In 2008 Cambodia’s magnificent mountain top Angkor period temple, Preah Vihear received UNESCO World Heritage status and to our minds justifiably so, even if it did provoke some serious bickering between the neighbours Thailand and Cambodia as to exactly which side of the border the surrounding area belonged to. Whilst Thailand’s Khao Pra Viharn public toilets, snack bars and car park were overlooked as far as potentially granting joint UNESCO status for the site we do fail to grasp however why the equally magnificent 12th century Phnom Rung Temple was also completely overlooked.
Phnom Rung lies firmly on Thai soil some distance north of the border in eastern Thailand’s Buriram province and so was fortunate to escape many of the ravages of war, lawlessness and looting that Khmer temples, and indeed some of the remote and disputed border sites, did suffer. What you have today is simply one of the best-preserved major Angkor period temples to be found anywhere in Southeast Asia.
Furthermore, the site dates from the classic period of Angkor architecture, having been mainly constructed during the reign of Suryavarman II, and so is contemporary with and in a similar style to, Angkor Wat itself. A marvellous opportunity then to see a period temple more or less as it was originally built and conceived with only minimal decay and minimal restoration.
However, with only a tiny fraction of all foreign visitors to Thailand venturing into this northeast region and Buriram Province itself being well off the beaten tourist trail this magnificent site sadly sees very few visitors. However, Phnom Rung’s not an isolated site either and a short distance across the paddy-fields lies the equally magnificent temple site of Muan (Muang) Tam whilst south on the border are the atmospheric Angkor ruins of Ta Muan. The three sites, all reached through scenic countryside and tranquil, traditional villages make for a wonderful day trip whilst the nearby towns of Surin and Buriram have fine accommodation, eateries and transport links.
Yes, being so well preserved and maintained Phnom Rung doesn’t have the atmospheric and photogenic giant trees and roots but how many temples at Angkor can lay claim to having been built atop an extinct volcano!? The intact staircase leading up to the hill-top temple is magnificent and whilst somewhat manicured for certain tastes the surrounding gardens and parkland are great for picnicking, birdlife and butterflies and afford spectacular views of the sandstone temple.
Furthermore whilst not all the Phnom Rung carvings and reliefs have escaped damage many have such as the well-preserved war elephant scene above. An entrance ticket to Phnom Rung also covers the Muang Tam site; an earlier, originally 10th-century temple, lying a few kilometres to the southeast. As we said a great day out and a pity more foreign visitors don’t get to see these awesome sites.