Small town, big ruins

Linked to Angkor by a sacred road, Phimai was a regional centre of the Khmer empire when it ruled over much of mainland Southeast Asia from the 10th to 14th centuries. Merchants took advantage of the trade links as pilgrims flocked to a richly decorated sandstone sanctuary that now ranks among the most impressive historical sites in Thailand.

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The area’s distant Khmer roots are on display at Prasat Hin Phimai, part of a well-preserved historical park in the centre of town. The site resembles a scaled down version of Angkor Wat with a towering central prang embraced by stone corridors, exquisite carvings and broad trees.

Ruins, a laidback town and easy to get to: Phimai is a solid package for independent travellers. : David Luekens.
Ruins, a laidback town and easy to get to: Phimai is a solid package for independent travellers. Photo: David Luekens

Phimai stood at the northern end of a road charting a 150-kilometre path to the Khmer capital at Angkor in the south, complete with rest areas and health clinics for weary travellers. From Phimai it was also possible to strike east along the Moon River towards the Mekong River and Wat Phu, or north up to Laos via the Chi Khong system of waterways. The name Phimai probably derives from the Sanskrit word, Vimaya, which was engraved above an entrance.

Holding a special place in the hearts of many locals, the ancient Pachit-Oraphim folktale stars a woman from the area, Mae Oraphim, who was kidnapped from her Khmer prince husband, Phra Pachit. After escaping in the robes of a monk and taking residence at a temple, she told her tragic story via a series of murals. In a rage Pachit tossed a bunch of objects around the area, creating geographical landmarks. After calming down, he visited the temple, understood the murals and reunited ... Travelfish members only (Full text is around 700 words.)

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