Last week I drove through Lopburi & Khao Yai National Park. The next leg of my trip took me to the Prasat hin Phimai Historical Park, the former beginning of the Khmer highway to Angkor Wat. There was no toll to pay 800 years ago and there is still not one today LOL, although you need to pay your ticket to enter the historical park.
One thousand years ago the Khmer empire was one of the widest in the world, occupying what today goes from Burma to Thailand, part of Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. It lasted for 600 years and Prasat hin Phimai was one of the main sites on which the Khmer empire was based on.
What was Phimai used for
As previously said, the Phimai temple was built to delimit the start of the Ancient Khmer Highway ending in Angkor Wat, over 250km south east.
When was Phimai built?
Approximately in the 11th century when this region was part of the Khmer empire, what is today know as Cambodia.
What I did not realized till I visited the place was that the land size of Angkor Wat and Prasat hin Phimai temple are pretty similar, which gives an idea of how important was this settlement for the Khmer empire.
Prasat hin Phimai was originally a Mahayana Buddhist sanctuary which is quite surprising, considering that the Khmer, at that time, were mostly Hindu
The carvings also feature many Hindu deities and, as explained in the visitor centre, design elements at Prasat Phimai actually influenced Angkor Wat.
You may get lost in the Phimai Historical Park, even if it does not look like, it is quite big. It’s highly suggested to pick up a map when you buy the entrance ticket.
How to get to Phimai Historical Park
I decided to start my trip from Bangkok renting a car. I drove to Ayutthaya where I stopped 2 days to see the ancient Siam capital. I passed through Lopburi, famous for its monkey colony spreading in the town centre and living peacefully with the local population. I stopped for few days in the Khao Yai National Park, well known for its flora and fauna.
Phimai by car
I have experienced an incredible trip driving on my own, a trip that would have taken much more time with public transportation. I usually rent a scooter whenever I am in Asia and driving a car for hundreds of km was a new experience which provided the incredible freedom to change my plan on the go.
The below map shows the route planned for this trip which I collected with my GPS (see my Best travel photography apps for more information)
I had still a question mark. I planned to pass the Thailand/Cambodia border to go to Angkor Wat, would have been possible?
Phimai by bus
As part of my original investigation I checked the bus transportation system to see if and how I could reach Phimai. As it happens in most of Asia, be sure there is almost always a bus that will take you there, if timing is not an issue.
There are no direct connections between Bangkok and Prasat hin Phimai. You would have to stop over in Khorat, which is not that bad. Take a bus in Bangkok at the Mo Chit Northern Bus Terminal. It is a 3.5 hours trip (this is just an estimate). From Khorat there are buses every 30 minutes or so to Phimai (budget another 1.5-2 hours)
Phimai by minivan
Again there is always a minivan to everywhere in Thailand 😀 The square Victory Monument in Bangkok is the departure place. The price is similar to the public bus (around 200 baht) however the trip is quicker…and more dangerous too as most of the drivers want to beat the own personal record in any new trip.
From Khorat you will have to take again the bus to Phimai
Phimai Historical Park entrance fee
Do not be surprise if the entrance fee is different for foreigners and locals. I find it quite fair, considering the living cost in Thailand compared with the rest of the industrial world.
The entrance fee to the Phimai Historical Park is 100 baht for foreigners and 30 baht (or 40, I am not sure) for the locals
Phimai is as beautiful as Angkor, although much less busy and you will have your own time to explore the area without having lots of other tourists in your image
Photography in Prasat hin Phimai
Worthless to say you should plan your visit in the late afternoon. You will not be able to enter for the sunrise but, based on the season you visit the site, the sunset may be close to the closure time, around 6pm. I started my visit around 3pm to give me plenty of time to wonder around and check the best spots for the last photos with the best light.
Visits around noon time should be avoided as it can be really hot!
The site is usually visited by many local schools. I love the kids running around and I would never hesitate to have them as a subject in my photos. It gives that sense of freedom related to the importance of the site. It would never happen in Europe or Australia, it’s typical Asian style. I was also lucky to have the entire class posing for me 🙂
My favourite spot is behind the small billabong/pond with the ruins in the foreground reflected in the water.
Also the Buddha room at the centre of the historical site is beautiful, especially if photographed through the many entrances, in a never ending tunnel
At last I suggest a walk to the bottom end of the site where you will find a formal temple which is just missing the roof, but still in great condition, with imposing columns on both sides. Another great place to make few photos
If you have a DSLR take a lens to cover 20-50mm. If you have a wide angle (14-24mm) take that one, it will work better inside the temples
Sai Ngam, the famous Banyan tree
Do not miss a visit to Sai Ngam, home of Thailand’s largest Banyan tree. You can walk there from Prasat Phimai, rent a bike or take a short taxi ride. The best light is in the early morning with a nice reflection of the first rays in the water. If you are lucky you may encounter the cleaners taking care of the lake around the famous Banyan tree
There is also an open air temple in the island, not to be missed for its beautiful colours
Phimai Paradise Hotel
Phimai is a a small sleepy town with few guest houses and local restaurants. Prices tend to be much cheaper than the Thai average, which basically means that your day will be really inexpensive!
I booked my stay at the Phimai Paradise Hotel. It is very conveniently located and it has a great swimming pool to spend the hottest part of the day. The rooms are very clean. The interior is what you need with air condition. It all worked great. There are also few local restaurants nearby to have some food. All I needed
From here I started experiencing the real Isan cuisine, a Thai hot variation common to the north east of the country (I mean hotter than the usual hot Thai cuisine)
Map of the Prasat Phimai Historical Park and Phimai area