If you’re looking for a quiet and authentic part of Thailand without loads of tourists, then go to Phimai in Isan. This little town is famous for its Historical Park, National Museum and as the home of the country’s oldest and largest banyan tree, the Sai Ngam. So hop on your bike and let’s explore Phimai’s highlights together!
About 800 years ago, during the glory days of the Khmer Empire, a 225 kilometer road connected Phimai and modern day Cambodia’s Angkor Wat. Thanks to this road and its favorable location along the River Mun, Phimai used to be a famous and important transit point for travelers, tradesmen and visiting pilgrims wanting to worship at a stunningly beautiful temple called Prasat Hin.
These days Phimai is nowhere near as well-known or busy as it was back then. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t still worth a visit.
Thailand’s oldest and largest banyan tree
The banyan tree, or Sai Ngam, is about two kilometers away from the town centre and is easily accessible by bike. The tree grove spans a total width of 1.3 km² and is 350 years old, making it Thailand’s oldest and largest banyan tree. Wow! What a fantastic sight to behold!
You can get to the island by crossing the bridge across the pond that surrounds it after which you’ll be able to walk among the many exposed roots and tree trunks. The atmosphere here is indescribable.
Local people believe the banyan tree is sacred and that it has magic powers, so many of them come and lay wreaths and other sacrifices at the small temple under the largest tree trunk. There are benches all over, to sit on and marvel at all the surrounding beauty.
Across from the island’s main entrance are different food stands that serve excellent – and cheap – food and stands ones that sell wreaths to locals. There are enough other stalls to browse through as well, for instance if you’re looking for an off-beat souvenir.
A visit to this remarkable tree will provide ample opportunity to take some pretty, and also spooky, pictures!
Thailand’s best preserved Khmer temples
In the middle of Old Phimai, the town center, is a small Historical Park where you can visit the magnificent ruins of the Prasat Hin Phimai: one of Thailand’s best preserved Khmer temples.
On the right side of the entrance is a small souvenir shop with an information service that sells maps and tells you about the park. The employees are very friendly and will explain to you – as well as can be expected considering they don’t speak English – which areas of the park are off limits and which ones aren’t. Despite the park’s small size, we do recommend bringing a large bottle of water and an umbrella; it can get very warm in the afternoon!
If you have the opportunity to visit the park at different times of the day, do it! The changing lighting conditions will create new opportunities to take spectacular photos throughout the day.
The Phimai Historical Park is open from 7:30 AM until 6:00 PM and the entrance fee is 100 Thai Baht.
Phimai National Museum
Next to the large bridge over the River Mun is the Phimai National Museum that primarily exhibits archaeological finds from excavations done around the area. Besides statues, there are ornaments, ceramics and wood carvings. They also have an interesting photo exhibition on the Prasat Hin’s restoration.
The museum seeks to meet the demands of tourists as well, so almost all information is available in English. It’s also very calm and peaceful, allowing for visitors to look around at their own convenience. You can take pictures of the object, but you’re not allowed to selfies with them. The outside part of the exhibition is also very interesting.
The Phimai National Museum is open Wednesday until Sunday from 9:30 AM until 4:00 PM. Entrance fee is 100 Thai Baht.
Great food on the Night Market
Every day, from about 4:00 PM onwards, the space next to the Old Phimai clock tower fills up with little stalls that sell food, clothes and household items. Don’t forget, most people here don’t speak English. Therefore, if you want to barter, do it with a smile on your face and the help of a calculator. If you want to eat while sitting down, the food stalls beside the main road, on the other side of the clock tower, are good place to go.
There’s a Thai soup stall where you can buy huge bowls of amazing noodle soup for 35 Thai Baht!
Hoteltip Phimai: Phimai Paradise House
We stayed at Phimai Paradise House, which was pleasantly affordable and clean. A shared dorm with fan you only costs 200 Thai Baht per night.
The guesthouse is built in an incredibly beautiful, authentic vintage style. They rent out bicycles – which is ideal! On the bike we visited a handful of sights and rode along the river. We were able to entertain ourselves for a few days here and enjoy the fact that we were the only tourists around.
Getting to Phimai
There are no direct buses to Phimai from Bangkok. You’ll have travel via Khorat. This will take about three hours. In Khorat, you can take the bus to Phimai, which will take about an hour and a half.