Khmer temples in Isaan, Northeast Thailand

The Khmer temples in Isaan, in the unspoilt northeast of Thailand, have been on my 'to see' list since visiting Preah Vihear became a safe proposition again a couple of years ago. Although Preah Vihear officially belongs to Cambodia, the easiest way to gain access to the breathtaking cliff-top temple is from the Thai side of the border. Link that into visiting the restored Khmer sanctuaries at Phimai, Phnom Rung, Phnom Wan and Muang Tam amongst others and you have a ready-made itinerary in an area of Thailand that sees relatively few visitors. That was my plan for the latter part of 2002. Accompanying me to South East Asia for the first time would be my wife, combining a week in Isaan (which she terms as 'roughing it') with a couple of days in Bangkok and then a few days of luxury at the famous Railway Hotel in Hua Hin (now known as the Sofitel Central Hua Hin and used in 1983 as Hotel Le Phnom for the filming of The Killing Fields). Unfortunately, my wife had second thoughts at the last minute and we ended up going to Cyprus. So my trip to Isaan is still on the 'to see' list.

To wet my tastebuds for the pleasures that lie ahead when I finally do get to Isaan, I've posted below a few photographs that friends of mine have sent of some of the key temples that await me. These can be viewed in conjunction with my webpage devoted to Preah Vihear if you too are contemplating a trip to Isaan. The Phimai photos below are courtesy of Kazuo Iwase and the others are mostly from Lisa Cox. The most comprehensive guidebook is 'Khmer temples in Thailand & Laos' by Michael Freeman; a handy-sized guide, first published in 1996 by River Books (see below). An expert on Southeast Asia, Freeman's sister publication is the gorgeously photographed 'Palaces of the Gods : Khmer Art and Architecture in Thailand.'


The inner enclosure and central sanctuary of Phimai.

The central sanctuary at Prasat PhimaiA Tantric Buddhist lintel on the north side of the shrine at Phimai.The main tower from the second enclosure and near a pond at Phimai.The main tower through a baluster window at Phimai.

Phnom Rung

The causeway, first naga bridge and staircase to the main sanctuary at Phnom Rung, busy with Thai day-trippers.A well-restored window with balusters on the main sanctuary at Phnom Rung.The southern doorway to the central tower and shrine at Phnom Rung.

The famous reclining Vishnu on Ananta lintel that went missing in the 1960s and was returned to its real home by the USA in 1988.

Muang Tam

A view across the ponds to the inner enclosure at Muang TamThe ponds and inner enclosure of Muang Tam.One of the high quality lintels on the central towers of Muang Tam.

The outer eastern gopura of Muang TamA finely carved pediment from Muang Tam on display at the Phimai museum. Photo by Kazuo Iwase.

Ta Muen Thom & Ta Muen

A headless guardian shows that Thailand too, has not escaped the artifact thieves, at Ta Muen Thom.The solitary lintel remaining at Ta Muen.The main sanctuary at Ta Muen.

Phnom Wan

A Baphuon style lintel over the north entrance to Phnom Wan. Photo by Kazuo Iwase.A lintel, worn by time with some of the details unclear, at Phnom Wan. Photo by Kazuo Iwase.

Michael Freeman's 'A Guide to Khmer Temples in Thailand & Laos'

Michael Freeman's excellent guide to the Khmer sites in Thailand.

Khmer temples in Thailand & Laos is the first in a series of cultural guides to the major sites of Southeast Asia. Illustrated with detailed photographs and walk-through plans of every significant temple, it is a comprehensive and practical companion to the magnificent sites of the former upland Khmer empire. Many of these, after excavation and restoration, have only recently become open to the public (River Books, Bangkok). Michael Freeman's photographs inside and outside Cambodia are simply stunning. If you get the chance to own own of his many books, grab it with both hands.

click on any photo to see a larger version.

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