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The Royal Road (Dharmasal Route) was a 225 km roadway going northwest between Angkor (in Kampuchea) and Phimai (now in Thailand). While it was not the only such road built by the Khmer, it was the most important one.

Most of the road is overgrown by the jungle, and only visible today on aerial photographs. Few of the rest house chapels or hospital chapels survive (only the chapels remain as they were the only buildings built of sandstone or laterite, and all wooden constructions rotted away long ago). The only part of the road which is still driveable is at the entrance to the town of Phimai (state route 2163).

The road has been proven to exist in the 12th and 13th century, but it is quite certain that it existed much earlier. Most of the buildings along the road date from the reign of King Jayavarman VII.

The road used the Ta Muen Thom pass over the Dongrek mountains, and the first major stop was the Prasat Phanom Rung temple.

Prasat Phimai

The Phimai historical park (ประสาทหินพิมาย) protects one of the most important Khmer temples of Thailand. It is located in the town of Phimai in the Nakhon Ratchasima province.

The temple marks one end of the Ancient Khmer Highway from Angkor. As the enclosed area of 1020x580m is comparable with that of Angkor Wat, Phimai must have been an important city in the Khmer empire. Most buildings are from the late 11th to the late 12th century, built in the Baphuon, Bayon and Angkor Wat style. However, even though the Khmer at that time were Hindu, the temple was built as a Buddhist temple, as Buddhism in the Khorat area dated back to the 7th century. Inscriptions name the site Vimayapura (which means city of Vimaya), which developed into the Thai name Phimai.

The first inventory of the ruins was done in 1901 by the French geographer Etienne Aymonier. They were put under governmental protection by announcement in the Government Gazette, Volume 53, section 34, from September 27, 1936. Most of the restorations were done from 1964 to 1969 as a joint Thai-French project. The historical park, now managed by the Fine Arts Department, was officially opened by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn on April 12, 1989.

Prasat Khao Pravi Haan

Prasat Khao Pravi Haan (ประสาทเขาพระวิหาร) is a Khmer temple situated atop a 525-metre cliff in the D‚ngrÍk Mountains, in the Preah Vihear province of northern Cambodia and near the border of the Kantharalak district (amphur) in the Sisaket province of eastern Thailand.

Affording a view for many kilometers across a plain, Prasat Khao Pravi Haan has the most spectacular setting of all the temples built during the six-centuries-longKhmer Empire. As a key edifice of the empire's spiritual life, it was supported and modified by successive kings and so bears elements of several architectural styles. Pravi Haan is unusual among Khmer temples in being constructed along a long north-south axis, rather than having the conventional rectangular plan with orientation toward the east. The temple gives its name to Cambodia's Pravi Haan province, in which it is located, as well as the Khao Phravi Haan National Park in Thailand's Sisaket province, through which the temple is most easily accessible.

Please note: Owing to a dispute between the Thai and Khmer Governments, Khao Pravi Haan is currently not accessible from Thailand.

During different periods it has been located in Cambodia and Thailand in turn. Following Cambodian independence and the Thai occupation of the temple it was listed by Thailand as being in
Bhumsrol village (which means "Village of pine trees") of the Bueng Malu sub-district (now merged with the Sao Thong Chai sub-district), in the Kantharalak district of the Sisaket province of eastern Thailand. It is 110 km from the Mueang Si Sa Ket district, the center of Si Sa Ket province.

Construction of the first temple on the site began in the early 9th century; both then and in the following centuries it was dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva in his manifestations as the mountain gods Sikharesvara and Bhadresvara. The earliest surviving parts of the temple, however, date from the Koh Ker period in the early 10th century, when the empire's capital was at the city of that name. Today, elements of the Banteay Srei style of the late 10th century can be seen, but most of the temple was constructed during the reigns of the Khmer kings Suryavarman I (1002 -1050) and Suryavarman II (1113 -1150). An inscription found at the temple provides a detailed account of Suryavarman II studying sacred rituals, celebrating religious festivals and making gifts, including white parasols, golden bowls and elephants, to his spiritual advisor, the aged Brahman Divakarapandita. The Brahman himself took an interest in the temple, according to the inscription, donating to it a golden statue of a dancing Shiva. In the wake of the decline of Hinduism in the region the site was converted to use by Buddhists.

The temple complex runs 800 m (2,600 ft) along a north-south axis, and consists essentially of a causeway and steps rising up the hill towards the sanctuary, which sits on the clifftop at the southern end of the complex (120 m above the northern end of the complex, 525 m above the Cambodian plain and 625 m above sea level). Although this structure is very different from the temple mountains found at Angkor, it serves the same purpose as a stylised representation of Mount Meru, the home of the gods.

The approach to the sanctuary is punctuated by five gopuras. Each of the gopuras before the courtyards is reached by a set of steps, and so marks a change in height which increases their impact. The gopuras also block a visitor's view of the next part of the temple until he passes through the gateway, making it impossible to see the complex as a whole from any one point.

The fifth gopura, in the Koh Ker style, retains traces of the red paint with which it was once decorated, although the tiled roof has now disappeared. The fourth gopura is later, from the Khleang/Baphuon periods, and has on its southern outer pediment, "one of the masterpieces of Pravi Haan" (Freeman, p. 162) : a depiction of the Churning of the Sea of Milk. The third is the largest, and is also flanked by two halls. The sanctuary is reached via two successive courtyards, in the outer of which are two libraries.

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Prasat Phnom Rung

Prasat Phanom Rung  (ปราสาทหินพนมรุ้ง) is a Khmer temple complex set on the rim of an extinct volcano at 1,320 feet above sea level. It was built in sandstone and laterite in the 10th to 13th centuries. It was a Hindu shrine dedicated to Shiva, and symbolises Mount Kailash, his heavenly dwelling.

After the three-leveled lower stairway, the visitor finds himself on the first cruciform platform with a first peek at the main temple. On the right, northward, is Phlab Phla or the White Elephant House. The pavilion is believed to be the place where kings and the royal family would change attire before rituals. Royalty would then enter the Processional Walkway, one of the most impressive elements of the park. It is 160 meters long and bordered by seventy sandstone posts with tops of lotus buds. The Walkway itself is paved with laterite blocks.

The Walkway leads to the first of three naga bridges. The five-headed snakes face all four directions and are from the 12th century. This bridge represents the connection between heaven and earth. The naga bridge leads to the upper stairway, which is divided into five sets. Each set has terraces on the sides. The last terrace is wide, made with laterite blocks. It has a cruciform shape and four small pools. More steps lead to the second naga bridge. It has the same shape as the first one, only smaller. In the middle the remains of an eight petalled lotus carving can be seen.

This final terrace leads to the outer gallery. It probably used to be a wooden gallery with a tiled roof, but only a raised floor of laterite remains. After the outer gallery one reaches the inner gallery, which is divided in long and narrow rooms. It served as a wall around the principal tower. This last gallery leads to the third and last naga bridge, another small copy of the first one.

The bridge leads you directly into the main sanctuary. After the antechamber and the annex, one reaches the principal tower. Double porches lead out in all directions. The inner sanctum used to have the "linga", the phallic symbol of Shiva. Currently, only the "somasutra" remains which was used to drain water during religious rites. The entrances have various lintels and icons depicting Hindu religious stories, e.g. the dancing Shiva and the five Yogi's. The southern entrance is guarded by a sandstone statue.

Apart from the main tower, other buildings in the compound are:
  • Two brick sanctuaries built around the 10th century, northeast of the tower.
  • The minor sanctuary southwest of the tower with a sandstone altar for a sacred image. It was built with sandstone in the 11th century. Prang Noi has only one entrance facing east. The sanctuary is square with indented corners, giving it a round feel.
  • Two Bannalai southeast and northeast of the principal tower. The buildings are rectangular and have only one entrance. They were built in the last period, around the 13th century, and used as a library for holy scriptures.

Angkhor Wat

Angkor Wat is the temple complex in Kampuchea at the southern end of the Royal Road. It is the largest religious monument in the world, the site measuring 162.6 hectares. It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in Yaśodharapura (present-day Angkor) and dedicated to Vishnu who is one of the principal deities of Hinduism. Along with Brahma and Shiva, Vishnu forms a Hindu trinity.

Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the temple-mountain and the later galleried temple. It is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu mythology. Within a moat and an outer wall 3.6 kilometres long are three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next. At the centre of the temple stands a quincunx of towers. The temple is admired for the grandeur and harmony of the architecture, its extensive bas-reliefs, and for the numerous devatas adorning its walls.

The original name of the temple was Vrah Viṣṇuloka which means the sacred dwelling of Vishnu. The temple was gradually transforming into a Buddhist temple toward the end of the 12th century


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