Phimai Historical Park – Is it worth the trip?
The Phimai Historical Park is one of the most beautiful Khmer temples in Thailand. 800 years ago this park used to be the start of the ancient Khmer Highway which ended in Angkor Wat.
The size is much smaller than the Cambodian destination, however, the beauty is more than comparable.
Phima is located over 400 km east of Bangkok, not an easy destination to get to, however, in my opinion totally worth it and I explain to you why in this post. I have also added all you need to know to reach this amazing place.
Phimai Historical Park – The 7 Key Points
- Historical Significance: Phimai Historical Park was one of the capitals of the Khmer Empire and marks the start of the Ancient Khmer Highway to Angkor Wat.
- Architectural Marvel: The park is home to stunning Khmer temples that rival the beauty of Angkor Wat, despite being smaller in size.
- Cultural Fusion: The site was originally a Mahayana Buddhist sanctuary but also features Hindu deities, showcasing the religious diversity of the Khmer Empire.
- Visitor Experience: The park is less crowded compared to Angkor, offering a more serene experience. Don’t forget to pick up a map at the entrance.
- Entrance Fee: The fee is around 100 baht for foreigners and 30 baht for locals, which is considered fair given the living cost differences.
- Best Time to Visit: November to February is the ideal period to explore the park, thanks to the cooler weather.
- Getting There: Multiple options are available, from renting a car to taking a bus, with potential stops in Ayutthaya and Lopburi for added adventure.
Why is Phimai Historical Park So Important and Beautiful?
Over a thousand years ago the Khmer Empire occupied what today goes from Burma to Thailand and also part of Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. It lasted for 600 years and Prasat hin Phimai was one of the capitals of the Khmer Empire was based on.
The Phimai temple was built to delimit the start of the Ancient Khmer Highway ending in Angkor Wat, over 250km southeast.
When was the Phimai Historical Park built?
Approximately in the 11th century, when this region was part of the Khmer Empire, what is today known as Cambodia.
What I did not realise 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, it is quite big. It’s highly suggested to pick up a map when you buy the entrance ticket.
Phimai Historical Park entrance fee
Do not be surprised 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 around 100 baht for foreigners and 30 baht for the locals
Phimai is as beautiful as Angkor, although not as busy and you will have your own time to explore the area without having lots of other tourists in your photos.
Essential Travel Tips for Visiting Phimai Historical Park
The best months to visit are from November to February when the weather is cooler and more comfortable for exploring. If you’re visiting during the hot season, lightweight, breathable clothing is a must. Don’t forget a hat and sunscreen to protect against the strong Thai sun.
As for language, while many staff and guides speak English, a few basic Thai phrases can go a long way in enhancing your experience. Simple words like “Sawasdee” for hello and “Khob Khun” for thank you can make interactions more meaningful.
Lastly, consider hiring a local guide. Not only will you gain deeper insights into the historical and cultural significance of the ruins, but you’re also supporting the local economy. It’s a win-win!
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 3 pm to give me plenty of time to wander 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.
My favourite spot is behind the small 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 take a few photos
A wide-angle (14-24mm) is probably the best lens to take at the temple. It will give you more choice, although there are a few shots that need a 100mm.
Sai Ngam, the famous Banyan tree
Once in Phima, 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 on the island, not to be missed for its beautiful colours
How to get to Phimai Historical Park
As it usually happens in Thailand, there are plenty of ways to arrive to your destination. I suggest you planning a stop in Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Siam.
If you have enough days, I would also have at least a night at the Lopburi Monkey Temple, a unique experience
Phimai by car
For my latest trip, I decided to rent a car in Bangkok. How was it?
Well, I had my best time in Thailand. I did not have any trouble driving outside Bangkok. I rented the vehicle at Bangkok Airport and I left the capital avoiding the big stress of the city centre
The main roads are quite wide and the local drivers were not as crazy as the many mythical stories on the web. Certainly, I was always very careful but, again, no problems at all.
With the 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 that gave me incredible freedom to change my plan on the go. Stop at the local markets, have a break in a small village, visit hidden temples.
Phimai by bus
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-hour 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
There is always a minivan to everywhere in Thailand 😀 In this case, head to Victory Monument Square in Bangkok, 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 their own personal record on any new trip.
From Khorat, you will have to take again the bus to Phimai
Where did I sleep in Phimai
Phimai is 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 Paradise Boutique Hotel. It is very conveniently located and the rooms are very clean. The interior is what you need with air conditioning. It all worked great. There are also a 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 northeast of the country (I mean hotter than the usual hot Thai cuisine)