Astro-archaeology = archaeo-astronomy = Astroarchaeology = archaeoastronomy

The Dharmasala Route from Angkor to Phimai

- an ancient route in revival -





The author of this article has since 2003 conducted GPS-based field-research on the orientation of ancient Khmer temples in NE-Thailand (Isan), a research aimed at analysing the general trend in orientation of Khmer sites and eventual celestial relation.

After having completed the research in Buriram Province the author became interested in the routings between the Khmer sites, including ancient settlements, in Isan down to the ancient capital city of Kambuja, Angkor Wat.

The provincial authorities of Buriram were in 2004 very interested in the ancient route as well because it was in a process of being promoted as a 'Cultural Route' including the dharmasalas and the better known temples as Phimai and Phanom Rung. The project was centrally initiated (the National World Heritage Committee at the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning).
     The local authorities had problems locating the dharmasalas in Buriram, especially Prasat Nong Kong, which coordinates were incorrectly given in their FAD material. As the author already had located the site, he was happy to support the vice-governor's office with the correct coordinates, the coordinates of all Khmer sites in Buriram, and a short description of the temples. The paper is hereby also available for the general public, see the article below.


The routing from Ta Muan to Phimai is not as hitherto described basically straight, it zigzags from site to site through Isan.
2 The distances between the sites vary considerably.
3 The orientations of the constructions vary considerably.
The Hindu temples That Phanom Rung and Muang Tam might be secondary options on the pilgrimage.
5 The 'Cultural Route' as a tourism project will be in focus the coming year.



Article, September 2004:


The Dharmasala Route from Angkor to Phimai

- an ancient route in revival -

     A stone-inscription discovered in 1937 at Preah Khan temple at Angkor Thom, informs us that the Mahayana Buddhist emperor Jayavarman VII (1181 – ca. 1220 A.D.) initiated the construction of 121 vahni-griha along routes throughout his kingdom. One route mentioned is the route from Yasodharaphura (Angkor) to Vimai (Phimai), where the number is given to be 17.
     Another inscription, from the nearby Ta Prohm temple, tells us about another ambitious plan of Jayavarman VII: The construction of 102 arogyasalas throughout every province of his kingdom.
     The Ta Prohm inscription let us know that the arogyasalas were 'hospitals' or rather 'hospital chapels'. But the Preah Khan inscription does not mention the function of the vahni-grihas.


     The only clue we have of the use of the vahni-grihas lies in the term itself, which therefore deserves some considerations:
     Coedes translated vahni-griha to French as 'maison avec du feu', 'gîtes d'étape avec du feu' or just ' gîtes d'étape', which in English is something like 'house with fire', 'stopping place with fire', or just 'stopping place'.
     Vedic religious architecture operates with a garbha-griha, 'womb-room', which is the small dark room in the central sanctuary, where the principal deity, the god, of the temple is installed. In the term vahni-griha we have the same griha, meaning 'chamber', 'house', 'habitation', 'home' – various forms of 'shelter'. A 'temple' (shelter of the gods) is another lexical possibility. The other compound of the term is vahni, which as an isolated term is given (in
Cologne Digital Sanskrit Lexicon) as 'the conveyer or bearer of oblations to the gods (especially said of Agni, 'fire', or of the 'three sacrificial fires'. Vahni also occurs in numerous combined nouns meaning 'fire', as for example in makha-vahni, 'sacrificial fire' – or vahni-griha, 'fire-chamber'. Vahni-sala also means 'fire-chamber', with sala as 'house', 'mansion', 'building', 'hall', 'large room', 'shed', etc.
     Fire and the god Agni are lexically closely associated: Vahni-loka is the 'world of Agni'. Agni is still a high-class word for fire in modern Thailand – pronounced ak-kha-ni.

     The most proper translations of vahni-griha must therefore be house with fire (or rather temple with fire), fire-chamber, or fire-shelter. Another option is to use vahni-griha as it is written in the original Sanskrit text – or use agni-sala, which has the same meaning.

     The vahni-grihas are later described by Zhou Daguan, a Chinese diplomat living at Angkor nearly a year in the end of the 13th century almost a century after Jayavarman VII. Zhou Daguan noted that on "the great routes there are places of rest like our post relays".
     The often used term 'rest-house' is problematic as it gives associations to some kind of accommodation for travellers, which is not the case. Stone structures were not shelters for humans. If the structures had a pilgrimage function, then the pilgrims accommodated in perishable shelters made of wood, bamboo and grass.

     Temple with fire: Agni means fire in Sanskrit. Agni is also one of the most important gods of the Vedic pantheon, being the god of fire and ritual sacrifice. In later Khmer Hindu iconography Agni is depicted as one of the Guardians of the Cardinal Directions, the Dikpalas, riding a rhinoceros and caretaking the SE-direction. Agni also appears as one of the Nine Celestial Deities, the Navagraha, where he more often rides a ram. Whether Agni is depicted on the navagraha frieze at the Mahayana Buddhist Bayon temple of Jayavarman VII is not evident due to erosion of the image, but rituals dedicated to the worship of Agni (fire) are depicted in the reliefs of the inner gallery of Bayon and at Banteay Chmar's eastern gallery northern wing as well: Agni-hotar (fire-sacrifice).

     Another meaning of agni-sala is vajra-dvala, which is a mudra, a hand-position or 'spiritual gesture' when for example meditating. And the Buddha figure depicted on the lintel above the eastern doorway of Prasat Ta Muean exposes the agni-sala or vajra-dvala mudra. The term agni-sala could thereby be related not only to fire-rituals, but to Mahayana Buddhist meditation.

     In 1925 the French archaeologist Finot wrote about the vahni-grihas and without any arguments coined the term dharmasala. This term has since become widely used and is correct to the extend that these small sanctuaries were places (sala) for Buddhist conduct (dharma).

     Even the author favours terms as vahni-griha or agni-sala, or a translations as 'temple with fire' or 'fire-shelter', the more commonly used dharmasala will be used in this paper. The route from Angkor to Phimai is therefore named the Dharmasala Route.


     Seven of the hitherto eight discovered dharmasalas in NE-Thailand are made of laterite with only the door- and window-frames made of sandstone. The size is relatively small: Approximately 4 by 15 meters. The western part is adorned with a spire. Only the southern wall has windows. A pedestal for a religious image can be found inside the western door. The orientation of the eastern door varies from 50.0º to 97.5º - none of them cardinally, straight 90º east.
     Only two of the dharmasalas have been renovated: Prasat Ta Muan and Prasat Huai Khaen. The rest are still in a ruined state. Artefacts are generally missing, but Mahayana Buddha figures can be seen in nearby temporary Buddhist temples near 3 of the sites. Only the western door of Prasat Ta Muen is adorned with a lintel depicting Buddha.
     The dharmasalas in Cambodia have not yet been visited by the author [2004], but literature studies show similar architectural lay-out.




Prasat Ta Muan from south-west   Prasat Ta Muan from south.


     The ancient route from Angkor to Phimai is in the literature often referred to as The Royal Road. In this article it is called The Dharmasala Route, as there maybe were at least two routes from Angkor to Phimai, the Dharmasala Route being the latest.
     An older and easier accessible route entered the Khorat Plateau at the 11th century Prasat Bai Baek, which is located exactly on the alignment from Angkor to Phimai. Prasat Bai Baek is like the 12th century Angkor Wat dedicated Vishnu and shares the same unique orientation of straight west, the cardinal direction associated with Vishnu.

The later (12th – early 13th century) Dharmasala Route started at the Preah Khan temple right outside the northern gate of Angkor Thom, where the first dharmasala is located. After passing the flat plain of lowland Cambodia the route crossed the Dangraek Mountains right south of Prasat Ta Muang, which is the first dharmasala on the Khorat plateau.
     Jayavarman VII
supposedly changed the Phimai-routing to the Ta Muan Mountain Pass some 12 km east of the Sai Taku Mountain Pass at Prasat Ta Muan and constructed a 'rest-house', Prasat Ta Muan and a 'hospital', Prasat Ta Muan Tot, close to the already existing late 11th century Shiva temple, Prasat Ta Muan Thom.
     From there the Dharmasala Route was not continuing directly towards Prasat Phanom Rung and Prasat Muang Tam – the 2 most famous temples of a cluster of all together 9 Hindu temples. The route passed the cluster in the eastern perimeter. The 2nd dharmasala on the Khorat Plateau is Prasat Thamo, the 3rd is Prasat Ban Bu, which is the dharmasala closest to and some 4 km east of Prasat Phanom Rung and 4 km north of Prasat Muang Tam.
     The Mahayana Buddhist sanctuary Prasat Phimai was the ultimate and final destination for the travelling pilgrims and traders – not Prasat Phanom Rung, which might have been an 'extra option' on the pilgrimage and a detour adding 5 km to the stretch to the 4th dharmasala, Prasat Nong Kong. The presence of a Jayavarman VII 'library' inside the walls of Prasat Phanom Rung indicates that this temple like most other Hindu temples was transformed into a Mahayana Buddhist Temple.
Near Prasat Phanom Rung and at Prasat Muang Tam as well, Jayavarman VII built 'hospitals', arokhayasalas, for curing the maladies of his subjects – but no 'rest-houses' for the pilgrims.


Above: GPS-generated map by the author (2004).
Site 1 - 6 is provided by BEFEO, 10 - 17 is visited, and 7 - 9 are undiscovered.

[2010-note: Site 7 has been identified by a Cambodian team. Site 8 and 9 are still not positively identified and the subject of some controversy among scholars. Site 1, Preah Phyu, is now being questioned as well and is most likely not a Dharmasala].



     The route from Angkor to Phimai was first described by the French surveyor E.E. Lunet de Lajonquiere, who on his map depicted it as going straight from Angkor to the Dangrek Mountain Chain. From there the routing was depicted going straight to Phanom Rung and thereafter straight to Phimai.
     This straight super-highway concept has since the publishing of Lajonquiere's now nearly 100 years old map been repeated by later scholars.


Right: Map from 1910 made by de Lajonquiere


     De Lajonquiére and the temporary French surveyor Aymonier did an excellent job, but neither of them had knowledge of the locations of all 17 dharmasalas, and their mapmaking was done with tools much less accurate than modern equipment.
     The here described GPS-survey of ancient Khmer temples in NE-Thailand reveals that the dharmasalas from Phimai to Ta Muan are not located on a straight line - 'like a Roman highway'.

     The distance between the locations varies from 11.2 to 20.6 km. After a three weeks motor-bike field research along the alignments of the dharmasalas in NE-Thailand the author does not see any geographic reason for why the Dharmasala Route is zigzagging through the landscape. A further study will include the locations of ancient moated settlements.
     This paper consequently uses the term 'route' instead of 'road' because no traces of a paved road has been discovered north of Prohm Kel in Cambodia.
     Neither is there any geographic reason for the relatively great variation in distance between the sites. One of the short stretches on 11 km passes 3 rivers and areas pruned to flooding, but the other 11-km stretch passes easily passable flat sandy highland. The longest stretch passes similar easily passable flat sandy highland right south of Phimai, where no ancient settlements are registered and the area was not suitable for rice-growing.

     A survey of the 'rest-houses' and stone bridges along the Dharmasala Route in Cambodia has been postponed until after the rainy season, but literature studies (1, 2) reveal that the routing in Cambodia is zigzagging there as well and that there also is variation in orientation of the temples and distance between them.



     Where are the 17 Dharmasalas mentioned in the Preah Khan Inscription? Until this moment [2004] nobody knows the location of all of them!
     In the beginning of this year the Fine Arts Department of Thailand (F.A.D.) listed seven Dharmasalas in Isan, then later on eight. Literature studies mention six in Cambodia. The author has received the GPS-addresses of these from the authorities in Phnom Penh and added them on the GPS-generated map above.
     Where are the rest then? F.A.D. recently added one in Isan: Prasat Samrong. A short glimpse at the map above does not look convincing. The distance to the next is only 6 km and on flat land easy to travel. The map rather indicates a missing Dharmasala at Phimai (!) – just like there is one right outside Angkor - and at Phimai there actually are two un-excavate sites / candidates.
     When surveying Prasat Samrong 7 months ago the ruin did not evidently appear as a Dharmasala, but if F.A.D. is correct, then there are only two missing Dharmasalas in northern Cambodia with a distance between on ca. 20 km – in a rugged landscape, difficult to trespass. A planned future survey in northern Cambodia will hopefully clear out these uncertainties.



The ancient route has come into focus again and is presently being revived. The National World Heritage Committee (the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning, Bangkok) has in February 2004 prepared and distributed a paper to the provincial authorities setting out guidelines for promoting a 'Cultural Route from Phimai to Ta Muan' (*). This coming route constitutes of a chain of temples on the Khorat Plateau including Prasat Phimai, Prasat Phanom Rung, Prasat Muang Tam , the 8 hitherto discovered dharmasalas and 6 nearby Jayavarman VII 'hospitals'.

     An obvious next step would be to expand the route to its cultural centre – Angkor – and several steps in that direction has already been taken.
     In May 2004 a caravan with officials from Buriram visited the Jayavarman VII 'hospital' Banteay Chhmar in NW Cambodia and a 'rest-house', Prohm Kel, on the
Dharmasala Route. The caravan entered Cambodia at the Chong Sai Taku mountain pass next to Prasat Bai Baek in Buriram province, which presently is only open for locals, but is under preparation to be upgraded to an international checkpoint.
The archaeologists at Prasat Phanom Rung Historical Park works every year on one specific theme. Next years theme is The Cultural Route Angkor-Phimai with emphasis on Buriram.
     Another project to be seen next year is the construction of a Cultural Route Information Centre, which will be located at either Phanom Rung or Nang Rong City.
     A third related 2005-project is a newly settled group of researchers from Buriram Rajabhat Institute, who will study tourism feasibilities in the triangle Buriram-Srisaket-Angkor with emphasis on The Cultural Route and its associated ancient Khmer temples.

     Year 2005 will be the year of the revival of the Cultural Route from Angkor in Cambodia to Phimai in Thailand hopefully strengthening the cultural ties and mutual understanding between the two people.


(*): 'Cultural Route', sen thang ariyatham, (ส้นทางอริยธรรม), could also be translated as the 'Route of Civilization' - as sen thang means 'route' and ariyatham 'civilization'.

(1)   Les Points en pierre du Cambodge ancien, Bruno Bruguier, Bulletin de l'École Française d'Extréme-Orient (BEFEO, 2000). (2)   Dharmaçalas ou Cambodge, Louis Finot, Bulletin de l'École Française d'Extréme-Orient (BEFEO, 1925).



Buriram, 2004 September 12


***   END OF ARTICLE   ***



1.0      Pictures of Khmer temples in the area along the ancient route(s).
1.1      Dharmasalas in NE-Thailand.
1.2      Jayavarman VII 'hospitals' in NE-Thailand.
1.3      Hindu sanctuaries in NE-Thailand.
1.4      Mahayana Buddhist sanctuary in NE-Thailand.
1.5      Ancient settlements in NE-Thailand.
1.6      Dharmasalas in Cambodia.
1.7      The ancient stone bridge Spean Top (BEFEO: 719) in Cambodia.
1.8      The ancient Khmer stone bridge 'Spean O Kmeng Bridge'.
1.9      Ancient Khmer temples along the northernmost part of Dharmasala Route in Cambodia.
2.0      Links to websites with pictures related to the Dharmasala Route in Cambodia.
3.0      Locations and GPS-position of the 8 dharmasalas of Isan.
4.0      Distances, alignments and orientations.
4.1      The distances and the alignments between the dharmasalas.
4.2      Orientations of the dharmasalas.


1.0. Pictures of Khmer temples in the area along the ancient routes in NE-Thailand:
, Jayavarman VII 'hospitals', Hindu and Mahayana Buddhist sanctuaries.

1.1: Dharmasalas


No. 17

Prasat Ku Sila Khan,
Khorat Province,

Left: From west
Right: Northern wall


No. 16

Prasat Huai Khaen,
Khorat Province,

Left: From north
Right: Western facade


No. 15

Prasat Nong Ta Plaeng,
Buriram Province,

Left: From S-W
Right: Northern wall


No. 14

Prasat Nong Plong,
Buriram Province,

Left: From west
Right: Northern wall


No. 13

Prasat Nong Kong,
Buriram Province,

Left: From south
Right: Northern wall


No. 12

Prasat Ban Bu,
Buriram Province,

Left: Southern facade
Right: Eastern facade


No. 11

Prasat Thamo,
Buriram Province,

Left: S-E corner
Right: Southern facade

No. 10

Prasat Ta Muan,
Surin Province,

Left: S-W corner
Right: Southern facade





Pictures right and left:

Contemporary Mahayana Buddhist figures in Bayon style can be found on site at Prasat Ban Bu and in several local village temples along the Dharmasala Route




Picture left:

Bayon style amulet found near Prasat Ta Muean.

Picture right: Unknown origin. Meditating Buddha under nagas - with another hair style...

Both pictures: Courtecy to the owner Khun Paitoon Singkasaylit.


Above: Lintel above the eastern doorway of Prasat Ta Muean


Prasat Samrong (ปราสาทบ้านสำโรง) - a 9th Dharmasala in Isan?

     After this paper was edited the Fine Arts Department added a 9th Dharmasala in Thailand - in Buriram province. As mentioned in the article above the author is not convinced.
     The argument from a local archaeologist, who was informed about the matter at a recent meeting in Phimai, is that the site has been recently excavated and that artefacts found there indicates Bayon style and thereby Jayavarman VII.
     The pictures below are from a research visit early 2004.

Above: Towards what seems to be a door in the western table. The structure is in a very ruined state,   Above: In the southern wall there is an opening assumed to be to the remnants of a door.
Above: The base of the northern wall indicates that the temple was a sandstone structure on a laterite base.   Above: In the eastern part of the structure, there is a depression like a sump inside the temple.
POSTSCRIPT about Prasat Samrong

     A second visit -  in October 2004 - revealed that no excavation had been done since April. Local farmers informed that there had been a visit of local dignitaries. And the farmers I met earlier now used the term dharmasala ('thammasala' in Thai) and informed that the temple would soon be 're-build' and that they hoped for tourists to come...

   The site was visited again in October 2009 in order to determine the orientation of the ruin more exactly than done in 2004 (right). The sanctuary was still in a ruined state but a road had been constructed to the site.



1.2. Jayavarman VII 'hospitals'.

Kuti Rishi Noi,
Phimai City, Khorat

Left: From west
: From SW




Prang Ban Prang

Left: From NE
: From NW

Under restoration in 2004


Kuti Rishi Nong Boa Lai

Left: From east
: From NW

Located 3 km east of Phanom Rung south of the large Nong Boa Lai Barai.

Kuti Rishi Ban Khok Muang

Left: From east
: From east

The site has solar-events coinciding with events at the nearby Prasat Phanom Rung.

Khok Ngiaw

Left: From SE
: From SW

Located next to the main road from Nang Rong to Pakham


Ta Muean Tot

Left: From NW
: From NW

Located between and close to the Ta Muan dharmasala and Prasat Ta Muan Thom.



1.3. Hindu sanctuaries.
Most of the more than 20 ancient sites, which are located within a distance of 10 km km from the Dharmasala Route are in ruined state. The 7 sites with the highest tourism potential are listed below. The first 5 are are located in a cluster centred around Muang Tam less than 6 km from this. The last 2 are located at the Dangrek Mountain Chain close by the two ancient mountain passes.


Prasat Phanom Rung

Early 10th to late 12th century.

Left: Eastern facade.
Right: The setting sun seen through all 15 doors of the temple.

     Prasat That Phanom Rung is dedicated Shiva and has a unique location on the top of an extinct volcano. The temple been built in stages over several centuries with the brick towers as the elders construction dating back to the beginning of the 10th century. The central tower and the galleries dates to the era when Suryavarman IV ruled at Angkor.
     The temple has in the last years been promoted for the 4 annual solar-events, when the sun penetrates the 15 gates of the temple. The time interval between these events fits with a lunar month and could be an intentionally imbedded calendric feature. For details about the theory on this subject, see the authors web site, or articles in English or Thai.


Prasat Muang Tam

11th century

Left: From east.
Right: From NW.


     Prasat Muang Tam is another fully renovated Hindu temple dedicated Shiva and located on the plain 6 km SE of Prasat Phanom Rung.
     Data form the author's on-going research on astro-archaeology indicates that the temple apparently shares the same astronomical concept as Phanom Rung.


Prasat Plai Bat I

Early 10th century

Left: From west.
Right: Jayavarman VII library.


     Prasat Plai Bat I is contemporary with the brick towers of Prasat That Phanom Rung and was probably dedicated Shiva. The temple is located on top of an extinct volcano with a higher elevation than the nearby Prasat Plai Bat II, which together with Prasat Phanom Rung and Prasat Muang Tam are clearly visible. The temple is in a ruined state due to treasure hunters use of dynamite.
     There are no marked roads or paths up to the site, which is hard to find. Walk-paths up to - and between - Plai Bat I and II will be implemented. The idea is not to spoil the experience of nature- and temple-exploring in a silent environment.


Prasat Plai Bat II

10th - 11th century...

Left: From south
Right: Phanom Rung


     Plai Bat II is located 1 km west of Plai Bat I and is probably a Hindu temple from the 10th - 11th century. Buddhist artefacts have been excavated from both temples, but these are long gone (sold) and probably dates from later Mahayana Buddhist use of the sites. Some scientists regard the temple as Buddhist.


Prasat Khok Prasat

11th century

Left: Towards west.
Right: Detail of Baphuon nagas originally from Prasat Khok Prasat.

     Prasat Khok Prasat is located 6 km east of Prasat Muang Dam - and west of the reservoir on the picture. Actually there is no more temple left. Excavations could reveal the laterite foundations and many ornamented sandstones. Many artefacts are now on display in a local school and temple. If minor excavations and renovations were done and the artefacts from the school and the temple were exhibit then a very interesting little 'Baphuon-art museum' could be created next to the ancient reservoir, barai.


Prasat Bai Baek

Beg. 11th century

Left: From west
Right: Northern tower from SW


     Prasat Bai Baek is a Vishnu temple like the later Angkor Wat with which it also shares the unique orientation of straight west - the cardinal direction associated with Vishnu. A lintel at Phimai Museum depicts Vishnu riding on the mythical bird the Garuda.
     The temple is in a ruined state and will probably be given more care in the future due to its location only 800 m from the new bitumen road leading down to the future international checkpoint Sai Taku 2 km SE.


Prasat Ta Muan Thom
Close to Ta Muen in Surin

Late 11th century

Left: From NW
Right: Natural rock-linga


     Prasat Ta Muang Thom is a Shiva Temple built in late 11th century and is located right on present Thai-Cambodian border facing south.  Descending the stairs from the central sanctuary one descents to the Cambodian plain. The exact location of the border is in dispute and so is ownership of the site, which has put an end to an up-started restoration by the Fine Arts Department of Thailand.
     The temple is built around a natural stone linga, which was a highly revered religious among the ancient Khmer. The presence indicates the the temple might be older than the present structure - and so might the ancient route be. Maybe the formulation about which route is the oldest is wrong itself. Maybe both routes were in use simultaneously since pre-historic times.


1.4. Mahayana Buddhist sanctuary:


Central sanctuary from SW

Jayavarman VII as Buddha

Central sanctuary from east

     Prasat Phimai dates back to late 11th century and Jayavarman VI and construction continued in the 12th century. In an era when when major Hindu temples were built in the area from Angkor to Phanom Rung, Phimai was primarily dedicated Mahayana Buddhism.
     An inscription mentions the installation of the ''Tantric Mahayana god Trailokyavijaya, who attempts to convert the Hindu god Shiva to his form of Buddhism'' (Freeman, 1996). Vajrasattva is carved on a pilaster carrying his vajra (thunderbolt), but rather more as the original weapon of Indra than as the meditation tool in Vajrayana Buddhism.
     Together with Bodhisattvas from the Mahayana Buddhist pantheon, Hindu gods Shiva, Krishna, Indra, and various guardians of the cardinal directions are depicted as well. This tolerant religious coexistence has been a characteristic for earlier Hindu monarchs as well as for the later Mahayana Buddhist ruler Jayavarman VII.


1.5. Ancient settlements:

     Ancients settlements must be a part the study of ancient travelling routes. The ancient communities traded with one another resulting in a net of local roads/paths. Waterways would most probably have been given priority - when existing.
     And we should consider basic questions, such as: Who did travel over longer distances and for what purpose? Merchants and pilgrims would travel - and for each their reason. Military personnel, soldiers, would have had a third reason. Pleasure-travel (tourism) is out of the question - even nowadays many - especially the elder generations - never or seldom leave their province.

     Moated sites: Human settlements surrounded by moats and earthen dikes can still be traced in the landscape of southern Isan and Cambodia and can be dated back to pre-historic times the beginning of the 1st millennium. This type of settlements have been studied since the II World War and are well documented in the literature (Moore, Sorachet, Thiwa et. al.).
     Three such sites have come into focus under the field-research because of their location close to the direct alignment between dharmasala no 14 and 15 - Prasat Nong Ta Phlaeng in Buriram and Prasat Huai Khaen in Khorat province:

1) Ban Phothairin Phatthana, Buriram: The dike system is renovated and clearly visible in the landscape. The distance to the 'dharmasala alignment'  is app. 0.7 km.

2) Ban Samrong Kao (Old Samrong), Buriram: The traces of a large flat stone platform in the village has been measured. The village is believed to be the related to the ancient Khmer temple Prasat Samrong 0.6 km to the south. The ancient Samrong community had 3 encircling moats and dikes. The distance to the 'dharmasala alignment' is app. 1.5 km.

3: Ban Muang Fai - Ban Prasat Thong - Ban Khu Muang village-cluster, hereafter called Muang Fai: The settlement has 5-6 ancient temples located within a radius of 600 m. The distance to the 'dharmasala alignment'  is app. 3.5 km.

     The French surveyor E.E. Lunet de Lajonquiere visited Muang Fai and published the finding of an ancient square site called Kuti Fai located in Muang Fai in 1907 A.D. in Inventaire Desciptive des Monument Du Cambodge.

Dating the sites in  Muang Fai seems impossible due to the poor state of the plundered sites.
     Prasat NN, which is made entirely of bricks resemble brick towers such as Prasat Thong, Plaibat II and other Baphuon brick towers from the 10th century. The other sites all have remnants of laterite blocks, sand stones and bricks indicating that these constructions predate Jayavarman VII (late 12th - beginning of the 13th century).
     The community itself probably dates much further back. The religious landscape is mixed: A yoni at the museum indicates Saivism, and various Buddhist schools are represented evidenced by the discovery of Dvaravati as well as Mahayana figures.
     Religious images can change location, buildings not (or seldom). But the presence of Dvaravati Buddha figures strongly indicates that this religion was practiced at Ban Fai in the 7th century. Maybe Hindu Saivism followed; maybe both were practiced side by side as seen elsewhere. We must anyway assume that both were replaced by Mahayana Buddhism in the era of Jayavarman VII.

Model of Muang Fai at Muang Fai Community Museum

Moat and dike in Ban Khu Muang (the 'Dike Community Village')


Figure: GPS-generated map with later hand drawings.

     From Prasat Nong Ta Plaeng and north the dharmasala route would have to cross 2 small rivers. When the dharmasalas were built the area already hosted at least 3 moated settlements, most likely connected by roads/tracks and associated bridges.
     QUESTION: Would the dharmasala-route constructors make a direct lining and thereby need to construct 2 new bridges - one of them only 800 m from an existing one? Or would the routing have departed from Nong Ta Plaeng following the old buffalo-track marked on the figure above with green, visit Muang Fai with its 5-6 ancient temples (3) and pass two bridges and (1) and continue north? It would add nearly 2 km to a stretch, which already is the longest of the 8 stretches on the Khorat Plateau - 20.6 km.


Searching for traces of an ancient stone-bridge along the straight alignment between Prasat Nong Plong to Prasat Ta Plaeng, Buriram, NE-Thailand.


1.6: Pictures of dharmasalas in Cambodia

Above: 'Dhammasala no. 0' - at Prah Khan, Angkor, seen from south
Left: Eastern front of 'Dharmasala no. 0' at Angkor


Rigth: Western front of Prasat Ta Muan on the Khorat plateau

Left: Interiour from 'Dharmasala no. 0' at Angkor


Rigth: Interiour from Prasat Ta Muan on the Khorat plateau.


Dharmasala no. 6:


Left: Prasat Prohm Kel from south-west

Rigth: Prasat Prohm Kel from south

Left: Eastern front of Prasat Prohm Kel


Rigth: Interior from Prasat Prohm Kel



1.7. The ancient stone bridge Spean Top (BEFEO: 719)

Above: Spean Top Bridge

: The relationship between the orientation of the bridge, the dharmasala and the Dharmasala Route orientation.

Above: Details from the bridge: A 3-headed naga flanked by Garudas in the corners. Note the 8-petaled lotus. Presumable Angkor Wat style.


1.8 The ancient Khmer stone bridge 'Spean O Kmeng Bridge'

Notes from a 6-hour initial research-trip in late November 2004.


Above: The positions were based on map-readings and estimations about where it would have been most convenient to build a bridge.


Above: GPS-based map made after field research. The location of the bridge was 680 west of estimated position.

Right and below:
'Spean O Kmeng Bridge'
(my name)

     O Spean Khmeng means 'Khmeng-bridge River' and the name itself indicates the presence of an ancient/old bridge somewhere.

     The bridge is made of laterite and is app. 3 m high, 4 m wide and 30 m long and crosses the river in an east-western direction. The river/creek is seasonal and was already dry when visited late November 2004.



1.9 Ancient Khmer temples along the Dharmasala Route in NW-Cambodia.

Prasat Korp Kong is located 9 km west of Phum Samraong (Samrong) town on Route 69, which leads to the more well-known Prasat Banteay Chmar some 50 km from Samrong. Prasat Korb Kong is located 100 m north of Route 69 and consists of a moated site in a very ruined condition. A short inspection of the totally overgrown site only revealed parts of a laterite wall and a piece of  Ban Kruat style earthenware, presumably dating to the 10-11th century - and definitely pre-Bayon and thereby older than the dharmasalas of Jayavarman VII. The numerous Ban Kruat kilns are located on the Khorat Plateau 40 km NW of Prasat Korb Kong and pottery for there were traded along the various ancient routes.


Route 69 crosses the O Spean Khmeng River app. 400 m before arriving to the Tonle Sa Lake.

Above: Tonle Sa Lake   Above: An ancient Khmer pedestal

     A square reservoir like the Tonle Sa Lake (literally the 'Oceanic Reservoir') measuring app. 180 by 370 m and oriented straight E-W) indicates the presence of a pre-Bayon sanctuary: The ratio of the dimensions is app. 1:2.  The orientation is equinoctial, meaning that the sun rises aligned with the structure: An observer standing mid western bank will on equinox morning observe the sun rise from mid eastern bank).
     The presence of a square pedestal standing at the roadside is second indicator of a nearby temple. Standing alone at the roadside it gave the impression of 'being to late for the bus' or rather being left behind by thieves having no more space on the truck. On top of the pedestal there are 9 small holes for placing auspicious objects, typical for pre-Bayon pedestals.
     Asking in the small grocery shop next to we were informed that 50 m south of the shop there are 2 more pedestals on the remnants of a small moated temple.

Above: 'Prasat Tonle Sa' (my name) is located 100 m south of Tonle Sa Lake


Left and right:
A yoni-type Saivite pedestal at Prasat
O Spean Khmeng (my name).

Above: Prasat O Spean Khmeng (my name) is located 150 m S-W of the O Spean Khmeng stone bridge and is like the two previously visited surrounded by moats on all sides and again in a totally ruined and overgrown state. Our 2 local guides refused to leave the walk-path due to the danger of land-mines. So all we observed was a yoni-style pedestal probably used for hosting a lingam, Shiva's phallic symbol. This and especially the shape of the square moated site indicates that Prasat O Spean Khmeng too is a pre-Bayon sanctuary and not a dharmasala from the reign of Jayavarman VII, who was a fervent Mahayana Buddhist.


     Phum Khpous village is located app. 10 km N-N-W of Phum Tonle Sa village and the presence of another rectangular reservoir made us stop in the modern Buddhist temple at the western side of the reservoir - the normal location of an associated ancient Khmer temple.
     The reservoir measures app. 110 by 190 m, it is oriented straight east and is most probably an ancient Khmer baray.
     In the temple compound we found a pedestal of unknown age and a dozen sema stones (border stones) of more recent age.


'Prasat Khpuos' or rather: its associated baray

: GPS-generated map


Above: Baray Khpous Above: Sema-stone Above: Pedestal

     The contemporary Buddhist temple has most probably replaced an ancient Khmer site and the Dharmasala Route most probably passed the sanctuary and crossed the seasonal creek at either of the two bridges shown on the map above. The direct alignment between  the O Spean Khmeng stone bridge and dharmasala no. 10, Prasat Ta Muan, runs only 40 m west of the bridges.
     The presence of three pre-Bayon sanctuaries
between  the O Spean Khmeng stone bridge and Kouk Khpous Village indicates that the Dharmasala Route was in use in the centuries before Jayavarman VII, late 12th - beg. 13th century.
    From Kouk Khpous Village the shortest route to Prasat Phanom Rung is ascending to the Khorat Plateau at Sai Taku Mountain Pass 21.2 km NW at Prasat Bai Baek and the nearby Ban Kruat kilns, but the Dharmasala Route of Jayavarman VII continued N-N-E to Prasat Ta Muan, 14.8 km away (as the crows fly). This distance is so close to the average distance between the dharmasalas in Cambodia (13.2 or 14.9 km - depending on the number of sites), that one with good reason could expect 'Dharmasala no. 9' to be very close by.

     But time was running out. We had agreed on a 6-hours research trip, as my Khmer-interpreter had to attend a meeting in Seam Reap. A last-minute tip on another temple in the forest south of the village had to be postponed because a visit would have to be performed by ox-chart and local guides due to land mines. A pity, as the description of the location matched with an estimated location along the GPS-alignments.
     Next trip: With my Khmer-interpreter and on two good dirt-bikes dharmasala no. 9 will be found in one day. And within a week no. 8 and 7 as well.

     On Route 68 to Seam Reap we made a short stop at another ancient route: Angkor - Sa Kaew (Thailand) some 10 km before Route 6 (Siem Riep - Aryan Prathat).
Above: The ancient dike/canal towards west   Above: The ancient dike/canal towards east



2.0: Links to websites with pictures related to the Dharmasala Route in Cambodia

2.1.1. A Guide to the Angkor Monuments, by Maurice Glaize: Download the book (PDF).
2.1.2, A Guide to the Angkor Monuments: Preah Khan.
2.2.1. Art and Archaeology: Angkor sites.
2.2.2. Art and Archaeology: Dharmasala ''no. 1'', at Preah Phan.
2.3.1. Angkor Ruins: Index - a comprehensive collection of photos from many sites.
2.3.2. Angkor Ruins: Hospital Chapels and Dharmasalas.
2.3.3. Angkor Ruins: The royal Road and Stone Bridges.
2.3.4. Angkor Ruins: Speak Memai Bridge.


3.0: Locations and GPS-position of the 8 known dharmasalas in Thailand

Name of site Village Sub-district District Province Latitude Longitude
ชื่อแหล่ง บ้าน ตำบล อำเภอ   (north) (east)
Ku Sila Ku Sila

Ku Sila Khan

Lung Pradu

Khorat 15.07995 102.60320
กู่ศิลา กู่ศิลา กู่ศิลาขันธ์ หลุ่งประดู่      
Huai Khaen Huai Khaen Huai Khaen Huai Thalaeng Khorat 14.98009 102.60320
ห้วยแคน ห้วยแคน ห้วยแคน ห้วยแถลง      
Nong Ta Pleng Nong Ta Pleng Chophaka Chamni Buriram 14.81253 102.79719


ช่อผกา ชำนิ      
Nong Plong Nong Plong Chamni Chamni Buriram 14.71825 102.83619
หนองปล่อง หนองปล่อง ชำนิ ชำนิ      
Nong Kong Nong Kong Nong Kong Nang Rong Buriram 14.64228 102.90576
หนองกง หนองกง หนองกง นางรอง      
Ban Bu Bu Chorakhae Mak Prakhonchai Buriram 14.53379 102.97935
บ้านบุ บุ จระเข้มาก ประโคนชัย      
Thamo Lahansai Kao Hin Lat Ban Khruat Buriram 14.45452 103.12687
ถมอ ละหานทรายเก่า หินลาด บ้านกรวด      
Ta Muean* Nong Khan Na Ta Muan Phanom Dong Rak Surin 14.35586 103.25847
ปราสาทฅาเมือน หนองคันนา ฅาเมือน พนมดงรัก      

*: Alternative names for Ta Muean: Ta Muan, Ta Moan, Ta Muen, Bai Khrim.

Phanom Rung seen from Prasat Nong Kong


4.0: Distances, alignments and orientations:

The distances between the dharmasalas and the orientations of the dharmasalas itself vary considerably.


4.1. Distances and alignments between the dharmasalas:

From site to site



Ta Muan to Ta Mo



Ta Mo to Ban Bu



Ban Bu to Nong Kong



Nong Kong to Nong Plong



Nong Plong to Nong Ta Plaeng



Nong Ta Plaeng to Huai Khaen



Huai Khaen to Ku Sila



Ku Sila to Phimai Southern Barai



NB: The distances are in km and the alignments in true bearings.


4.2. Orientations of the dharmasalas:

Under preparation...





2007 update

     In 2004 a Cambodian team found 'Dharmasala no. 7' (Prasat Ampil?).

     In 2006 A Thai team (Living Angkor Project) found 'Dharmasala no. 8' (Prasat Kok Phnov?) and after visiting the well-known Prasat Chan some 2 km south of the Thai-Cambodian border tentatively suggested that it might be 'Dharmasala no. 9').

     On the GPS-based map to the right Dharmasala 1 to 7 are mapped based on GPS waypoint received from BEFEO, Phnom Penh. The locations in Thailand are from field research in 2004.
     Dharmasala no. 8 and 9 are my estimations based on the location of Dharmasala no. 7,  the O Spean Khmeng stone bridge (see above) Ta Muan - and on information from a villager in Phum Khpous Village (see above) about a site app. 1 hour by ox-cart south of the village.

     A qualified guess of the approximate locations are:
                      08: N14.20878 E103.37544
                      09: N14.32233 E103.27083


2010 update

     Needed! And coming... Above: Location of Dharmasalas along the Dharmasala Route (the so called 'Royal Road').



The author and local guides at the Cambodian border
north of Prasat Sdok Kok Thom, Sra Kaew,
in search of the Eastern Route.



Last Update: 12 April 2010