Touring Stone Sanctuaries in the Northeast the Heritage of Suvarnabhumi

| March 14, 2016

Around the 5th century A.D, the area which is presently Northeastern Thailand was the originating site of the Khmer Empire which prospered for hundreds of year. extending to the east up to Angkor. (evidenced by the marvelous Angkor Wat. a wonder of the world in Cambodia) and gradually declined towards the end of the 12th century. Over the seven centuries. various kings of the Khmer Empire created numerous stone sanctuaries as places of worship in Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism. Roads from Angkor were built to cities and towns in all directions. One of the ancient roads runs through the site of the Phanom Rung hilltop shrine to end at Phimai Sanctuary on the Korat Plateau. All along the route. several stone sanctuaries can be found. as proud heritage in Lower Northeast. Excavation has been largely completed and the sites have become major tourist attractions and study centers worth visiting.
From Bangkok, use Highway No.1 towards Saraburi and turn right into Highway No.2 or the Friendship Highway, passing Pak Chong District, the site of Chokchai Steak House and other delicacies and fresh products to shop before continuing past Si Khieo District into Nakhon Ratchasima Province, or Korat, a total distance of 259 kilometers, taking about 3 hours. The stone sanctuary route in the Lower Northeast runs from Nakhon Ratchasima to Buriram, Surin, to Si Sa Ket The sites are grouped into 3, Phimai Sanctuary Group, Phanom Rung Hilltop Shrine Group, and Phra Vihar, or Preah Vihear Group.
The logical start of the tour is the Phimai Sanctuary Group, with major sites as Phanom Wan Sanctuary, Phimai Sanctuary, and Ban Prasat Archeological Site. In the ancient town to the west of Nakhon Ratchasima are Non Ku, Muang Kao and Muang Khaek Shrines. Starting from Nakhon Ratchasima, use Highway No.2 linking Nakhon Ratchasima with Khon Kaen. About 15 kilometers on, you will see a signboard pointing to Phanom Wan Sanctuary. A little further is an intersection with a right turn leading to Phanom Wan Sanctuary, a small stone sanctuary built of laterite and sandstone during the 14th-16th centuries B.E. The main stupa faces east, with a minor stupa to the back and surrounded by a balcony. It was meant as the shrine to God Shiva.
Before reaching Phimai District on Highway No.2, at kilometer 44 to the left, a side way leads to Ban Prasat Tai, Than Prasat Sub-District, Non Sung District, the site of Ban Prasat Archeological Site, presumably the settlement of a migrating group of people from Upper Northeast about 3,000 years ago. Painted pottery such as those found at Ban Chiang in Udon Thani was found, along with tools such as a stone axe, weaving loom, as well as traces of husbandry and hunting and accessories in metal, bead, and shell. An excavation was conducted by the Fine Arts Department in 1991. to be developed as an open-air museum, a cultural site of the Northeast
From Ban Prasat, return to Highway No.2, and turn left on Highway 2163. Continue for about 14 kilometers to Phimai District. dominated by Phimai Sanctuary, the largest Khmer shrine in Thailand, built in the reign of King Suriyavarman I, in Bapuan style. It was presumed to be the prototype of Angkor Wat. The shrine is the only one facing south, the direction of Angkor in Cambodia. Phimai was the center of Mahayana Buddhism in the 16th to 19th centuries B.E. The main stupa was built of white sandstone, fully renovated by the Fine Arts Department 40 years ago. The lintels on the porches on the 4 directions are elaborately carved. To the left of the main stupa is Brahmadata Stupa, built by King Jayavarman 7th, the last great king of the Khmer Empire who built Angkor Thorn. To the right is a red sandstone stupa with a path linking to the Brahm8s Hall, built in the reign of King Surivavarman II, the king who built Angkor Wat. The Phimai Historical Park is open every day from 7.30 to 18.00 hours. The entrance fee is 10 baht for local people and 40 baht for foreigners. Not to be missed is Phimai National Museum, situated nearby, which is open during 8.30-16.30 hours. The entrance fee is 10 and 30 baht for local and foreign visitors.

Highway 2163 from Phimai District runs into Highway 226 going eastwards, passing Buriram Province into Surin Province and Si Sa Ket Province. There are 4-5 stone sanctuaries on this route, namely Mueang Thi Sanctuary in Wat Chom Sutthawat, Muang Thi Sub-District, about 16 kilometers from Surin, Sikhoraphum Sanctuary, 34 kilometers from Surin. From Sikhoraphum Sanctuary, continue for about 30 kilometers, passing Huai Thap Than District, stop to sample grilled chicken on garcinia wood skewer, the delicacy of Si Sa Ket, and continue on Highway 226 to Sa Kamphaeng Yai Sanctuary, in Wat Sa Kamphaeng, as three stupas on the same base, from north to south, facing the east. At the passageway of the eastern doorway, there is an inscription in Khmer script describing land purchase and slaves working at the shrine. 9 kilometers before reaching Si Sa Ket. a side way on the left leads to Wat Thep Prasat, the site of Sa Kamphaeng Noi Sanctuary, one of the 102 medical centers created by King Jayavarman the Seventh.
From Si Sa Ket, take Highway 221 heading south, passing -Kantharalak District to Phra Vihar or Phreah Vihear, a distance of 98 kilometers. 3 kilometers before reaching Phra Vihar, a side way leads to Prasat Ton Tual, on the cliff of Ton Tual Hill, at the Thai-Cambodian border, within the Khao Phra Vihar National Park. Visitors need to register at the checkpoint and pay a fee of 20 baht for an adult, 10 baht for a child, and 200 baht for a foreigner. Before entering the Cambodian territory, a fee has to be paid to Cambodian officials, 50 baht for Thais and 200 baht for foreigners. Anyone driving to the entrance of the shrine has to pay a car fee of 30 baht for 4-wheel cars, and 100 baht for 6-wheel cars.
Phreah Vihear Shrine is located on the Phanom Dong Rak Mountain Ranger, on a steep cliff 657 meters above mean sea level. The entrance is on the Thai side of the border in Si Sa Ket Province. It was the subject of contention in 1959 when Cambodia claimed sovereignty over the shrine and the International Court of Justice ruled on 15 June 1962 in favor of Cambodia. The shrine was closed for decades after that and was only opened to visitors on 1 August 1998.
Preah Vihear Shrine is dedicated to God Shiva and has been acclaimed as the crown jewel of the Khmer architecture. The shrine faces north, the direction of Angkor, the site of the tomb of King Suriyavarman II, built during the 16th-17th centuries B.E. The entire structure stretches over 850 meters. On the Thai side, the vantage point is at Pha Mo 1-Daeng, with a clear view of Preah Vihear Shrine one kilometer away It is a steep cliff at the Thai-Cambodian border with a trail to the south of about 20 meters. On the cliff, there are 3 human figures carved in bas-relief on stone, dating back to the 15th-century B.E.

From Preah Vihear, turn back on the same route for 44 kilometers and turn left at the intersection into Highway 24 to the west in Surin Province, with one of the oldest Khmer shrine in Thailand, Phumipon Sanctuary in Sangkha District, built around the 13th century B.E. and Ban Luang Sanctuary, 4 kilometers from Prasat District, in Bapuan style, built in the 16th-17th centuries B.E.
Highway 24 leads on to Buriram Province, up to Chaloem Phra Kiat District. Take the left turn into Ta Paek Sub-District to Phanom Rung Shrine Historical Park, the site of Phanom Rung Hilltop Shrine on an extinct volcano, about 200 meters in height. The shrine is built of pink sandstone, during the 15th-17th centuries B.E. as the abode of God Shiva in the same manner as Preah Vihear. The main stupa faces east . All structures are aligned with the main stupa and are elaborately decorated. The best-known object is the lintel featuring God Narai in the watery realm. It was looted in 1960 and was returned by the United States in 1988.
To the southeast of Phanom Rung, about 8 kilometers away is Mueang Tam Sanctuary, a brick structure of the 16, century B. E., surrounded by a laterite wall-the source of sandstone used in the construction can be found at Ban Kruat Stone Source, close to both Mueang Tam and Phanom Rung Sanctuaries. About 3 days should be spent on the trip, with 2 nights stay in Si Sa Ket, returning to Nakhon Ratchasima in the evening of the third day.

Nakhon Ratchasima Map Thailand

Category: Burirram, Nakhon Ratchasima, Si Sa Ket