Buriram: The Unlikely City of Sports

Due to its expansive size and absence of tourist infrastructure, Isaan (Northeastern Thailand) is still a relatively untouched region in Thailand, but this no doubt works to its advantage for adventurous travellers. And not only is Buriram one of the more exciting provinces of Isaan Thailand, but it is increasingly easier to access every day, due to an unlikely boom in travel. And this came after Buriram City followed a rather ambitious path to establish itself as Thailand’s ‘City of Sports’, which did seem almost unimaginable for a city of roughly 200,000 people. But through big investments, the local football team, Buriram United, have now dominated the top spot of Thailand’s Premier League for the past 4 years and counting. And inevitably you will find that many of the near city tourist attractions in Buriram are focused on this development, following the local pride for sports teams and their venues and facilities. As there’s really not much going on in Buriram City otherwise.

Travel to Buriram

For buses, it takes roughly 7 hours when travelling from Bangkok’s Mor Chit Bus Terminal, and the local recommendation for buses would be Nakhon Chai Air (027900009) which have comfy massage chairs and can be booked online and paid in advance at any Seven-Eleven.

There is also a train connection from Bangkok leaving Hua Lamphong Railway Station, and this takes around 8 hours, through various classes of tickets.

Alternatively there is a small airport (Buriram) about forty kilometres out from centre, with cheap daily flights from Bangkok, and while it is a good 40 minutes drive to/from Buriram city centre, the airlines’ offer regular minivan shuttles to/from the city.

But I would personally suggest car hire for any visit to Buriram, as the best (near only) way to explore the top tourist attractions in Buriram, is by personal transport/car hire, given the more notable Buriram attractions are found in the wider province.

The City of Sports (8km)

A lot of Buriram’s tourism is centred around their stadiums and venues, where Buriram United’s ‘Thunder Castle’ (iMobile Stadium) is the largest football stadium in all of Thailand. But similar unlikely investment then continued with a Formula One Racetrack (Chang International Circuit), which has the potential for Formula One schedules in the future, and has already hosted (and continues to host) the Moto GP, despite its rather far-flung location. So these venues have inevitably been hugely popular with domestic Thai tourists, with stadium tours, and an entertainment and recreational village built around them, and connecting between attractions. This includes restaurants, nightlife, as well as tropical gardens, a replica building of Phanomrung Temple, and just a rather bizarre and NSFW children’s playground. As expected the stadiums are outside of the centre (6km) and a taxi would again be your best bet for travel.

Khao Kradong Forest Park (10km)

Before the excitement of sports and stadiums, the main tourist attraction in Buriram City was Khao Kradong Forest Park, found on top of a now extinct volcano around 10km from centre. The location is also near enough to the stadiums, and it maybe best to share a taxi between both these attractions in Buriram, starting with Khao Kradong, before jumping out at the stadium area. Because Khao Kradong Forest Park could easily be covered in under an hour, as most people are only interested in the big Buddha Statue ‘Phra Suphatbophit’ which sits on top of the mountain. Not to forget the views from above. So these can be reached either by a 5-minute walk, give or take, following a set of 297 steps to reach the top at 265 meters. Or, for the lazy like us, it is an easy drive to the car parks at the top. Otherwise, if you plan to make the most of the visit, there is the surrounding national park with walks and a nature trail. Fun fact, the site is named ‘Kradong’ after the Khmer (Cambodian) word for turtle shell, due to the shape of the mountain.

Phanomrung Historical Park (65km)

This historical attraction is found a fair distance from the city centre (65km and 1 hour), but it is no doubt the main draw to the province, and arguably the entire region of Isaan (an in-depth guide to Phanom Rung here). The ruins of Phamonrung Historical Park make up part of a 225-kilometre roadway built by the Angkor Empire, known as the Khmer Highway, which leads from neighbouring Cambodia and includes the famous temples of Angkor Wat. The ancient site also hosts an annual festival to celebrate the morning sunrise when it aligns with the doorways of the old temple sanctuary. To mark the occasion there are parades, performances and shows of traditional dress and culture to celebrate Shivan and the rich cultures which once presided over these ancient Khmer ruins (here for the Phanom Rung Festival). Phanom Rung is found on top of a now-extinct volcano next to the Thai-Cambodia border. To reach it most visitors would base themselves at the town of Nang Rong which is a midway point when travelling from Buriram City.

Prasat Muang Tam (65km)

Prasat Muang Tam would be the second most significant Khmer site in Buriram Province, and is found not so far from Phanom Rung, meaning both should be visited on the same itinerary. And tickets for either can be sold separately or as a joint ticket for the two sites. With savings of course. Again, like Phanomrung, Prasat Muang Tam is dedicated to Lord Shiva, from Hindu religion, who would be the basis of ancient cultures here in these parts of Thailand, rather than the Buddhism practised in modern days. Anyway, Prasat Muang Tam is found on flatter, lower lands of this otherwise hilly region, where man-made reservoirs known as “Ba Rai” were used to supply nearby villages with water. As these regions are very arid at times (outside of rainy season) and it is said that it was a drought that inevitably led to the end of ancient Khmer civilisations. For this reason, these ancient Khmer temples are focused on collecting water and fertilizing lands.

Wat Khao Angkhan (72km)

This would be the furthest attraction from central Buriram, but it is in the same region as Phamonrung Historical Park and Prasat Muang Tam (18km, 27mins from Phanomrung), so it may be worthwhile taking the long way home. Again Wat Khao Angkhan is found near the Cambodian borders, as well as on a significant Khmer site, only now these are only noticeable through the sites sandstone boundaries. As it is now otherwise home to a newer Buddhist temple, found by a steep drive to the top of another extinct volcano, watched over by a massive gold reclining Buddha. The temple compound is also very different to any I have seen in these parts of Thailand, where the design and architecture don’t really fit either traditional Thai or Khmer temples, with their square bases and matching facades. It’s definitely different. The far perimeter then looks down with aerial views of the trees and fields, which to continue far into the horizon. The area feels somewhat forgotten.

Isaan Life

The local life in this relatively untouched region is an attraction in itself. And I am in fact fortunate to have spent a year living in the rural rice fields of Buriram, not far from the town of Nang Rong. In a small village known as Thanon Hak (Broken Road). So I have been fortunate enough to visit the above attractions on a bunch of occasions, however, it is the local life and rice fields that have really left the lasting mark. So much so that I have literally written a 150,000-word book (found in the sidebar) sharing the rich cultures of these far-flung lands, as well as the contrasting traditions in the lesser-known border regions. I even tried to condense this year, of events and celebrations, into the video below. The Heart of Buddhism.

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