The Temple on a Volcano: Phanom Rung, Thailand

Naga Phanom Rung

When you visit Thailand, you are going to be very excited to see some Thai temples. And you should be excited, because they are pretty damn impressive. From the Wats of Bangkok to the crumbling ruins of Sukhothai, there is enough temple in Thailand to sate even the hungriest of temple addicts.

It might surprise you though, to learn that you can actually become somewhat overwhelmed by all the temples on offer, leading to you suffering from the travellers malady of being “templed out”. Symptoms include a lack of enthusiasm for visiting temples, uttering phrases such as “all these temples look the same” or “It’s not as good as Angkor Wat”, with the final result being that you’d rather stay in your hotel with a book instead of venture out.

If these symptoms do overwhelm you, fear not, I have a whole post about keeping the awe alive, which you can read here.

Luckily, being templed out was not a problem for us in Thailand, despite having spent days exploring places like Sukhothai and Ayutthaya. Everywhere we visited was just so interesting and different, incomparable and unique.

Phanom Rung was no exception - a temple which can be found perched on an extinct volcano, way over in the eastern part of Thailand, far away from the usual north-south trail, and a wonderful place for a few hours exploration.

Some brief history

I’m not one to bang on about history, but I figured a quick bit of background won’t do you any harm. Phanom Rung was built by the Khmer Empire (the same geezers who built Angkor Wat), between the 10th and 13th centuries, which makes parts of it older than Angkor. It is one of five Khmer temples that can be found in Thailand.

Phnom Rung is a Hindu shrine, built in dedication to Shiva, and symbolises Mount Kailash, his heavenly dwelling. These days it is open to the public, in the Phanom Rung historical park. It has also been submitted for evaluation as a UNESCO world heritage site, a title of which I think it is entirely deserving.

I suspect that’ll probably do for history. Let’s get on with seeing what this place is like to explore…

Highlights from a trip to Phanom Rung

The best way for me to share Phanom Rung with you is via the medium of the photograph, which will explain the place better than I ever could. Let’s take a wander.

Phanom Rung Entrance walkway Thailand 3

After climbing the staircase from the visitor centre (which has an excellent information display about the history of the place, if you feel the urge to get a bit more detailed than my “It’s really old, woo!” explanation), you are greeted by this long pathway to the main temple complex.

To the right, out of shot, is the “changing room”, a large pavilion where, you guessed it, the royal family would change into processional garbs before taking on the Processional Walkway, which is the 160m long pathway in the photo above.

Naga stairways up to Phnom Rung temple Thailand 1

Once you’ve walked the full length of the walkway, between the lotus bud tipped sandstone posts, you’ll come to three Naga bridges which lead up to the temple. Guarded by five-headed Naga’s (fearsome looking chaps), the first of these bridges represents the connection between heaven and earth.

First Naga bridge Phanom Rung Thailand

The view back along that processional walkway isn’t half bad either.

Phanom Rung temple entrance

At the top of the stairway there is an area with lotus filled ponds, as well as the outer wall of the temple, which can be accessed via this rather impressive doorway. Through this door you can see the light of the inner gallery, and in fact, all the way through the main tower and out the other side of the temple complex.

Phnom Rung main temple

The inner gallery is a large space dominated by the main temple, which takes up this shot. This would have been where the main rites would have taken place, and was also home to the linga – the symbol of Shiva.

Phnom Rung temple Thailand

More shots of the main temple and entranceways. There are four doorways into the main tower, one on each side.

Phanom Rung Temple detail up close

The detail on the lintels and temple walls is quite remarkable.

Phnom Rung from outside wall Thailand 2

Finally, a shot from the far side of the temple, having emerged through the outer walls. The location, 400m up at the top of a volcano in the middle of an otherwise flat plain, means that as well as great views of the temple, there are also lovely views of the surrounding area which will impress you, and make all the stairs climbed to this point seem worthwhile!

How to get here & around

Phanom Rung isn’t exactly on the main tourist trail, so getting here will require a bit of legwork. The best way is going to be with your own transport, be that a car or a scooter.

Alternatively, you could consider a tour, either privately arranged with transport and driver, or as part of a larger group. There is no public transport that I could find to Phanom Rung, so that option is out of the window.

Where to stay

The nearest town is Nang Rong, 35km away. Whilst this isn’t exactly a must visit destination, the fact that it’s not on the tourist trail does make it an interesting place to stay for a night. You can get here by bus from Bangkok, and there are a number of accommodation options.

Other attractions

Since you’ve made the effort to come here, it would be a shame to only see one temple! Luckily, there is plenty more to see in this area, all of which will be covered in an upcoming post.

 Prasat Muang Tam should be very high up on your to-do list, another Khmer temple dating from the same time as Phanom Rung. This one is surrounded by beautiful ponds, making for some lovely reflections.

The Silk weaving village. One of the projects of the Queen, this village creates, as the name would suggest, silk. The whole process of silk weaving, from the worms to the material, is on display, and you can even have a go at weaving yourself.

For a real dose of knowledge the Northeastern Cultural Centre is where you need to come. This details the history of this part of the world, covering the rise and fall of the Khmer empire, various Thai Kings, and of course, loads of information about the architecture. A good starting point for your explorations!

Our transport and accomodation to Phanom Rung was arranged in partnership with the Tourism Authority of Thailand, although we paid our own entry fees to this particular temple. Which, as you can see, was very much worth it!

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