I recently joined a TAT-sponsored trip to visit ancient Khmer historical sites in the northeast provinces of Buriram and Surin as well as the Chang International Circuit and the Buriram football stadium. A visit of ancient and modern temples, you could say. 

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After landing at Buriram airport, we traveled to Surin Province to visit Ta Mueang in Phanom Dongrak district. Ta Mueang is a Khmer ruin situated in an area bordering Cambodia that combines three ancient ruins, ranging from large to small: Ta Mueang Thom (above), Ta Mueang Tot (below) and Ta Mueang, respectively, all grouped together in a historical park, and currently being considered for “World Heritage” designation.

We continued our journey visiting the Sikhoraphum ruins (third photo below), well-known as the most beautiful Khmer ruin in Surin Province. Located between the cities of Surin and Sisaket, it was built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II for Hindu worship. The temple is composed of five sandstone and brick towers, on a base made of laterite, and was converted for use by Thai Buddhists in the 16th century.

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We then visited the Baan Tha Sawang silk village. The artisans here are famous for preserving the craftsmanship of golden brocade silk weaving in the ancient royal court style. The weavers produce high-quality silk on traditional looms, as their families have done so for centuries. Local shops sell the finished cloth and silk products. You can watch the skilled workers at their looms and visitors can follow the whole silk-making process from the preparation of the silk cocoons to the creation of stunning elaborate silk cloth on looms requiring the weaver and four assistants to weave thousands of silk threads through heddles in order to create the stunning patterns.

In the evening, we witnessed the Loy Krathong Festival at Suan Rak in Surin town. It may be difficult for some foreigners to grasp the importance of Loy Krathong because the actual floating of the krathongs take but a few seconds. However, many Thais spend hours preparing their thongs and releasing them is seen as a means of paying respect to the goddess of the water and a symbol of rebirth, cleansing and hopefully good luck.

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The next morning, we visited Khao Phra Angkhan Temple, built atop an extinct volcano in Chalerm Phrakait district, in Buriram. Many fine Buddhist objects dating back to the Khmer empire era are found at the temple including beautiful Prasad Hin Phanom Rung, which is one of the most beautiful temples in Buriram Province. There is a holy shrine, pavilion, and various ruin complexes located at the summit of Khao Angkan hill, 320 meters above sea level, which provides an excellent vantage point of the vast forest and paddies down below.

At the Sum Yod shrine fine art wall paintings can be found, depicting the tale of Lord Buddha’s past life written in English, and the ancient temple’s boundary marked by some 109 Buddha images. The temple also is also home to a Chinese-style pagoda and a huge reclining Buddha.

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We hopped back in the van to visit the Phra Suphattara Bophit Buddha, a huge image Buddhist image situated in Khao Kradong Natural Park in Mueang district. The viewpoint overlooks an inactive volcano’s crater covered by abundant forest.

It is a sanctuary of small wildlife habitat, particularly many species of birds. Its former name is Phanom Kradong, which in Khmer means “mountain of the tortoise” because from a distance it looks like a tortoise shell. It is an important tourist attraction for researching geology. In this area, Ku Khao Kradong is situated, which houses a replica of the Lord of Buddha’s footprint.

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Next up was a visit to the Buriram International Circuit aka the Chang International Circuit in Mueang district, Buriram. This arena, opened in 2014, has been accredited by the International Motorcycle Federation (FIM) as a standard FIM Grade A racing course. It is also certified by the International Automobile Federation as a standard FIA Grade A, thereby making it the first FIA Grade 1 and FIM Grade A circuit in Thailand. This year, Dorna Sports held the first of three MotoGPs (PTT Thailand Grand Prix) that is has committed to stage from 2018 to 2020, The circuit has also been host to stages of the World Superbike Championship and the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia series.

The final destination was to traipse through Buriram Castle, which links the ancient Khmer civilization with modernity. A public venue covering 93,000 square meters between the i-Mobile stadium and the Chang International Circuit, it was designed village style with the replica of an ancient Khmer temple (above) looking down upon a modern community full of shops and restaurants. The area is divided into zones of which the Prasat Sai Fa or Lighting Castle forms the main core. The artisans carved all the stones with elaborate detail and placed them on site according to the style of ancient Khmer temples of the past. They also calculated the timing of sunrise and sunset to have the sun’s rays pass through the temple’s doors similar to what is seen in the province’s famous Prasat Hin Phranom Rung ruins. Inside, is an exhibition of trophies reflecting the pride of the Buriram people.

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Buriram Castle is like a city within a city and has transformed the economy of what was once a sleepy little Isarn town. The Buriram United Football Club, was formerly known as the PEA FC (Provincial Electricity Authority Football Club) before it became Buriram PEA and then Buriram United in 2010 and 2012 respectively. The chairman of the club is Newin Chidchob, the de facto leader of the Bhumjaithai Party.

In 2014, Spanish coach Alejandro Menendez led Buriram United to become the first Thai club to achieve the Quadruple, winning the Kor Royal Cup, Thai League T1, Thai FA Cup and Thai League Cup. Two years later Brazilian coach Alexandre Gama replicated the feat. The Chang stadium, nicknamed “Thunder Castle” leads the Thai league in attendance, seats 32,600, is the second largest in the country and sits about 4km southwest of central Buriram.

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So, if you are looking for something a little different or off the beaten path, why not visit the Thai Isarn provinces of Surin and Buriram to get a taste of ancient and modern history – take in a football game if you can, or watch a racing event at the Chang International Circuit.

You won’t be disappointed and by the way, Nok Air and Air Asia fly daily return trips to Buriram from Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport.

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