If Prasat Phnom Rung is meant to be the ethereal home of the gods in heaven, the temple of Muang Tam seems to serve a more earthly purpose. Inscriptions found call on the goddess of the waters to protect the temple, as well as dedications to the goddess of rice. The temple may well have been simply the place of worship for the local community that served the temple on the mountain, and the many pilgrims that came through to visit the important place.
Muang Tam sits at the base of Phnom Rung hill, beside a kilometer-long reservoir (baray). It was built in the tenth or eleventh century, and probably abandoned in the thirteenth century or so. People only returned to the area in the early twentieth century, and the name "Muang Tam" dates from that time. Muang Tam means "Lower City", and is in reference to the 'higher' city on Phnom Rung. Nobody seems to know what the Khmer originally called the temple.
The temple is surrounded by high walls with large formal gates at the center each of the four sides. As in most Hindu and Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia, the main entrance is the one facing east. Within the outer wall, there are large "L"-shaped ponds in each corner of the compound. These ponds symbolize the "Goddess of the Water" who protects the temple. The ponds are separated by broad causeways that lead from the gates in the outer wall to the gates to the gallery enclosing the inner sanctuary. The ponds are surrounded by naga balustrades with small gates opening off the causeways onto the stepped banks of the ponds.
The inner sanctuary is enclosed by a gallery, again with grand gateways in the middle of each side. Within the inner sanctuary is a rather unusual arrangement of chapels. There are five tower-like chapels in all, set on a low platform. The main chapel is at roughly the center of the courtyard, although it is completely collapsed. The central tower is flanked by two more towers on either side, and then there is another row of two towers behind the first row. The remaining four towers are all incomplete, but they do still have some nice details visible, such as the intricately carved lintels.
While Muang Tam is not nearly as impressive as Phnom Rung, it is still well worth a visit, especially since it is so close to the mountain-top temple.
Muang Tam Admission Fees
The temple is open daily roughly from sunrise to sunset (6:00 am to 6:00 pm). Admission to the temple is 100 Baht (2.60 USD) but if you plan to visit Prasat Phnom Rung on the same day, you can purchase a combined ticket for 150 Baht (3.90 USD).