- Posted August 22, 2013 by
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Cambodia’s spectacular ruins
Khmer Empire – Siam Pt.3
Ancient Khmer temples dot the countryside along the border as well as locations deep inside Thailand. I had traveled to Thailand as a child, but started going back in 1989. In 1992 I had married a Thai girl and visited her village north of Buriram a few times. She was of Khmer heritage and had asked me if I wanted to visit Phnum Rung. I thought it was just another one of the millions of wats through out Thailand so I declined. Fast forward 16 years and was I ever wrong. Thailand is not known for their historic temples and the tourism industry pushes the beaches and the nightlife.
I had taken a trip to Surin in 2007 with a couple of friends and while there we stopped at a few sites along the way and took a couple of day trips that would bait my appetite to see more of what Thailand had to offer.
I would set off solo on a Suzuki 650 motorbike in September 2008 and head for Nakon Rachasima (Korat). I wanted to see Phi Mai, the ancient city at the end of the Angkor Highway, where I had seen bridges and trapeangs in between. I checked into a hotel late afternoon and said I would stay two nights.
I had picked up a Thai road map and they had plenty of places of interest listed as well as many of the ancient temples. I woke early and headed for Phi Mai about 100k north east of Korat. I arrived at the temple site and impressed with what I found. Phi Mai is located in town on pristine well maintained grounds. Unlike Cambodia, Thailand didn’t endure the wars or bombing. The temple was well maintained and well preserved. What surprised me more, I was the only tourist. I thought about the hoards of people trampling around Angkor Wat as I found serene areas to photograph the temple. Pic 1
From Phi Mai, I would set off northeast to a Jayavarman 7 hospital at Nang Ram. Again the only person around I found a well preserved prasat and another set of ruins on well maintained grounds. Pic 2 Elated I made my way to Ban Sida, a prasat that was more in a ruinous state incorporated into a newer wat complex. What else was on my map? Another stop at a ruin with a few artifacts, then Ban Prasat which was a prehistoric dig site. I then made it to Phnom Wan, a larger temple about 7K northeast of Korat. It was the end of the day and the light was right. This temple was larger than the prasat out post I had seen earlier in the day but not as grandious as Phi Mai. By this time I had a feeling that each stop on this trip I would be the only visitor. Exited about my day, I booked another two nights in Korat. Pic 3 Phnom Wan.
On the second day, I would head west out of Korat to Sung Noen and Muang Sema. Muang Sema an acient town site only had foundations remaining. Pic 4 . A few Thai farmers grazed their cattle in the fields adjacent. I moved on to Sung Noen and visited a 7-8th century, 13.3 meter stone reclining Buddha. This was an easy day and the following day I would head south to Khonburi to visit another Jayavarman 7 hospital. Along the way I made a stop at Pha Kho which if I blinked I would have missed. It was mostly foundations with a few lotus tops of the temples off to the side. The Hospital at Khonburi sat in the center of a school yard. Pics 5 and 6
The following day I would make my way to Surin, but I had two important 16 year overdue stops to make. I arrived at Phnum Rung by 10 am and along with Phi Mai, one of the most impressive Khmer Temples outside of Cambodia. It was well preserved and had a few visitors, mostly Thais. From there I would travel to Muang Tam about 8 kilometers away. At Muang Tam I began to run into more Khmer speaking Thais. Muang Tam has seen various stages of development with old pre Angkor towers surrounded by later style construction. Pic 7. Both Muang Tam and Phnum Rung are along the Angkor Highway to Phi Mai and must have been significant communities in their day. After Muang Tam I got lost back tracking on back roads to Phra Angkhan, an ancient site that has since been upgraded to newer buildings. Not much Khmer architecture is present there. I made it to Surin by early evening and just in time to catch shelter from a serious downpour, in a food stall a block away from the hotel.
I would relax a little in Surin as it is a fun town at night. Various night clubs with 8 piece Isaan bands play into the wee hours. From Surin I hit a small hospital to the north, Choam Phra. A day of rest and motorcycle maintenance followed.
On my last day in Surin, I headed south to Ban Pluang, an ancient Hindu temple. Pic 8 The gardener there had something I had not seen in years, a gas powered lawn mower. We spoke a mix of Khmer and Thai and he told me of Muang Chai in Srok T’nol. Srok is the word for country (side) and I would use that for navigation. Along the way I saw a road sign indicating a turn off to Prasat Beng. I knew what a prasat was so I went to investigate. I found a small tower in a dilapidated state, but happy to make the find. I continued to Muang Chai. Muang Chai and Prasat Ban Prasat a Jayavarman 7 hospital made up the site.
I met a Thai couple at Muang Chai. Tom and Noi. Tom was from Surin and Noi was from Chayaphum. Noi found it strange that Tom could speak Khmer to this westerner and she couldn’t understand. We both relayed we were on an outing and they asked where I would go next. I said I had heard of one more temple on my list and if they wanted to tag along they were welcome. We traveled back towards Surin and made it to the area I believed we should turn off. Tom asked some locals if there were any old things in the neighborhood and they said yes. Turning off the main road Tom stopped for gas and asked the gas attendant. No nothing here they said. I told him, Tom I do this in Cambodia, I know something is here, you know something is here, and the gardener from Ban Pluang knows its here. Quite often people live right on top of things and never realize it. He asked another person at the gas stop. They knew and pointed us in the right direction to Ban Plai. Noi thought it was the neatest thing to realize the finale of the adventure. On to the temple grounds we were greeted with two ancient prasats. A third no longer existed. Pic 9
Pic 10 Si Khoraphum north east of Surin I had seen in 2007
There are many minor temples scattered between Korat and Ubon in Thailand as well as Wat Phu just farther east in Laos, many of which will see very few visitors, but with a little luck, I will be one of those few.
I left Surin and made it back to Siem Reap in a day. Since my last trip through this area, the road was just over one lane and dirt. It was now 4 lanes wide and packed dirt ready to be paved. I skirted into Bantey Srei on a dirt path and this would be the last time I would be doing this as a new by pass road was near completion. I caught a few of the temples in the Angkor complex just before sunset, and unlike my first visit in 1999, it was crawling with tourist. Despite increased tourist numbers, I had just visited outpost spread all over the other side of the border, and driving past Angkor Wat, the Heart of the Angkor civilization, put it all into perspective. Pt. 3 of 4 for this assignment.