buriram province, Thailand – The Cambodian border temple Preah Vihear is closed, but that doesn’t mean a trip into northeastern Thailand can’t be done without seeing Angkorian temples.
Thai authorities closed Preah Vihear recently for demining after a tourist stepped on one of the many land mines that remain from the days—not so long ago—when it was a Khmer Rouge stronghold. Although the hilltop temple is just inside Cambodia’s northern border, it must be accessed from Thailand because the approach from the Cambodian side is straight up a sheer cliff.
A visit to Prasat Hin Kao Phanom Rung Historical Park in Buriram province, Thailand, is a good substitute for Preah Vihear as it provides a stunning panoramic view. The restored temple, built between the 10th and 13th centuries, sits atop an extinct volcano. It is oriented to the east, toward the ancient Cambodian capital of Angkor, and is an awe-inspiring sight.
After paying a 40 baht entrance fee, visitors can climb a steep, worn volcanic-rock staircase, walk along an immaculate, column-lined stone walkway and up another set of stairs to the temple.
The temple is an example of what restoration and protection can do for 800-year-old structures, as fine details in the five-headed Naga snakes can be discerned, as well as the ornate sculptures that inundate the walls and doorways.
Khmer culture remains strong in northeastern Thailand, a region known as Isaan.
In addition to the hundreds of Angkorian-period temples that dot the landscape, Khmer is spoken almost as widely as Thai.
Phanom Rung can be reached by bus. From Cambodia, after crossing the border at Poipet, a tuk-tuk (three-wheel taxi) can take you to the station in Aranyaprathet, where you should board a Buriram-bound bus. If you tell the ticket-takers and doormen on the bus that you want to go to Phanom Rung, they will make sure you get off near the park, where a songthaew (pickup taxi) can take you to the park itself. The trip takes about four hours.
A more relaxing alternative, after the ordeal of traveling over rutted, potholed Cambodian roads and going through the rough-and-tumble border outpost of Poipet, is to take the bus all the way to Buriram, where there are hotels (the Thai Hotel is best, with rooms starting at 180 baht) and numerous restaurants serving cheap Thai food.
Before the bus gets to Buriram, it stops in Nang Rong, which also has lodging, though there is a better selection in Buriram.
A bus from Nang Rong Buriram to nearby Phanom Rung takes about one hour.
Again, you must hook up with a songthaew for the ride to the park, which shouldn’t cost more than 20 baht, but can cost more depending on your bargaining skills.