taxi drivers, waitresses, construction workers and even their very own housekeepers.

Buriram province, located approximately 400km from Bangkok and nestled along the Cambodian border between the provinces of Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) and Surin, is in fact home to arguably the most magnificent Khmer monument in Thailand (2nd only to Khao Phra Viharn, but now that place is officially in Cambodia!)

Over 1,000 years old, Prasat Hin Phanom Rung is situated on top of one of Buriram’s numerous extinct volcanoes. This Hindu sandstone monastery, built 400 metres above sea level facing Angkor Wat in the east, is dedicated to Shiva and his heavenly abode, the holy mountain of Kailash.

Before entering the main sanctuary of Phanom Rung, you will have to go across the main Naga Bridge, which mythically links earthly hell and Hindu heaven. Then, at the top of the hill, you will not only be impressed by the Khmer architecture but also by the breathtaking views of the countryside below.

Prasat Hin Phanom Rung once made international news, when it was found that its priceless Narai Lintel, stolen in 1960, had somehow turned up at an art institute in Chicago. Apparently, a Thai expert had personally pinched and sold it to the Chicago Art Institute who didn’t even bother researching the origins. Even Carabao, in one of their best known folk songs “Thap Lang”, protested at the theft and sang to the Americans: “Take back your Michael Jackson and give us back our Phra Narai.” That wish, after endless controversy and paperwork, was fulfilled in 1988.

Phanom Rung lies around 65km south of Buriram Town, just 12km off the main Highway 24. If you are coming by local transport, there are plenty of buses passing the Phanom Rung intersection at Ban Tako.
To get up the hill from there, you can either take a motorbike taxi or simply stick out your thumb and get a lift on the back of a pickup – that’s what I’ve done personally on two occasions.