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Rock Stacking and Graffiti at Phimai’s Ancient Khmer Temple

Graffiti at Ancient Khmer Temple in Thailand

The Ancient Khmer Temple at Phimai…

Beautiful temples are dotted all around Thailand. As a fan of Khmer style temples especially, it’s been my aim to visit each and every one (and I’m counting on Joe’s book to show the way).

During a baking hot trip to Buriram, the ancient Khmer temple at Phimai Historical Park was a must-see.

Graffiti at Ancient Khmer Temple in Thailand

Pssst: No, I don’t know the gal in the photo. I needed a photo of the sign to jog my memory. She didn’t move fast enough.

wikipedia: The Phimai historical park (Thai: ปราสาทหินพิมาย) protects one of the most important Khmer temples of Thailand. It is located in the town of Phimai, 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.

Graffiti at Ancient Khmer Temple in Thailand

After admiring the main part of the temple area I veered off to a quiet part of the grounds. That’s where I discovered a wall decorated with modern graffiti.

Graffiti at Ancient Khmer Temple in Thailand

But graffiti isn’t new to me, even on ancient monuments (Pompeii comes to mind). It was the carefully stacked rocks that caught my curiosity.

Graffiti at Ancient Khmer Temple in Thailand

Along the entire wall marched varied piles. Some tall. Some squat. All had graffiti at their feet. Many of the scratchings include รัก /rák/ (love).

Graffiti at Ancient Khmer Temple in Thailand

Nearby the wall was a tree shading a part of the lawn. Under the tree I found even more stacks of rocks. No graffiti. There was nowhere to write.

Graffiti at Ancient Khmer Temple in Thailand

Cheeky buggers…

Graffiti at Ancient Khmer Temple in Thailand

Almost a thousand years ago, the walled city of Phimai (ancient Vimayapura) (Siribhadra and Moore 1997:232) was a major center of the polity of Angkor, which dominated much of mainland Southeast Asia from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries A.D.

To create the stacks and etch on the walls, large slabs were stripped from sandstone blocks carved and fitted over a thousand years ago. It’s awful to think about really. But, I’d still like to know why. Why stack rocks?

Googling for answers specific to Thailand, I found this article: Rock Stacking in Koh Lipe, Thailand

gokatayama.org (no longer online): The art of rock stacking has different meanings in various cultures. While in Koh Lipe, Thailand I witnessed an entire island dedicated to stacking rocks. In Thailand, people visit this island off the coast of Koh Lipe and stack up the rocks and make a wish.

Curious. Does anyone know the significance of the rock stacking at this particular Khmer temple? Do the rocks represent the person of their desires? Or just desire?

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My passion is promoting the Thai language. Fullstop. Oh, and traveling. I'm passionate about that as well. And photography too.

8 Comments

  1. Catherine – The rock stacking and graffiti may be hundreds of years apart but perhaps the clue to solving the mystery of the former lies with the latter. Perhaps the Thai word ‘rak’ at the foot of the stacks indicates the rock stacks were put there by couples as good luck in their ‘building’ of a successful relationship together. It’s only a stab in the dark and quite an aimless one but who knows.

  2. Martyn, your explanation makes total sense to me. The truth might be totally different but… hey… I’m open for suggestions!

  3. Hmm, I think the painted signage ห้ามขีดเขียนหิน is correct, as far as saying “forbidden (to) scratch/write (on the) stone”. Why do you think it should say ห้ามขีดเขียงหิน?

    Still quite the interesting place good pix albeit more than a little “graffiti-fied”. It reminds me of one of the caves I went into here in Thailand where almost one entire chamber was covered floor to ceiling with modern graffiti. .

    I’d also say “Martyn’s” take on why Thais pile up rocks like that is as good as any explanation we’re likely to get.

    You always do interesting stuff, and here I thought you were a homebody ;P

  4. Tod, I double-checked before posting the [cough cough] assumed typo but apparently I asked the wrong question. My bad. I’m traveling at the moment so give me a bit to correct it.

    What’s the name of the cave? I’m interested. I do admire graffiti (but in the right place).

    Me? A homebody? No. Just my opinion… but I believe you are confusing homebody with hermit. They are two different animals.

    Hermits jump from cave to cave. Homebodies don’t budge from their stuff.

    I spend a fair amount of time traveling but I prefer to do it without an audience (and I certainly don’t take loads of stuff with me).

  5. Great post & love the “graffiti” :) reminds me of a “graffiti artist” from London called “SER” who runs a “graffiti” company called graffitikings go check him out.

  6. I don’t know the real significance of the rock stacking but doing that seems really fun.
    Anyway, I love that first photo you took.

  7. Thanks for this post, great stuff!

    I was actually at PhiMai this year with my family. We drove down from Chiang Saen to visit my wife’s mother who lives just outside Korat.

    We decided to take a day trip with some of the Korat branch of the family, and soon had an overflowing pick-up truck!

    There was no need (apparently) for sat nav, as each person in the truck knew exactly which route we should have taken.

    Unfortunately, there were as many opinions as there were people, so we took two hours to get there and four to get back! :)

    It is s beautiful place. I love ancient buildings, there’s always such a strong feel of the past and the idea that, for thousands of years, people have walked where I am walking always gets to me.

    I’m afraid I can be of no assistance with the piles of rocks though. No-one that I was with knew why they were there.

  8. Hi Biff, It is a beautiful place to walk around. I wish it were closer to Bangkok. I’d be there often – but then, so would a zillion others. The next time I go (and I will) I’ll ask in the office. Why oh why didn’t I think of that before! We did spend time talking with the people working there. Darn.

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