Not quite Angkor Wat, but these two Khmer-built temples inside Thailand were some of the most impressively restored momuments from the 12th century we’ve seen on this (or any) trip. We started out on a mission to see Phanom Rung historical park (photo on the left), which is situated the summit of an extinct volcano 100kms from the middle of nowhere; nowhere being the small town of Buriram we took the train to and spent the night in.
The ruins are great. There is a small museum attached to the park and little descriptive signs next to most doorways that describe the intricate carvings that tell a long story of the Shiva (these were originally Hindu-inspired temples), and then later the Buddha. The site was small, but extremeley well restored and we enjoyed wandering around for a couple of hours, being only two of a handful of farangs that made the journey.
We had intended to only go here on our really quick day trip, but since we hadn’t brought anything but our day-packs and we finished up by lunch time (when the thermometer was already climbing well past 100F), we decided to try and make a complete circuit and get up to Phimai as well. After a short ride in the back of a pick-up to the local whistle stop of Nong Rang, a slightly longer ride in a not-so-air-con bus to the provincial capital of Khorat, and then a hurried bus trip the final leg to the small town of Phimai, we realized that we had no idea where the ruins were or how to get to them. Turned out we didn’t need to, as the historical park is smack dab in the middle of town, with the ancient stone walls carving out a nicely manicured spot of green, hemmed in by shops on one side, a soccer field on the other, and houses all around. We’re really glad we went out to Phimai as the ruins were even more extensive (this site had a road connecting it directly to Angkor), and the little town was quite enjoyable for the couple of hours we were there. There was a national museum that is supposed to have some good Khmer sculpture, but we missed it’s closing time of 4pm (we barely made it to the ruins before they closed at 6pm).
We were able to hop on the last bus back to Khorat (a rickety old local bus with holes in the floor and doors that didn’t close), finally arriving with about 4 hours to kill before our train was leaving. Our tickets were actually supposed to be from the previous town of Buriram, but we figured that since we paid the full fare from the further stop, we’d be OK picking up the train a couple hours later (yeah, we hoped the enterprising locals wouldn’t sell our seats).
Wandered around Khorat for the evening, got some good food at the local night bazaar, saw some truely interesting local culture, and finally stumbled out to the station. By the time we climbed in to our sleeping compartment we stunk to high heaven. The whole time we’ve been here we’ve tended to take three to five showers a day to ward off stench and exhaustion…we just went 18 hours in 115 degree heat all day. Luckily, we splurged for 1st class sleeper on the ride back to Bangkok, for something like $20, so we took a quick sponge bath and fell in to bed, awoken at 5am by a railway cop telling us we were at the last stop and had to get off. Our favorite hotel was nice enough to let us check in early, so we’ve been relaxing all day, running a few last-minute errands, and are spending tonight relaxing around Bangkok, probably going to see a movie or something mellow as we have to head to the airport at 4:30am tomorrow morning to try to get seats together on our totally oversold flight.
It’s been a great trip, but we’re excited to be going home…that’s always how it is at the end of a long journey, you start thinking about what’s next!