Thursday, December 11, 2014

Prasat Hin Muang Tam

Entrances of the Sanctuary

In the beginning of last month. my wife and I traveled to Cambodia to tour the Khmer ruins in the Siem Reap area - Angkor Wat.  It was a wonderful trip with many interesting photography and learning experiences - so many photography opportunities that over a month later I am still editing and post-processing the photos.

After spending 6 days at our home upon returning to Thailand, we drove southeast to attend the annual Elephant Round-Up in Surin.

As part of our stay in the Surin area, we ended going to the nearby province of Buriram. Our friends, who were familiar with the area, drove us to Prasat Hin Muang Tam.  Prasat Hin Muang Tam is located in the small village of Khok Meaung, at the base of an extinct volcano upon which a rather  famous Khmer temple has been restored by the Thai government.

Prasat Hin Muang Tam is a restored Khmer temple complex.  It is 1,000 years old and was built during the reign of the Khmer Empire in the late 10th and early 11th century.  The temple was built along an ancient road that ran from Angkor Thom (Siem Reap) Cambodia and Phimai, Thailand.

Today, there is ample parking a very short walk from the temple complex.  Our walk to the complex was through a grove of large trees - a sort of horticultural garden.  There were paved sidewalks through the garden and the grounds were very well maintained.

I especially liked that the various trees and plants had name plates which gave the name of them in Thai, English, as well as the Latin scientific names.

The temple is surrounded by a wall constructed of blocks of laterite - a weathered product of basalt, a clay that when exposed to air and sun hardens (to me it resembles iron slag).  The laterite here is reddish due to the being rich in iron from Hematite and Goethite. The Khmer people used laterite blocks for many of the structural elements of their temples.

Once you enter into the complex by passing through one of the gates that are located in the center of each wall enclosing the rectangular complex, you encounter four ponds at each corner of the inner sanctuary.  This is a common feature of Khmer temples in that the water features represent the primordial ocean surrounding a central tower which represents Mount Meru, the home where the gods reside in Hindu mythology.  The four other towers of the temples represent the mountains that surround Mount Meru.

Most people have seen photographs of Angkor Wat or other Khmer temples with reflections of the temple in some body of water.  The water, sometimes a sort of large puddle and other times a more clearly defined man made enclosure are remnants of the time when the temples were surrounded by moats - symbolizing and representing the ocean which surrounds Mount Meru.  The ponds at Prasat Hin Muang Tam are unique because they are "L" shaped in addition to having laterite steps to the bottom of the ponds.  Nagas, five headed serpents, line the edges of each pond.  Where the heads of the Nagas come together at the head of the pond, the heads rise up to form a gateway leading to the formal stairways to the bottom of the pond.

Another feature that I enjoyed at this restored temple complex was the use of bilingual signs in Thai and English to point out and explain some of the features of the temple - a feature that is absent in Cambodian sites.

When I visited the temple there were only five other people inside of the complex, Duang and our friends had decided to stay outside and enjoy the shade of the large trees.  It was enjoyable to wander around the rounds and take photographs without other people in them with relative ease - not always the case or so easily in Siem Reap.  It was especially nice to not have bus loads of tour groups trampling around destroying the tranquility of a sacred site.

Prasat Hin Muang Tam also has some very nice and interesting sandstone carvings.

I was surprised to encounter such a fine example of Khmer temples here in Thailand.  There are other ruins in the area also - 146 of them.   In Siem Reap it is easy to become overwhelmed by all the ruins - typically around the second day, all the temples seem to look alike and one forgets which one was visited and what was unique about it, especially for first time visitors.  Not so in Buriram and Surin Provinces in Thailand.  You can get a taste of Khmer architecture without becoming overwhelmed by the amount of ruins or fellow tourists.

Our trip to Prasat Hin Muang Tam was a surprise - a very pleasant surprise.  I believe that we will return in the near future - return to Buriram and Surin as well as once again to Siem Reap!

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