Phimai Historical Park

Phimai – The Coolest Place in Thailand that you Don’t Know About

30 comments
Festivals and Events, Photo Essay, Thailand

While visiting the 12th century Khmer ruins in Phimai, Thailand, I happened upon six women dressed in resplendent yellow dresses. “Tam mai suai?” – Why pretty? – I asked. The friendly ladies said that they were headed to a festival with lots of dancing and people and that I should go. They give me directions, I took their photo, and I explored the ruins before heading off to the festival. 

I went looking for the festival but quickly got lost. I approached a group of three men drinking beer under a tree, showed them the photo of the women in the dresses and asked, “Yuu tee nai,” – Where is this?

The men began speaking to each other in rapid-fire Thai before one of them said in English, “He can drive you, he isn’t drunk.” One of the guys hopped on his bike and dramatically slapped the seat, indicating for me to hop on. He drove me to the municipal building where I arrived just in time to see 300 women with perfect hair, full-on makeup, and matching dresses, perform an intricate yet graceful Thai dance. It was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen, and I found it purely by chance. 

Phimai festival

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Many places in Thailand are so overrun with tourists that it is a challenge to meet locals, but Phimai is an unusual place – a perfect tourist destination without the tourists. As a result, I met many friendly locals, experienced authentic Thai culture, and got invited to a festival.

The town of Phimai is centered around an 800-year-old Khmer temple. The spectacular ruins predate Angkor Wat, and although small in scale compared to their southern neighbor, the grounds are a great way to see ruins without the hordes.

Phimai Pano

Throughout the city are vestiges of Phimai’s glorious past. Sections of the old city wall stand incongruously next to modern houses, and reservoirs, forests, and canals built hundreds of years ago, still provide a quiet respite. Phimai is bordered on the north by the meandering Moon River, on the south and west by a large canal, and on the east by the eerily beautiful banyan tree forest.

Phimai doesn’t have the party scene or nightlife of Bangkok or the beach towns, but there are several hip cafes and traditional Isan restaurants. Plus, the lively night market is a great place to do some shopping, eat street food, and hang out with Thai people.

In this world of Instagram and travel blogs where so many famous places are overrun with tourists, I am not worried about Phimai becoming overcrowded anytime soon. The city has the infrastructure in place to host a steady stream of travelers, but will likely never compete with the major sites of Southeast Asia. It is a destination for travelers seeking a more off-the-beaten-path experience, and that is okay by me because when I return, I’ll get invited to festivals and parties by the amiable locals.

Phimai Photo Gallery

 


If you go to Phimai:

  • Eat: Amphoe Cafe – great coffee, excellent Japanese food and outdoor seating with a view of the lake
  • Stay: Moon River Resort. – A quiet and beautiful location just outside of town. You can swim in the Moon River to cool off
  • Do: Phimai Boat Festival – Annual festival held every November

 

What are your favorite off the beaten path destinations that you are willing to tell us about?

 


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Currently living in Bangkok, I travel, write, take photos, and stalk street cats. ~ planetbell1@gmail.com

30 thoughts on “Phimai – The Coolest Place in Thailand that you Don’t Know About”

  1. shungphotography says:

    Great photos – look like a good place to visit!

    • I got lucky to see that. I want to go back in November during the boat races (and when it isn’t so hot!).

  2. Great find and the post. Never heard about this place. But I was lucky to visit Ayutthaya on my last visit. So for that has been the highlight of my Thailand! 🙏

    • Ayutthaya is great. Even though it gets a lot more visitors, many come on a day trip so it isn’t too crowded in the evening and morning.

      • Yes I visited on day trip too, but I felt that I should have stayed overnight. With the night lights Ayutthaya would be different world for sure! 😍

  3. Phimai seems to be my kind of place — not too crowded, people are friendly, with an ancient site just around the corner. You were so lucky to have stumbled upon that traditional dance performance. What an interesting trip this must have been!

    • You’d like Phimai. There are many Khmer ruins in eastern Thailand and a lot of shared history in that area. For me, it was nice to be away from the noise and chaos of Bangkok. You’d probably like it too for the same reason.

  4. A lucky find indeed. The photos of this festival are beautiful. I love finding interesting places that have not yet been Instagramed to death. Thanks for sharing this little gem.

    • You are welcome. It seems like you’ve visited a lot of places in Portugal lately that are similar.

    • I get braver when I really want something. I knew something special must be going on for those women all to be dressed alike.

    • It is a really cool place. I enjoyed the festival more because it was a unique and random experience.

  5. This sounds so cool Jeff, just the kind of place I’d like, especially finding a festival. Your photos are excellent of course. How wonderful to get to see the women dance. I love that kind of serendipity. Now that you’re living there you’re really getting to know the nooks and crannies of Thailand.
    Alison

    • Serendipity is the reason I keep traveling. It is those unexpected moments that make it fun and exciting. Thailand has a lot to offer, and I really enjoy going to these off the beaten path places. I’m hoping to go to more festivals in the future for sure!

  6. 300 women, dressed to the nines, dancing in sync. That must have been something to see in real time. Serendipity reigns.

  7. I think your efforts with the Thai language are paying off. I love how you went with the flow, hopping onto the non-drunk guy’s bike. So many dancers dressed in those beautiful outfits…what a sight that must have been. I’m glad these type of places still exist.

    • In Thailand, I have found that it is best to accept the random offers of kindness that come along and go with it. I haven’t been let down yet.

  8. Love the serendipitous moments that Thailand has on offer for those willing to venture off the beaten track. How lucky you were to score an invite to this one. I never made it to Phimai or happened across any Khmer runs in Thailand so I’m delighted to be taken here now through your lens. Gorgeous portrait and framing of the dancers.

    • The Khmer ruins in Thailand are almost completely overlooked by tourists. Even though they don’t compare to those of Angkor Wat, you can enjoy them in peace, which is great. Thanks for the comments about the photos – I appreciate it!

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