Monday, 3 March 2014

Off the beaten path in Thailand - Prasat Phanom Rung


I chanced upon this jewel of Thailand by accident when I was browsing the website of the Eastern and Oriental Express, a luxury coach that is well known for its Singapore to Bangkok service. Under its Epic Thailand route, one of the excursions mentioned is Phanom Rung.


Stairs leading to the main temple.
Although there is nothing special with the word Phanom Rung, and it is hard to pronounce, somehow, it stuck in my mind and kept coming back. I’ve never felt so strong an attachment to a place that I have not visited. Then there was a magical pull for me to Google this place followed up with a divine push that I must visit this place despite the complicity of visiting this place from Bangkok via public transport. The more I Google about how to get to this place from Bangkok, the more complicated it gets as there so many ways to get there but none direct. Fed up with it, I said to myself “when there is a will, there is a way for me to get to this sacred place”.
After a few months of having Phanom Rung in my mind, the opportunity came. I’m heading to Sukothai in late February and it is possible to make an excursion to Phnom Rung with the limited time that we have. Armed with the latest edition of Lonely Planet and Google Map installed in my iPhone (it is not a helpful tool as most of the towns and landmarks are in Sanskrit writing instead of Roman Alphabet ), we head off to Nang Rong, the gateway to Phanom Rung.
Four and half hours by car away from Bangkok and after a stop for lunch, we reached the entrance to Phanom Rung, the most beautiful and important Khmer period temple in Thailand. Situated on top of an extinct volcano, this temple was built in between 10th to 13th century AD. The name Phnom Rung is derived from ancient Khmer inscription which means “vast mountain”, hence Prasat Phanom Rung, temple of vast mountain dedicated to Lord Shiva.  


With the "naga".
After climbing endless steps of stairs, passing through numerous terraces adorned columns topped with lotus buds and “naga”, a five headed serpent like creature which are believed to link the human with heavenly realm; I finally reached the center of the temple. There, a tower 23 meters tall, adorned with gables and lintels depicting tales from Hindu religious ceremonies and mythological tales.  I almost have the whole temple to myself as it is not a touristy site but this may change with its impending UNESCO World Heritage Site status.  


The main tower.
After spending about an hour exploring the temple and a little rest, I said “thank you” to the mystical power that took me there and left. I’ve never felt an ancient temple ruin so serene and peaceful from my visits to famous ancient Hindu temple ruins in Southeast Asia, from Angkor Wat to Me Son to Prambanan.  


This lintel depicting a reclining Vishnu was stolen and found on display at the Arts Institute of Chicago and returned home in 1988. 

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