Introducing Phanom Rung Historical Park
Phanom Rung (Big Hill; 0 4463 1746; admission 40B; 6am-6pm) has a knock-me-dead location. Crowning the summit of a spent volcano, this sanctuary sits a good 70 storeys above the flat paddy fields below. To the southeast you can clearly see Cambodia’s Dongrek mountains, and it’s in this direction that the capital of the Angkor empire once lay. The Phanom Rung temple complex is the largest and best restored Khmer monument in Thailand (it took 17 years to complete the restoration) and, although it’s not the easiest place to reach, it more than rewards those who make the effort.
The Phanom Rung temple was erected between the 10th and 13th centuries, the bulk of it during the reign of King Suriyavarman II (r AD 1113–50), which by all accounts was the apex of Angkor architecture. The complex faces east, towards the original Angkor capital. Of the three other great Khmer monuments of Southeast Asia, Cambodia’s Angkor Wat faces west, its Prasat Khao Wihan faces north and Thailand’s Prasat Phimai faces southeast. Nobody knows for sure whether these orientations have any special significance, especially as most smaller Khmer monuments in Thailand face east (towards the dawn – typical of Hindu temple orientation).
If you can, plan your visit for one of the four times when the sun shines through all 15 sanctuary doorways. The correct solar alignment happens during sunrise on 3–5 April and 8–10 September and sunset on 5–7 March and 5–7 October. In leap years it begins one day earlier. The park extends its hours during this event. Also, on the first Saturday of April, local people have their own special celebration, the Climbing Khao Phanom Rung Festival, which commemorates the restoration of Phanom Rung. During the morning there is a procession up Khao Phanom Rung, and at night-time sound-and-light shows and dance-dramas are performed in the temple complex.
Below the main sanctuary, after the long row of gift shops, an Information Centre (admission free; 9am-4.30pm) houses a scale model of the area, artefacts found at the site, and displays about both the construction and restoration. Guides (fees are negotiable) offer their services at the complex, but when we last visited none spoke English. It’s possible that bungalows will be available in the future, but it’s unlikely.
Last updated: Mar 24, 2009
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