Prasat Muang Tam Sanctuary – How to get there and what to see
It may be not the most famous destination in Thailand but surely the Prasat Muang Tam Sanctuary is a gem you shouldn’t overlook, especially if you are looking for an off-the-beaten-path place to experience.
This historical site offers a unique peek into Thailand’s rich heritage. While you’re in the area, the nearby Phanom Rung Historical Park is another must-see, boasting impressive ruins that speak volumes of its ancient past.
And for those with a penchant for nature, there’s an intriguing volcano nearby that’s worth a visit. All in all, if you’re looking to enrich your Thai experience with a mix of history and nature, these spots should be on your list.
In this guide, you will discover all you need to know to visit the area including how to get there.
Prasat Muang Tam sanctuary
Yes, also the Khmer had sanctuaries and the Prasat Muang Tam is a great example of them. Built over 1000 years ago it is still in great condition, especially considering the limited funding they receive for maintenance.
The main temple is situated on a man-made island. Here is a great tip, visit the temple in the last two hours before they close, almost at sunset.
This has a few benefits as avoiding the hot hours of the day, having good light for photography and fewer tourists around which usually go to the historical sites in the morning.
On my last visit, I had Muang Tam almost for myself, beautiful!
It was so quiet that I could close my eyes and be transported back to the 10th century!
The Prasat Muang Tam history is actually quite interesting. It was built in the 10-11th centuries and abandoned 700 years ago however 100 years ago people went back to the area and built a village around it. The Muang Tam official website has plenty of information if you are interested to read more.
Prasat Muang Tam Sanctuary – Key points
The name “Muang Tam” translates to “Lower City”, and the sanctuary is situated at the base of a mountain, which also houses the renowned Phanom Rung temple.
- Historical Background: Prasat Muang Tam dates back to the 10th to 11th centuries and was built during the Khmer Empire, which was a powerful state in Southeast Asia. The architecture and inscriptions found at Muang Tam indicate that the temple was dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.
- Architectural Highlights: The temple complex is well-known for its intricate layout, consisting of four lotus ponds situated outside the inner sanctuary. The main sanctuary itself comprises five towers built of sandstone and laterite. Beautifully carved lintels depict various Hindu myths.
- Cultural Significance: The architecture of Prasat Muang Tam is heavily influenced by the prevailing style of the Khmer Empire, bearing similarities to other notable temples like Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The presence of this temple, along with others in the region, signifies the extent of the Khmer Empire’s influence over what is now modern-day Thailand.
For visitors to northeastern Thailand, Prasat Muang Tam offers a unique opportunity to step back in time and immerse oneself in the architectural and spiritual legacy of the Khmer Empire.
Phanom Rung volcano
The Phanom Rung Historical Park is sitting on an extinct volcano at 400m over the sea level. Another must-see in the area.
The view to the valley is magnificent, at least I was told by a local guy I had a talk. Unfortunately, it was not that good when I was there. Yes, I could see the valley, but with really poor visibility due to the mix of mist and clouds that obfuscated the view.
You may be luckier than me, especially if you visit the site in the early morning. The best viewpoint is at the bottom end of the Phanom Rung Historical Park. Follow the signals for the toilets and go behind it, where the small bar is.
Phanom Rung temple
Phanom Rung is probably the most beautiful Khmer temple in Thailand. The area was planned by the Khmer architects with a main entrance and a very long bridge that takes visitors to the building section. It really resembles the main temple in Angkor Wat.
True, the Phanom Rung Historical Park is not as extensive as the Phimai Historical Park however, to my eyes, it is more magnificent.
Built between the 10th and the 13th century, Phanom Rung was a Hindu shrine dedicated to Shiva. You can read more historical and architectural information on the Wiki page.
Of all the Khmer sites I have been visiting, this is the better preserved one, with maintenance work still around, although not really noticeable. Being there around the closure time allowed me to enjoy the area almost by myself.
Phanom Rung temple – 10 Key points
- Ancient Khmer Temple: Phanom Rung is a Hindu temple complex built during the Khmer Empire, which dominated much of Southeast Asia from the 9th to the 15th centuries.
- Location: It’s situated atop an extinct volcano in the Buri Ram Province of northeastern Thailand, offering visitors panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
- Dedicated to Shiva: The temple is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and symbolizes Mount Kailash, believed to be his heavenly dwelling.
- Architectural Marvel: The complex is renowned for its outstanding architecture, with its sandstone and laterite structures featuring intricate carvings depicting Hindu mythology.
- Aligned with the Cosmos: The temple is known for its alignment with the sun. During certain times of the year, the sun shines through all 15 doors of the sanctuary, a phenomenon that attracts many visitors.
- Festivals & Celebrations: The annual Phanom Rung Festival celebrates this solar phenomenon with traditional performances, ceremonies, and a light & sound show.
- Preservation & Restoration: The temple underwent extensive restoration in the 20th century, overseen by the Thai Department of Fine Arts, ensuring its preservation for future generations.
- Naga Bridge: One of the temple’s iconic features is the Naga Bridge, which symbolizes the passage from the earthly realm to the divine.
- UNESCO Tentative List: Phanom Rung is on Thailand’s tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage status, recognizing its historical and cultural significance.
- Tourist Attraction: Today, Phanom Rung is one of Thailand’s most visited ancient sites, drawing both local and international tourists keen on exploring the nation’s rich historical tapestry.
Phanom Rung historical park tour
The entrance fee to the park is 100Baht, or 150Baht if including Muang Tam. The park is open from sunrise to sunset (around 6am to 6pm). Once you buy the tickets you can also decide to either buy a book, for your personal tour or take a local guide that will go into the details of the temple with you.
Prasat Muang Tam – how to get there
There are a few ways to visit Phanom Rung and extend your visit to Muang Tam. The first and easiest way is by renting a car. The other possibility is to rent a scooter from Nang Rong (connected by bus to Bangkok).
The alternatives are either by minivan or taxi, both again from Nang Rong, the closest town with a reasonable choice of accommodation.
We decided to include the Prasat Muang Tam in our driving itinerary from Bangkok to Angkor Wat.
The road from Thailand’s capital to Nang Rong (340 km) is super easy with highways and secondary roads well maintained. Renting a car in Bangkok has actually been one of the greatest ideas we could have. The trip has been so easygoing.
From Nang Rong to the Phanom Rung Historical Park, it is an easy 26km drive. Add another 8km and you are in Muang Tam.
By bus and minivan
Before renting a car I checked a few alternatives leaving Bangkok. There is a direct bus from the Mo Chit station in the north-eastern part of the city to Nang Rong that takes around 5-6 hours, based on traffic and unplanned stops.
Once in Nang Rong, you can rent a motorbike/scooter (250-300 baht). The alternative would have been a rented motor taxi for a day (600-700baht).
I asked also my accommodation if there was any trip/minivan visiting both and the answer was yes (as expected in Thailand, everything is possible). So ask your host or shop around the city in one of the few travel agencies.
Where did I sleep
I decided to sleep in Nang Rong and keep the small town as a base to visit both areas and the Ta Moan temple in nobody’s land.
The accommodation availability is somehow limited, although options are always there. I decided to stay at the PP Pool Resort. It’s one of the nicest hotels in town and at a great value, especially considering they have a nice pool too. Being far away from the typical touristy path highlights how extremely good value can be Thailand.
The garden was lovely and the bedroom perfect for a night stay, clean and well organised
Nang Rong is also a good place to organise VISA and border formalities for Cambodia.
Travel Photography tips
- January to March are the driest months and you will have the best sunsets and sunrises
- visit Phanom Rung and Muang Tam very late in the afternoon, almost wait for the security to kick you out. You will get the best colours as they tend to close very late, almost at sunset.
- walk to the back of the Phanom Rung main temple, where the toilets are. You will have a beautiful view of the valley, the perfect place for some landscape photography (you will be facing west)
- use the Muang Tam sanctuary reflection in the ponds for some interesting photography
- check the map for the three sites to visit
Map with top sites to visit
The above map includes also the Ta Moan temple in nobody’s land.