Thailand has a rich cultural heritage which is well preserved even today. Most parts of Thailand were under the reign of Khmer empire hence, many temples were built dedicated to the Hindu God of Lord Shiva. Stunning historical parks and temples reflect the powerful influence of this Hindu-Buddhist Empire that ruled across South East Asia in the Middle Age. Here are some of the most important Khmer Temples spread across Thailand.
1. Muang Tam, Buriram
Muang Tam is a 1000-year old temple built in Angkor style that lies at the base of an extinct volcanic mountain. Situated in Buriram province in North East Thailand, this Hindu temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The corners of the pond inside the complex are adorned with large five-headed Naga snakes which make the place look magical. There are magnificent sandstone towers in the inner sanctuary. The main tower represents Mount Meru, the creator of the universe. It also contains a linga depicting the strength of Lord Shiva.
2. Phanom Rung, Buriram
Officially known as Prasat Hin Phanom Rung, this temple is built on a hill with Muang Tam temple at the base within the same complex in Buriram province of Thailand. The hill symbolises Mount Kailash, a holy mountain which is also the abode of Lord Shiva. Shimmering under the bright sunlight, it is hard to miss the main tower made up of pink sandstone. Also, Phanom Rung festival is held each year on April 13th where the sunlight penetrates through all 15 pillars, creating a mystical aura around the temple. Dance and light shows are also held along with a magnificent display of fireworks.
3. Prasat Hin Phimai, Nakhon Ratchasima
Phimai displays some of the best architectural monuments in Thailand. Although Khmer dynasty followed Hinduism, this was constructed in Buddhist style of architecture. A man-made wonder where carved depictions from the Indian epic of Ramayana and stories of Lord Shiva can be seen along with the teachings of Buddha. While all Khmer temples face east, this temple is uniquely constructed in South East direction.
4. Prasat Sikhoraphum, Surin
Situated in the Surin province, this serene temple town derives its name from the Sanskrit word of Shikara – tower sanctuary. One of the largest and best-preserved complexes in Thailand, this temple has sandstone bas reliefs depicting Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Ganesh, and Uma. The most popular attraction is the bas relief at the entrance that depicts a dancing Shiva with 10 arms. Bas relief is a type of architectural design where individual figures, groups of figures, or entire scenes are cut into stone walls as sculpted images protruding from a background. Other works include the depiction of Naga snakes with three heads and the doors adorned with apsaras (angel) and devatas (God).
5. Sdok Kok Thom, Sa Kaeo
Paying homage to Shiva, this temple in the Sa Kaeo province also houses the sculpture of reclining Vishnu, another form of God from the Hindu mythology. The outer walls of the temple complex are surrounded by moats while the eastern side of the temple opens to the Gopura or the entrance gate. This temple preserves a 1000-year-old inscribed stele written in ancient Khmer language as well as in Sanskrit. It contains vital information about the families who constructed temples and provided services to the Khmer Kings.
6. Prasat Muang Sing, Kanchanaburi Province
This town was earlier used by the Khmer dynasty as a frontier wall to safeguard the empire from any attacks from the West. Muang Sing translating to ‘Lion City’ has river Khwae Noi running along its borders. The temple enshrines Mount Meru along with the linga depicting energy and strength.
7. Phra Prang Sam Yot, Lopburi
Lopburi town also called ‘Lavapura’ or ‘City of Lava’ not only attracts enthusiastic tourists but also a lot of crab-eating monkeys, which loiter all around the city. Originally constructed as a Hindu shrine consisting of three prangs — depicting the holy trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva — it was later converted to a Buddhist temple. Built with intricate designs in Khmer style of architecture, this temple consists of towers adorned with stuccoed decorations. The doors have carvings from Indian and Thai mythology.
8. Wat Kamphaeng Laeng, Phetchaburi
The complex of Wat Kamphaeng Laeng was initially built as a Hindu place of worship but got converted to a Buddhist temple. While most of the plastered walls have faded, some intricate flower motifs are still left behind. Tourists come to visit the modern ubosot – the ordination hall where the monks perform the rituals and kuti where the monks live. The main shrine houses an idol of Buddha in a seated position.
Thailand is a pandora box of hidden treasures. It is a dream destination not just for the beach goers and the adventure seekers, but also for the tourists seeking spirituality from visiting the Khmer temples. Find peace and tranquility as you explore them while appreciating the historical importance of each of these architectural marvels.