Situated on top of an extinct volcano at a height of 381m, Phanom Rung represents maybe the finest monument from the classical Angkor period which is situated in Thailand. It's full name 'Prasat hin Kaho Phanom Rung' is translatable to 'Palace of Stone on the Hill Rung'; 'Phnom Rung' in Khmer language means somewhat like 'broad hill/mountain'.
An aerial view on Phanom Rung, as seen in a tourist brochure. Image by Asienreisender, 2010
The nearest bigger city is the province capital Buriram in Isan, some 75km north, from which it is possible to visit Phanom Rung in a day-trip by coming here on a public bus. Another approach is from Nang Rong, a smaller place some 24km away. Phanom Rung itself is a mountainous, forested area. The mountain is surrounded by small villages, rice paddies and other crops who grow around.
A map of Phanom Rung Historical Park. There are two entrances to the site. The upper one is a small one, directly at the side of the only bypassing road at it's highest point; the entrance at the visitor center is a bit the slope downwards. The visitor center is pretty touristic, with the typical tourist booths selling souvenirs and a lot of restaurants around a big parking. There are not too many visitors coming to Phanom Rung, but sometimes whole busloads of tourists are arriving.
The Processional Walkway
The ceremonial walkway with the first naga bridge in the foreground. In the background are the very first stairways from where the approach to the sanctuary originated. The approach was, as in almost all the Angkorean temple compounds, from east to west. Image by Asienreisender, 2010
Stairways and Dome
The First Naga Bridge is followed by an approach to the stairway which leads to the top of the mountain. The second naga bridge up there is followed by the inner gallery. The outer wall, by the way, doesn't exist anymore. It's supposed it consisted originally from wooden material with a stone tile roof. The dome (guptara) is the dominating building, housing the shrine. Image by Asienreisender, 11/2015
Early inscriptions from the 7th/8th centuries indicate that there was a predecessing temple on the site, dating back to the Chenla era.
Between the early 9th to the 13th century the area was ruled by the Mahidharapura dynasty. This Khmer vassal principality preserved a certain independence from the grand Angkor empire. A remarkable personality is prince Narendraditya, who was a trustworthy vassal of king Suryavarman II (1095-1150 CE, the Khmer king who ordered the construction of Angkor Wat). Both were relatives and Narendraditya fought repeatedly victorious for Suryavarman II in war. Later in his life Narendraditya retreated from the throne to spent the rest of his life as a yogi and guru in spirituality. His son Hiranya took over state's power and the eleven inscriptions of Phanom Rung, who are the source of this story, were made under Hiranya's supervision. Onother king of the principality was Dharanindravarman II (1150-1160 CE), ruling in the time after the death of Suryavarman II.
The Phanom Rung temple complex was built, probably in different phases, between the early 10th and the late 12th century. In these almost 300 years it was undergoing changes and extensions; particularly in the reigns of king Narendraditya and Hiranya the temple got considerably extended.
The First Naga Bridge
The nagas on the naga bridge are maybe the finest works of the kind I have ever seen. Here they are five-headed; in most other Angkorean sites they are seven-headed. Zhou Daguan, the Chinese envoy in Angkor Thom in 1295/96 wrote in his record that the nagas he had seen there were nine-headed. He wrote his record years after his visit, and his memory forsook him. There were nowhere nine-headed nagas in the Angkorean world.
This 'First Naga Bridge', what is actually a crossway with a lotus bud carved in the ground, is made of sandstone. Turning left here one comes to a cliff. The right turn leads after 100m or so a bit down to a larger pond what was probably one of the barays in the past. Few visitors take notice of it. It's peculiar to have a larger water pool on top of a mountain. It's also apparent that it was part of a greater arrangement, for there is another larger trench, now mostly overgrown, but still swampy.
The linga in the middle is one of those along the ceremonial walkway.
Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 11/2015
Phanom Rung monument was connected via an medieval pilgrimage road (the dharmasala route) with Prasat Hin Phimai (also in Thailand) and further south to Preah Khan, close by the later imperial capital Angkor Thom.
Prang Noi / Minor Sanctuary
This prang southwest of the main tower is older than the main sanctuary; it dates back to the 11th century. Built of sandstone outside and laterite inside, it houses an now empty altar. The entrance faces to the east. Image by Asienreisender, 11/2015
Phanom Rung has a recommendation for sophisticated stoneworks who consist of sandstone and laterite. There is for instance a war elephant to see which is trampling down an enemy (war scenes in temples are always remarkable; the image is shown at the very bottom of this page). This elephant depiction might represent one of the earliest artworks of the Angkorean civilization.
Most of the other depictions show hindu gods as Vishnu and Shiva, the destroyer of ignorance and illusion, practicing asceticism. The site symbolizes Shiva's home mount Kailas (in Tibet, close to the Indian and the Nepalese borders), which is considered a sacred mountain in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The eleven inscriptions in Phanom Rung therefore describe a regional organization of Angkor.
From the lower part of the site, where is nowadays the visitor center, long stairways lead steeply up to the temple district. The first bigger building, 'Phlab Phla' or the 'white elephant house', is supposed to have housed the former dressing rooms for the king and his company.
The Changing Pavilion
The 'White Elephant Hall' (Phlab Phla), built in laterite, from the southwester corner. It was probably the building in which the royalty changed clothing for the following rituals. Image by Asienreisender, 2010
Most of the building is built in laterite, except the door frames, the window frames and the pillars, who consist of sandstone. The pillars were certainly carrying the roof of the pavilion which has long since collapsed. It's supposed that the roof consisted of wooden tiles. This part covered by the gallery was certainly the royal dressing room. Seems, that the gallery only led around the east, north and west, while the southern side to the walkway was left open. The question is always with these old buildings, how the complete setting looked. What we see now is only the naked skeleton of the buildings. The gallery is also bedecked with five-headed nagas. Phlab Phla dates back to the 12th century.
All images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 11/2015
From there a 160m long and 9.2m wide processional walkway, made of laterite and seamed with some seventy sandstone posts (lingas) to the right and the left leads to the first naga bridge. The bridge symbolizes the transfer from the ordinary to the sacred world, and the sandstone nagas are pretty impressive. Another stairway leads to four basins, who are connected by another bridge to the actual temple.
The Inner Gallery and the Main Sanctuary
The inner gallery with it's goptura and lintel above the door (1). The hermit on the lintel could be Shiva or, as some believe, king Narendraditya. Inside the gallery are rectangular rooms, all empty now. To the outside the gallery has a number of false windows. Before the entrance is the second naga bridge. The third naga bridge is close behind the entrance, in front of the entrance to the main sanctuary (2). In the gable of the entrance is a dancing Shiva.
The main tower (3) is housing the shrine with the symbol of Shiva, the linga. In the eastern chamber is Nantin, Shiva's vehicle the bull, placed. The main tower has probably been built in the time when also Angkor Wat was constructed, the early 12th century in the time of Narendraditya.
Tere are more constructions on the temple ground. Southeast of the main sanctuary stands a laterite library which hold sacred scrolls. It's called 'Bannalai' and has no carvings. It was built in the 13th century, at the end of the centuries long construction history of Phanom Rung.
The oldest buildings in the compound are two brick buildings north of the main sanctuary, also, like the library, within the inner gallery. They were the sancuary before the new tower was constructed and date back to the 10th century.
Restauration of the site took place in the years between 1971-1988. In 1988 Phanom Rung became declared one of Thailands 'Historical Parks'. In 2005 it was suggested to the UNESCO as a 'World Cultural Heritage'.
A Battle Scene
One of the carvings shows a battle scene with war elephants. One of the fighters, certainly an 'enemy', get's killed by the elephants. The empire of Angkor was a highly militarized society. The carvings in the Bayon, the state temple of Angkor Thom, is filled over and over with war scenes and military representation. Image by Asienreisender, 11/2015