Hemmed in by its old city walls and encircled by tributaries of the Mun River, the small modern town of PHIMAI, 60km northeast of Khorat, is dominated by the charmingly restored Khmer temple complex of Prasat Hin Phimai. No one knows for sure when the prasat was built or for whom, but as a religious site it probably dates back to the reign of the Khmer king Suriyavarman I (1002–49), and parts of the complex are said to be older than Cambodia’s Angkor Wat. The complex was connected by a direct road to Angkor and oriented southeast, towards the Khmer capital. Over the next couple of centuries Khmer rulers made substantial modifications, and by the end of Jayavarman VII’s reign in 1220, Phimai had been officially dedicated to Mahayana Buddhism. Phimai’s other claim to fame is Sai Ngam (Beautiful Banyan), reputedly the largest banyan tree in Thailand. Otherwise there’s plenty to like about its peaceful, small-town feel. Most visitors arrive here on day-trips, but with an excellent guesthouse and plenty of opportunities for early-morning bike rides, it’s worth staying overnight.Read More
Prasat Hin Phimai
Prasat Hin Phimai
Built mainly of dusky pink and greyish white sandstone, Prasat Hin Phimai is a seductive sight from a distance; closer inspection reveals a mass of intricate carvings. Entering the complex from the main southeastern gate, it’s worth checking out the visitors’ centre on the right-hand side after the ticket office, which uses simple wall-hung exhibits to explain the history of the site.
Heading into the complex from the southeastern gate, a staircase ornamented with classic naga (serpent) balustrades leads to a gopura in the outer walls, which are punctuated on either side by false balustraded windows – a bit of sculptural sleight-of-hand to jazz up the solid stonework without piercing the defences. A raised pathway bridges the space between these walls and the inner gallery that protects the prangs of the inner sanctuary. The minor prang to the right, made of laterite, is attributed to the twelfth-century Buddhist king Jayavarman VII, who engaged in a massive temple-building campaign. His statue is enshrined within; it’s a copy of the much more impressive original, now housed in the Phimai National Museum. The pink sandstone prang to the left, connected to a Brahmin shrine where seven stone linga were found, was probably built around the same time.
The main prang
After more than twenty years of archeological detective work and painstaking reassembly, the towering white-sandstone main prang has now been restored to its original cruciform groundplan and conical shape, complete with an almost full set of carved lintels, pediments and antefixes, and capped with a stone lotus-bud. The impressively detailed carvings around the outside of the prang depict predominantly Hindu themes. Shiva the Destroyer dances above the main entrance to the southeast antechamber: his destruction dance heralds the end of the world and the creation of a new order, a supremely potent image that warranted this position over the most important doorway. Most of the other external carvings pick out momentous episodes from the Ramayana, starring heroic Rama, his brother Lakshaman and their band of faithful monkeys in endless battles of strength, wits and magical powers against Ravana, the embodiment of evil. Inside, more sedate Buddhist scenes give evidence of the conversion from Hindu to Buddhist faith, and the prasat’s most important image, the Buddha sheltered by a seven-headed naga, sits atop a base that once supported a Hindu Shiva lingam.
Phimai boat races
Phimai boat races
Phimai’s biggest event of the year is its festival of boat races, held on the Mun’s tributaries over a weekend in early November, in a tradition that’s endured for over a century. In common with many other riverside towns, Phimai marks the end of the rainy season by holding fiercely competitive longboat competitions and putting on lavish parades of ornate barges done up to emulate the Royal Barges of Bangkok. During the festival, a son et lumière show is staged at the temple ruins for five nights in a row.