Side Entrance to the Inner District of Phimai by Asienreisender

A side gate to the inner district of Prasat Phimai. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

Outer City Gate of Phimai by Asienreisender

One of the outer city gates of Phimai. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

View on the main Prang of Prasat Phimai by Asienreisender

A view on the main prang from the southwest. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

Phimai / Thailand



Phimai Historical Park

In the heart of Phimai, a small town in Thailand's northeastern Isan region, one of the most remarkable Angkorean cultural heritages outside Angkor itself is situated: Prasat Phimai. In 1936 it was set under protection by the Thai government and became step by step restaurated from the 1950s on. 'Phimai Historical Park' was opened in 1989.

Phimai Main Prang by Asienreisender

The main tower (prang) of the inner sanctuary of Phimai. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

Phimai town is a medieval Khmer foundation, became the first time fortificated in the 11th century and advanced to a spiritual center of the classical empire of Angkor. In the reign of king Jayavarman VII (1181-1206/1220 CE) the city walls and gates so far they remain now were constructed. The town's name is derivated fro 'Vimayapura' or 'Vimai'. The contemporary official name of the site is 'Prasat Hin Phi Mai'.

Historical Phimai has a considerable size. The inner temple district is a rectangular of 83m to 74m, the middle district measures 272m to 220m and the surrounding town, which was formerly completely enclosed by the city wall, stretches over 665m to 1033m. Phimai must have been one of the most important cities in the Angkorean empire.

The central temple complex is not exactly aligned onto the north-south axis, but by 20 degree turned to southeast. It's probably done to give it the direction facing to Angkor.

At the northern end of Phimai is a national museum placed, which displays a number of the site's artefacts as lintels, Buddha images, nagas, pottery and jewellery.

Prasat Phimai is considered to be the most important Khmer monument in Thailand.

Map of Phimai

Map of Phimai Historical Park and Town

Phimai is a particularly inviting Thai town for it's marvellous combination of a lively place in combination with a great historical site. Few tourists or travellers take their time to study the place for a few days, although it offers a friendly atmosphere in a spot where is much to do. Besides the main site various Thai temples are to visit in Phimai, three markets offer opportunities to buy food and other supplies, there is the Mun River to have walks along it's banks and a 350 years old huge Banyan tree not far east of town. The surrounding is coined by rice paddies showing traditional Thai life style and there are other archeological sites not far around. Accommodation and individual transport (bicycles and motorbikes) are easy to organize.



Erection of the site started in the reign of king Suriyavarman I (1002-1049), but most of the buildings were built between the late 11th and the late 12th century. They clearly represent Angkor Wat style, partially Bayon and Baphuon style. There was an older sanctuary at the spot already; as a Khmer place it's a century younger than the neighbouring site of Phanom Rung.

Phimai Temple Complex by Asienreisender

The central temple complex of Phimai. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

Although Hinduism was the main religion of Angkor at this time, also Buddhism and Animism were practised in Wat Phimai. Though, Hinduism is clearly the paradigmatic religion praised in Phimai's architecture. Having much in common with Angkor Wat, it reflects the Hindu cosmos with the sacred Mount Meru in the center. There is also a greater barray (artificial Khmer pool) east of the place, traditionally symbolizing the sea. The Mun River and two canals then complete the enclosement of the place by waterways.

Phimai, 'Phlab Phla' by Asienreisender

The king's 'dressing house', called 'Phlab Phla' in Khmer language. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

Though, Phimai paid tribute to the religion of Mahayana Buddhism. It's also due to the influence of king Jayavarman VII, who was Angkor's first Buddhist king (very much represented in Angkor Thom's Bayon monument), that Phimai became a sanctuary focussed on the new state religion.

The building materials are the same as the Khmer always used, provided by the surrounding quarrels in the region: different kinds of sandstone and laterite, supplemented by the usage of bricks.

In two old stone inscriptions Phimai is mentioned in connection with king Jayavarman VI and described at situated at an endpoint of a 225km road which led (via Phanom Rung) to the empires capital Angkor and it's state temple Angkor Wat. The route was used by travellers and pilgrims as well as by military troops. It was equipped with seventeen resthouses, and some hospitals. The remains of these resthouses and hospitals still mark a 150km part of the old road. This imperial road to Angkor starts at the southern gate of Phimai, which is therefore the main gate and still the main entrance for the site nowadays.

Zhou Daguan (Chou Ta-Kuan), the Chinese envoy who spent a year in Angkor in 1296/97, mentioned Phimai in his famous report.

Phimai by Asienreisender

In the second district of the site, facing the gallery with the main prang behind. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

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Published on September 11th, 2013