Prasat Phanom Rung has a knock-you-dead location. Crowning the summit of a spent volcano, this sanctuary sits 200m above the paddy fields below. To the southeast you can see Cambodia’s Dongrek Mountains, and it’s in this direction that the capital of the Angkor empire once lay. The temple was erected as a Hindu monument to Shiva between the 10th and 13th centuries, the bulk of it during the reign of King Suriyavarman II (r AD 1113–50).
Below the main sanctuary, above the long row of gift shops, an information centre houses artefacts found at the site and displays about both the construction and the restoration, which took 17 years. You can pick up a free informative brochure or arrange a Thai-speaking guide (price is negotiable) here. Those who don't want to climb can use an upper parking lot (per car 50B), but the brochure usually isn't available there, and you'll miss out on the fabulous promenade leading up to the main gate.
In fact, the promenade is one of the most remarkable aspects of Phanom Rung. It begins on a slope 400m east of the main tower with three earthen terraces. Next comes a cruciform base for what may have been a wooden pavilion. To the right of this is the Phlab Phla, assumed to be where royalty bathed and changed clothes before entering the temple complex. You then step down to a 160m-long processional walkway flanked by sandstone pillars with early Angkor-style lotus-bud tops. This walkway ends at the first and largest of three naga bridges, flanked by 16 five-headed naga (mythical serpent) in the classic Angkor style. As at all Khmer temples, these symbolic 'bridges' represent the passing from the earthly realm to the heavenly.
At the top, the magnificent east gallery leads into the main sanctuary. The main tower has a gallery on each of its four sides, and excellent sculptures of Shiva and Vaishnava deities can be seen in the lintels and pediments over the doorways and in various other key points on the exterior. On the eastern portico of the mandapa (hall in front of the main tower) is a Nataraja (Dancing Shiva) and the well-known Narai Bandhomsindhu lintel, which represent the destruction and rebirth of the universe respectively, while on the southern entrance are the remains of Shiva and Uma riding their bull mount, Nandi. The central cell of the main tower contains a Shivalingam (phallus image), and in front of it is an evocative Nandi statue.