The long low hill, the remains of a long-dormant volcano, rises up more than 200 meters from the broad flat plain of the Korat plateau. It's no wonder that the Khmer chose Phnom Rung ("Rung Hill") to build a temple dedicated to the supreme deity of Shiva. Prasat Hin Phnom Rung is arguably the most impressive Angkor era temple in Thailand.
Construction of the temple at Phnom Rung began in the tenth century and continued through the thirteenth century. Inscriptions credit a relative of King Suryavarman II, who had Angkor Wat built, with the construction of the Prasat. The temple apparently fell into disuse as the power of Angkor began to decline in the fourteenth century. The decline was, of course, helped along by the rise of the first Thai kingdoms, starting with Sukhothai and then it was really Ayutthaya that put the nail in the coffin of the Khmer empire. In 1971 a massive restoration project was undertaken to dismantle and reconstruct the temple (a process called Anastylosis). The slow and painstaking process was not completed until 1988.
Most visits to the temple start at the main parking lot at the eastern end of the complex. From here, a stairway leads up to the first platform. The ticket booth is about halfway up the stairs. Just before you reach the booth, there's a visitor's center on your left. It doesn't look like much at first glance, but it's actually a rambling museum displaying many artifacts from the site, as well as models, maps and other useful information.
The first platform sits atop a ridge. More stairs descend from here to the long processional walkway to the temple. However, to your right, north of the first platform, is a building known as the Phlab Phla, or Royal Pavilion. It consists of a "U" shaped enclosed gallery that wraps around an open-air platform. The small complex is surrounded by a wall. It's thought that the Phlab Phla was used as a changing room for royals visiting the temple. The platform suggests a place for a throne that might have been used to hold audiences as well.
The long processional walkway takes you to the first of two naga "bridges". The cruciform platform connects the walkway to the stairway up to the main sanctuary. The path from the north side of the platform leads down to three reservoirs carved into the crater of the old volcano. The grand upper starway brings you to another large platform with four small lotus ponds in it. From this platform, you cross another naga bridge to reach the main gateway to the central sanctuary.
The sanctuary is surrounded by a gallery with stone walls and presumably once had a wooden roof. The central sanctuary is cruciform in plan, similar to many other Khmer temples of the time, such as Phimai in nearby Korat or Thommanon at Angkor. At the center of the cross is the large stone lingam shrine. The sanctuary is topped by a high square tower. The tower is a bit more squat and square than is typical of Khmer shrines. This may show the influence of the Mon Dvaravati culture that ruled much of the area of Thailand before the Khmer came along. The exterior of the sanctuary is carved in rich detail with scenes from Hindu mythology.
To the southeast of the central sanctuary are two libraries. These were among the last structures built within the temple in the thirteenth century. Little remains except the foundations of one of the buildings, but the other is nearly complete, although it looks rather crude compared to the other structures.
On the northeast side of the tower are the ruins of two smaller sanctuaries, which are in fact the oldest structures in the temple, constructed in the tenth century. The current central sanctuary was built in the twelfth century. The two old sanctuaries were built of brick, and are in almost total ruin today.
In the southwest corner of the courtyard is the Prang Noi, or "minor sanctuary". It is a squat, square chapel that would have been capped by a pyramidal tower like the central sanctuary. However, either the tower was never completed, or it was and collapsed in ancient times, and the stones were removed and used for something else.
There are additional gates at each of the other three sides of the gallery. The north and south gates don't lead anywhere, but the west gate leads down to a rest area where there is a good view of the countryside.
Phnom Rung Historical Park Admission Fees
The park is open daily roughly from sunrise to sunset (6:00 am to 6:00 pm) but the visitors center doesn't open until 9:00 am. Admission to the temple is 100 Baht (2.57 USD) but if you plan to visit Muang Tam on the same day, you can purchase a combined ticket for 150 Baht (3.85 USD).