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Phimai Historical Park – Ancient Khmer Highway

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Last Update: October 2023

Although the list of highlights in Thailand seems endless, there are still many places like the Phimai Historical Park that are not yet overrun by tourists, yet certainly worth discovering. Interesting cities oozing with local culture. Small laid-back riverside towns and spectacular nature reserves. Not always hidden gems, but without the usual crowds, only visited by the few travelers in the know.

Phimai Historical Park
Aerial view of Phimai Historical Parkphotocredit

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General Info

A more than pleasant surprise when exploring Central Thailand was our discovery of small town Phimai. Such a friendly place and with a Historical Park right smack in the middle of town. Apparently the impressive temple site is at the end of the ancient 225 km Khmer Highway connecting it directly with Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Ancient Khmer Highway
Ancient Khmer road system (12th-13th century) – image credit:

Phimai is situated 60 km North East from big city Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) and can easily be visited from there on a day trip. However, to really appreciate small town Phimai we do recommend to stay over in town for at least one night.

Read More: Nakhon Ratchasima – Gateway to Isan

Off the beaten trail

I remember well that on our first visit to Phimai some 12 years ago, we didn’t come across a single Western tourist during our 3-day stay. Probably there were some, but it must have been in extreme low numbers.

I also remember the schoolchildren on an excursion at the Phimai Historical Park, gazing at us with big eyes. Finally one of them mustered up the courage to shout ‘hello, I love you!’ Our response ‘I love you too!’ resulted in all of them running away in a mad dash, screaming as if they were afraid we would turn out to be aliens. Mind you, this is Thailand.

Phimai historical park
No crowds!

On another occasion a restaurant owner panicked when we sat down at one of his tables. It turned out he feared that a bunch of Westerners would not appreciate his Isan food. He was wrong of course, but both events demonstrate how pristine Phimai was only 12 years ago.

Nowadays, a growing number of travelers are finding Phimai for a short stop experience. However, for the moment, the small town and its main attraction still remain well off of the Banana Pancake Trail.

While the Phimai Historical Park is located in the heart of the town, Phimai itself is in the midst of rice fields and meandering waterways. All shades of green and yellow imaginable, gently waving in the breeze for as far as the eye can see.

Rice field
Phimai surroundings

Reasons (not) to visit Phimai

Why you should visit Phimai

  • Off the beaten path

  • The temple site is in town, no need for further transport

  • One of the best restored ancient temples in Thailand

  • Rural countryside outside of town is breathtaking

  • Authentic experience

Why to avoid Phimai

  • Not exactly on the Thailand highlights route

  • Apart from the temple and countryside there are no real tourist attractions. Of course this could also be a good reason to visit anyway.

  • Tourist infrastructure is minimal

  • No direct public transport, always travel via Korat

Things to see/do in Phimai

Prasat Hin Phimai
Prasat Hin Phimai, the Phimai Historical Park showstopper

Phimai Historical Park

2 hours to half day activity

Thailand’s largest Khmer temple site is now protected and known as the Phimai Historical park. Measuring almost 600.000 sqm and dating as far back as the 11th century. Restorations started in 1964 and the park officially opened to the public in 1989. The park is built around the impressive Khmer temple Prasat Hin Phimai which resembles a small Angkor Wat. Opening hours are everyday from 7:30am to 6pm and admission is THB100.

While the Phimai Historical Park is well worth your visit at any time of year it’s even more rewarding during the Phimai Festival. Every year in November the whole town is upside down for the festive events. Highlights are the long boat races on the Mun river and an incredible lights and sound show on the historical park grounds. For 2023 the festival is planned from 8 to 12 November.

Lights and sound show at the Phimai Historical Park

Read more: Best Thailand Festivals 2023/2024 – Make your trip extra special

Phimai National Museum

1 to 2 hours activity

Phimai also has a really good National Museum with a large number of historical artifacts from Northeastern Thailand on display. Their website is a bit dated, but the museum is actually quite interesting with exhibits about Phimai, Cambodian art forms and Khmer culture. Opening hours are everyday from 9am to 4pm and the entrance fee is THB30.

Banyan Tree Forest

1 to 2 hours activity

Just 1.7 km outside Phimai is the Sai Ngam Banyan tree grove. The intertwined, entangled roots and stems of a single banyan tree form a spooky 1350 sqm roofed forest. Banyan trees (also Bodhi tree) are regarded sacred as Buddha reached enlightenment under a Banyan tree. The roots and tendrils grow up and down to come up again to form new trees again, but all connected.

Inside, under the canopy are several pathways, ponds, bridges, a few shrines and even the inevitable souvenir shop. Also, plenty of food carts around so you can have your lunch under the tree shade at one of the many picnic tables.

Banyan Tree Grove
Sai Ngam Banyan Tree Grove

Ban Prasat Archeological Site

2 hours to half day activity (incl transport)

A bit further out, at 17km West of Phimai you’ll find the Archeological Burial Site of Ban Prasat with 3000 year old graves and skeletons. Because of circumstances we had to skip the site, but fellow travelers we met in town where raving about the authenticity of the area. The site opens everyday from 7am to 5pm. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.

You can get there by bicycle if you’re up for it. Many of the Phimai guesthouses rent out bicycles and also motorbikes. Alternatively, you can hire a Songthaew for a private trip. Ask you guesthouse to mediate since most drivers don’t speak English.

Bicycling the Phimai surroundings

Half day to whole day activity

Talking about bicycling! The surroundings of Phimai are a joy to cycle. Never-ending greener than green rice paddies. Friendly people in the villages all waving and smiling. A must do activity when in Phimai!

Surrounding of Phimai in Thailand
Beautiful surroundings of Phimai
Cycling around Phimai in Thailand
Having fun while cycling

Travel Insurance

No, no, no, do not skip this chapter even if you think that travel insurance is boring! When traveling in Thailand, you’re a million miles away from reliable healthcare. Any serious injuries or ailments will most likely result in expensive medical transport to Bangkok or Singapore. Payable upfront if you lack proper insurance I might add.

Always make sure to travel with the right travel insurance. One that covers medical care abroad and includes evacuation, repatriation, also in case of adventurous activities. Don’t just assume it’s covered in your normal insurance policy, because it’s probably not.

Read more about travel insurance, or at least get a non-committal instant quote right now!

Where to sleep in Phimai

As of lately the number of accommodations in Phimai has increased by quiet a bit. Also, the standard seems to have improved, although at least from the outside looking in. Overall, most hotels and guesthouses are still concentrated around the Southern and Eastern gate of the Phimai Historical Park. Also, there was some talk about the Moon River Resort close to the Moon river (duh) being very nice, but we didn’t stay there yet so cannot attest. recommends

Benya Guest House
Dirt Cheap = up to THB500
Value for money guesthouse just a short walk to the Phimai Historical Park. Wonderful staff and the central location ensures multiple food options around the corner. Despite the hostel like atmosphere, the guesthouse has 6 private rooms with aircon and private bathroom. Rooms are small, but hey, for this price I would say we were pretty well off. Especially with all the free travel advise from the owner and the free to use bicycles.

Link to Benya Guesthouse in Phimai Thailand

Phimai Paradise Hotel
Budget = from THB500 to THB1000
Second time around in Phimai we opted for for this fantastic, modern and clean hotel with a swimming pool. Right next to the Phimai Historical Park, the night market and the day market. Air-conditioned rooms are just over THB500 and for a bit more they throw in a balcony. The pool was really welcoming and refreshing after a hot sweltering day at the temple grounds.

Link to Phimai Paradise Hotel

Where to eat in Phimai

It’s kind of obvious that the Phimai food scene is not (yet) fully catering to tourists or visitors. Perhaps we should hope that will never be the case? There are a few eateries however that serve the more or less usual tourist fare and there’s nothing wrong with that. Having said that, for the most part the restaurants target local eaters. This gives us the perfect opportunity to indulge in some real rural Isan food.

The thing is however, that many of the local eateries open from morning to close late afternoon or early evening. Local dining habits seem to be favoring takeout from the food stalls and eat at home. Whenever they do eat out in the evening, they prefer the BBQ and Suki restaurants. You should try it, it’s tasty, fun and all over town.

Thai Suki
Thai Suki recommends

Fat Granny Phimai Roast Duck ยายอ้วน เป็ดย่างพิมาย (corner of Romsai road and the alley leading to the Northern city gate.) Not really a restaurant, more like a shack for some excellent take away bbq roasted duck. Only opens from early morning until 1pm, or sooner when they run out of ducks.

Granny was so successful selling roasted duck that now she’s franchising out duck trucks and duck stalls all over town. Or maybe she’s only the poster girl of smart entrepreneurs that took over her business, I don’t know. Fact is, the roasted duck is still delicious.

Fat Granny Phimai Roasted Duck
Fat Granny Phimai Roasted Duck

Rabieng Mai (Off Tha Songkran Road) This place is very popular with locals, but they really try to make foreign visitors feel at ease as well. This restaurant will appeal to many, because of the lively beer garden atmosphere. The (Thai) food is delicious and also good for just having snacks and drinks while enjoying the live music entertainment.

Noi Papaya Salad (Chomsa road) This restaurant is a legend among the locals. Papaya salad is the iconic Isan dish and here they have perfected it. The menu also has many other typical Thai salads, delicious chicken wings and fried noodle dishes. Rub shoulders with the locals and enjoy for very affordable prices.

Papaya Salad
Iconic Isan Papaya Salad

One Dee Dee Steak (300m East of the Historical Park). What’s in a name? But it’s not just steak on offer. There’s also roasted duck, chicken and pork, schnitzel, spaghetti, as well as popular Thai dishes. Prices are a tad higher, as one can expect for an international menu in Thailand, but nevertheless still value.

Night Market

Ananthachinda Road (around the clock tower). Aah, the Phimai night market, my favorite. This is a real local food market catering to mainly Thai and the odd tourist. Everyday from 5pm to 9pm the stalls are setup near the Southeast corner of the Phimai National Park. All kinds of regional produce, food and snacks are presented. There’s stuff here you won’t find in Bangkok. I could go here every evening for a week and still find new delicacies to try. Beware that there are very little to no seats and tables.

Phimai Night Market
Phimai Night Market

How to get to Phimai

Coming from anywhere in Thailand, you’ll have to travel to Nakhon Ratchasima Terminal 2 first if you want to avoid expensive taxi rides. Nakhon Ratchasima Terminal 2 is reachable by either bus or train from Bangkok in the South and Khon Kaen in the North.

Best book your tickets with transport planner Especially during high season and public holidays it makes sense to book ahead to secure your seat(s). The tool is incredibly easy to use, just fill out your place of departure, your destination and travel date. It will show the complete schedule and ticket price of all related transport. Make your choice and book instantly.

Once in Korat transfer to a local bus at Terminal 2 to get to Phimai (1h30m).

To get out of Phimai, have a tuktuk bring you to the Talat Khae junction on National Road 2 approximately 10km Northwest of town. Hail any bus going either South to Korat or North to Khon Kaen. Alternatively, buy your bus ticket from Phimai to Korat at the Phimai bus station and find your onward transport there. Note that the Phimai bus station is a unassuming, almost hole in the wall office.

Old fashioned truck in Phimai, Thailand
Old skool transport in Phimai
Phimai Songthaew
Phimai Songthaew

Getting around

The small town is perfectly fine for walking. From anywhere in town the Phimai Historical Park is within easy reach. For ventures outside of town (and you should) it’s a good idea to rent a bicycle or maybe a motorbike. Make sure to know the requirements for riding a motorbike in Thailand.

It’s also possible to hire a songthaew for the day, but you’ll need to show off your negotiating skills. Perhaps ask your guesthouse to mediate as most drivers don’t speak English.

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