Nakhon Ratchasima also called Korat is a little over 3h drive from Bangkok and if you have 3 days week-end and are not afraid of some long drives – It’s a good cultural outing. Indeed, most people will make a bee line for Cambodia and Angkor Wat UNESCO national park, but there are beautiful and much less crowded Khmer temples in Thailand too! Phanom Rung Historical Park for example is older and as massive as the Angkor Wat temple and in perfect condition and the Phimai historical park temples have delicate carvings.
Visiting Nakhon Ratchasima
If you aim is to see the main Khmer temples in this region you must have your own transport. The sites are minimum 1h drive from Korat to 2 hours so there will be long hours on the road. It’s good to rent the car from Bangkok for 3 days and keep it, so you are free to move at your own pace.
You could also get to Korat by train and rent a car once there only.
It’s also a smart thing to prepare some pic nics if you want to stay in one of the historical parks longer to enjoy some shade. Otherwise simple street food can be found at the parking lots of most attractions.
Google maps offline will be your best friends to prepare your road trip. Save and point the main sites and download the map.
I would not attempt it once in Nakhon Ratchasima with a motorcycle independently – the roads are in overall good conditions but the distances are great and there were kilometers of straight lines with NO SHADE at all!
From Bangkok it is about 3h30 min by car – we went there for a long week-end which we found out was also the Candle festival in early July – so we got really lucky to see impressive and so detailed wax structures! Because it was a festival, in the evening in the city center of the city, there also was a night market, traditional dances and concerts too!
Day 1: arriving in Nakhon Ratchasima and visits of the city’s sights
An early departure should get you there by lunch time or 1 pm. Since it’s been a long ride – which I am sure should not be exempt of some jam getting out of Bangkok – eat at your hotel or around and maybe even get a quick nap.
We stayed at the Beverly Hills Hotel, which was affordable in a calm place right in front of the park’s entrance and super clean. But most importantly easy for parking and still 10min walking distance from the city center proper.
Most sights are inside the city center which is delimited like a square and by water moat.
Wat Phra Narai Maharat
This small temple is interesting as it sits in the middle of a pond – so makes for interesting photos. As I have been templed out in Thailand – I probably can’t find many superlatives. It’s a nice one to see.
Statue of Thao Suranaree
To know more who Thao Suranaree was, I think this is a good resource.
You can take photos but need to show some measure of respect as many thais are praying there. Behind the statues is a nice-looking fortification building.
Day 2: Visit of Phanom Rung historical park and Prasat Hin Mueang Tam
Get started around 9am ish for a long 2 hours drive to Phanom Rung Historical Park ! The temple of Phanom Rung has this impressive alley with naga statues on each side leading up to the complex. The temple sits on top of the hill and is actually older than Angkor Wat. It’s really worth going, I found it of equal beauty to some of the temples we have seen in Cambodia. Truly, if you want to see Khmer temples but can’t make it to Cambodia, this on and Prasat Hin Mueang Tam are really beautiful examples of Khmer architectures.
Loads of parking space. Parking is free – entrance ticket is 100 THB if you only visit this one, but buy the combined ticket to visit Prasat Hin Mueang Tam which is close by for 150 THB.
Since it will take a good hour to explore the complex – and it’s nearly noon. You could either get some food there or at Prasat Hin Mueang Tam.
From Phanom Rung it’s just 15min drive to the next stop. We really like this second temple because there were still the water reservoirs around the temple itself full of lotus bloom. It was smaller but carved with more details. We actually spend a good 45 min walking around this temple, then enjoyed a coke and some rest before getting on our long way back to Nakhon Ratchasima.
After the 2h30 drive back to the hotel in town – you should be pretty beaten up and it should be about 4 pm. Get some rest, if your hotel has a pool, refresh yourself and just get lazy. We did a quick walk in the park in front of our hotel to let our legs moving.
In the evening, we went in town to see the amazing wax cart of the candle festival! They were being paraded around town and parked in of the city main square. So, we just gawked at them and enjoyed the food from the night market. When the traditional dances were over and moved to very loud pop Thai music, we called it a night and walked back to the hotel.
Day 3: Visit of Phimai historical park and the road back to Bangkok
We kept Phimai national park as the last visit, because it’s the closest to Nakhon Ratchasima and we still have to go back to Bangkok in this day! (3 days week-end only). It’s also on the way back directly on the right highway bypassing Korat for the return journey. Take it slow and sleep a little late, and maybe check out around 10 am from the hotel.
The complex is only 1 hour away from Nakhon Ratchasima. The complex is bigger than Phanom Rung but I felt it was smaller than the temples visited the day before – probably because it’s flat and doesn’t have that impressive perspective. Phimai complex makes up for it with the delicate carvings and apsara that you can see there. It exceptionally well preserved.
The parking in front of the entrance is super small – I think only 8 cars at the same time – so you might end up having to find space in the streets around.
The entrance ticket for foreigner is 100 THB.
Going around should take you a good hour. Since you would be close to lunch, I would find myself a restaurant around the complex before starting the road back to Bangkok. Or start driving and eat at the simple foodcourt you find often in bigger gas stations. We drove the way back to Bangkok which took us almost 5 hours with the jam hiting us as you see the “welcome to Bangkok “ sign !
Overall impressions of a week-end in Nakhon Ratchasima
Nakhon Ratchasima, or Korat, is well worth a long week-end visit or a stopover towards Isan or Trat – you will see greatly preserved Khmer temples in the complex of Phanom Rung and Phimai historical parks. But to enjoy this fully, having your own transport is advised as distances are long. Best is to go there at the same time as the wax cart festival which is usually on the first week of July ( but dates can change in different years, so google it !) so that in the evening you can enjoy the cultural dances and the beautifully crafted wax carts.