Prasat Hin Phimai
Built in the 11th century, this temple complex had a great importance as it marked the starting point of the road connecting Phimai to Angkor Wat. Even if what is left today is just a small part of the original construction, the size of the plot occupied by Angkor Wat and Prasat Hin Phimai are quite similar. On top of that it’s commonly believed that Phimai style inspired the architects of Angkor Wat since there are evident similarity between the temples of the two sites.
Unfortunately today only few of the original constructions in Phimai are left, but they are still impressive and it’s not hard to imagine the times when Prasat Hin Phimai could compete with Angkor Wat in its magnificence.
Differing from almost every other Khmer ruins in Thailand, Prasat Hin Phimai was built as a Buddhist sanctuary which is quite unusual since the prevailing religion of the period for the Khmer was Hindu; yet the complex also features elements designed to celebrate Hindu’s Gods.
The impressive 28 m tall central prang (a typical Khmer tower) is the largest in Thailand and it symbolizes the Mount Meru, which is believed to be the residence of Gods.
When planning your visit, calculate to spend at least three hours in the historical park and try to be there around closing time to get the best pictures at sunset. The park is really a great place even if you’re not a huge fan of ruins. During the weekdays you’ll meet very few tourists and the atmosphere is extremely pleasant and quiet. The entrance fee is THB100 and the park is open every day from 7.30am till 6.pm. To get there just walk few meters west of the clock tower; you cannot miss it.
Phimai National Museum
The museum went through a big renovation in 2014 and it is now one of the best museums in Isaan region. It houses collections of items from the Khmer periods along with prehistoric finds from previous centuries. It also has a separate section dedicated to traditional everyday life in Isaan and it’s an interesting stop for everyone who wants to know a little bit more about the history of the region. The museum is located 500 m north of the historical park and iis open every day from 9am till 4pm.
Sai Ngam is a giant Banyan tree which grew into the whole forest and now occupies a whole island amid a small pond. The main characteristic of Banyan trees is that they literally grow on themself; when a seed drops from one branch to another, a new trunk will grow from there and the process goes on for centuries giving life to a an impressive intricate system of branches and roots.
The first original trunk of this giant tree is believed to be over 350 years old. The tree covers an area of more than 3000 square meters and it is a significant symbol in Buddhism since it’s believed that Buddha reached enlightenment while sitting under a Banyan tree. Thai people also believe that spirits of any kind choose such trees as their permanent residence and for this reason they build shrines and regularly visit them to make offers and pay respect to them.
If possible visit Sai Ngam at dawn; the sunrays coming through the forest in the morning light are magical. Entrance is free of charge and for a better experience it’s best to avoid weekends since it’s a popular picnic destination for Thais. Sai Ngam is located a couple of km west of the clock tower and can be reached by bicycle or motorbike taxi if you don’t want to walk for 20 minutes.