The Phanom Rung Park is one of the most beautiful and important Khmer historical sites in Thailand. It was built during the 12th century A.D. and is set on top of Phanom Rung Hill in Ta Pek in the Chaloem Phra Khiat District of Buri Ram province which is the location of a long extinct volcano. Phanom Rung is the original name and is mentioned in stone inscriptions excavated at the area. It is a religious site dedicated to the God Shiva, the supreme Hindu deity. It symbolises Mount Kailasa, the heavenly abode of Shiva.
It was designed to emphasize the central tower which faces to the East. To the right of the stairway leading to the tower is a building known as Phlab Phla which could be the same building that is known today as the phlab phla pleuang khruang (robing room). Here the King prepares himself prior to proceeding, with his entourage, to pay respects to the deity or to perform religious rites. Adjacent is the pathway which is adorned on both sides with columns topped with lotus buds. There are 38 such columns which are known as sao nang rieng. The pathway leads to the raised cruciform naga bridge which has rails in the form of a five headed naga, a mythical snake. It is believed that this bridge links the human with the heavenly realm. In the middle of the bridge is an eight petalled lotus which could symbolise the deities in the eight directions of the Hindu belief. It could also mark the point where propitious ceremonies were performed or where pilgrims made vows before proceeding further. At the end of the naga bridge are 52 steps leading to a plateau at the top of the hill. In front of the arched doorway in the eastern gallery is a second naga bridge. The gallery is a rectangular structure surrounding the tower on all four sides. It is not possible to walk through the gallery as it is blocked in sections by a wall. In the centre of each wall is an arched doorway, while the corners of the wall are cruciform. The external gable of the eastern wall carries a relief of Shiva, in the manifestation of a healer. This could represent Narendradit who constructed the complex.
The main tower, which is square, is built of pink sandstone. The structure is 9.20m wide and 23m tall. The front section is a rectangular chamber mandapa with connecting corridor. It is believed that the principle tower was constructed by Narendradit who ruled over the community where Prasat Phanom Rung is located during the 12th century. The most sacred religious object, in this case the Shiva Lingam was enshrined in the centre of the tower. It is most unfortunate that this sacred object has now disappeared and all that remains is the water conduit to receive the water poured over the lingam.
There are two stone towers and a minor tower to the Northeast and southwest of principal tower. Archeological evidence shows that there predate the the main tower, and were constructed in the 10th and 11th centuries A.D. In front of the tower, to the northeast and southwest, are two laterite buildings known as banalai (scripture repositories) where sacred texts were stored. These buildings were constructed in the 13th century.
The princpal tower is adorned with gables and lintels carrying reliefs depicting episodes from the Hindu legends, such as the dancing Shiva, Vishnu in the reclining position and maifestations of Vishnu in the form of Rama in the epic Ramayana. There are also reliefs of religious ceremonies and daily activities of the hermits.
The alignment of the whole structure serves also as a calendar. On two days in the year the rising and then the setting sun shines directly though the passage
of the edifice.
Before entering the main Phanom Rung site it is worth looking at the information centre. This offers a detailed view of the site, the history, how it was
constructed and the missing items, like the Lingam. It also offers young aspiring archeologists the chance to experience the excavation and reconstruction work that
has gone into the site.
A few kilometres away is the quarry where much of the stone used in Phanom Rung was dug. Prasat Muang Tam - The Sanctuary Prasat Meuang Tam dates to the late 10th century AD, and was constructed on the orders of King Jayavarman V. Surrounded by a high laterite wall, the complex includes magnificent stepped tanks which have been lovingly restored and filled with lotus flowers. The mellow sandstone of the sanctuary walls and artistically-carved lintels contrasts beautifully with the darker, coarser laterite of the surrounding sanctuary walls. The sense is one of peace and quiet reverence.
There are certain similarities to Phanom Rung in the design and the stone used, but this site is all on one level. The lintel, pediment, and side columns of each archway are carved into scenes from Hindu myth.
There are four L-shaped ponds located between the outer and inner walls. At the center of the compound there are 5 Chedis all made of brick and built on a single laterite foundation. Around the main complex is a protective moat.