In a nutshell
Phanom Rung is one of the most impressive Khmer temple complexes that you will find in Thailand.
Why go to Phanom Rung
Located on the top of an extinct volcano in the Buriram province, 65 km from the city of Buriram, it is an easy day trip destination from the province capital, while those who would like to spend one or more nights in the proximity of the ruins can decide to stop in the little town of Nang Rong, just 27 km away.
The construction of Phanom Rung started in the 10th century and it was originally a Hindu sanctuary dedicated to Shiva. Converted into a Buddhist temple during the Ayutthaya Kingdom, several additions were made to the complex through the centuries until, during the 70s and 80s, it went through a massive restoration project led by the Department of Fine Arts which brought it back its original magnificence.
The Historical Park of Phanom Rung has been recently submitted to UNESCO to obtain the World Heritage Site status and the evaluation is still in the process.
At the base of the same volcano, there is another important archaeological site, also open for visitors, which is Prasat Mueang Tam. It is believed to have been the capital of the region during the Khmer empire, and it can be perfectly paired with a visit to Phanom Rung.
When to go to Phanom Rung
The dry season between November and May is the best time of the year to visit Phanom Rung. But even if you’re around during the rainy season, don’t be discouraged; Buriram province is one of areas less affected by the monsoon and even on a rainy day you probably won’t see a lot of water.
If you happen to be around end of March–beginning of April, note that every year Phanom Rung Historical Park festival featuring a special ceremony is held in that period. At dawn, the first sunrays will perfectly shine through the all the 15 doors of the sanctuary creating a magical atmosphere that will be celebrated with ceremonies, chanting, dances and even fireworks.
Where to stay in Phanom Rung
If you want to sleep close to Phanom Rung, the best option that you have is Nang Rong, a small village 27 km away. A few small guesthouses and a slightly more pretentious hotel are more than enough to satisfy any traveller’s needs for few nights. We recommend you to check out Honey Inn (8/1 Soi Sri Koon) where you can get a simple but clean double room with private bathroom with air-con for THB350 (THB250 with fan). The owner speaks good English and you can rent a motorbike (THB250 per day) which will make your visit to the ruins a lot more flexible and pleasant. They also offer free pick up service from the bus station.
Another place worth mentioning is California Hostel though they do have private rooms with air-con and en-suite bathrooms. We enjoyed a very warm welcome from the owner who also speaks perfect English. We were arriving well after midnight but as it was agreed over the phone the owner woke up on our arrival and accommodated us in a large THB500 room.
A few places can be found closer to Phanom Rung, but you’ll need your own wheels to get there and to move around, and you’ll end up getting stuck in your guesthouse for the whole evening since there’s nothing around.
Where to eat in Phanom Rung
Regional Isaan food takes the lion’s share when it comes to food in Buriram province. If you stay in Nang Rong, every evening street vendors will give you the chance to try authentic local specialties at Thai prices (THB30/THB60 for the majority of them). Don’t be afraid to experiment since Isaan food is widely considered one of the best in Thailand. Just be aware that everything can be extremely spicy; when you order, ask for phet nit noi if you want it less spicy.
Note that Nang Rong does not have a bustling restaurant scene and your choice is limited to a couple of simple restaurants by the pond.
For Western food head to the bigger hotel restaurants; don’t expect a big choice but they all have a few options in their menu. While visiting the ruins you’ll find simple restaurants close to the parking where you can have lunch or buy drinks before or after your visit.
How to get around Phanom Rung
To visit Phanom Rung Historical Park you have no other option than your feet. The Park is not too big but be prepared to do some exercise climbing the stairs that will take you to the top of the hill.
How to get to and from Phanom Rung
Phanom Rung and the other ruins in the area can only be reached either from Nang Rong or Buriram.
Once in Nang Rong, we recommend you to rent a motorbike for THB250 to be able to visit the different sites without a fixed schedule. Alternatively you can hire a car with a driver for the day with pricing varying depending on how many sites you want to visit. Expect to pay at least THB1000 to go to Phanom Rung and Prasat Mueang Tam, more if you want to include other options. Any guesthouse and hotel will be able to organize it for you.
Another option to get from both Nang Rong and Buriram to Phanom Rung Historical park is to take any west-bound bus and ask the driver to drop you off at Baan Ta Pek, a small village few km away from Phanom Rung. From there you can get a motorbike taxi to the park entrance for THB50. This can be a bit complicated since it is more than likely that no one on the bus will speak English at all, so we would recommend it only to experienced traveller or people on a really thigh budget.
For detailed information on how to get to Buriram please refer to the dedicated articles.
How to get to and from Nang Rong
There are two bus stations in Nang Rong: the smaller in-town bus station and the larger bo-ko-so, sitting on the highway. Motorbike taxis are readily available at the both bus stations to bring you either to your guesthouse in Nang Rong or to the park.
Some of the Buriram bound buses from Bangkok’s Morchit station depart throughout the day roughly every hour from 9am to 11pm and pass via Nang Rong. The trip takes five hours and tickets cost THB400 for a VIP bus and THB300 for an express class.
From/to Buriram minivans leave the bus station every hour. Tickets cost THB40 and it takes about one hour to get to Nang Rong.
Nang Rong has direct buses to Khorat (THB60, two hours), Ubon Ratchatani (THB200, 6 hours) and Chanthaburi (THB300, 7 hours).
Is Phanom Rung a safe place to visit?
Both the archaeological sites and Nang Rong are safe places to travel. Don’t expect to meet many foreigners in Nang Rong at night, but locals are friendly and ready to help you.
In some of the guesthouses the staff speak some basic English.
When riding a motorbike remember to wear the helmet and be especially careful during the rainy season when due to the heavy storms the roads are not always in perfect conditions.
There’s a hospital in Nang Rong if you need any medical assistance.