lost-cities-muang-sing-2
In the grasslands of the western Thailand frontier, no more than 20 kilometers from the Myanmar border, the farthest outpost of a fallen civilization still stands.  Its city walls hug the River Kwae and house a shrine to those bodhisattvas, the benevolent enlightened ones who put off their own release from the wheels of eternal suffering in order to help others.  This was where I was going.

Cool, but not the Kanchanaburi ruins I was looking for.

On Christmas day, I was in Kanchanaburi with a group I had taken classes with.  The day before, we had rented motorbikes to go to Erawan National Park to see the waterfalls.  Because we had gotten them later in the afternoon, I still had my motorbike until around 2PM. So, getting up early in the morning, I headed out toward Muang Sing (Lion City), a nearby Angkor ruin.  It took a little under an hour to get there.  Upon arriving at the park, the main ruins were directly ahead, though I wasn’t sure at the time if they were the centerpieces.  Instead of heading straight for them, I turned left on the main interior road and started circling the perimeter of the park.

Ancient skeletons in situ.

Weaving out through a gate, the first thing I came to was an excavated burial site just above the river where there were still some intact skeletons.  Nearby were remnants of the city wall that had since been partially buried and overgrown with plants. Along the river’s edge were several buildings.  Most of them, given their comparably nicer look and the stone-paved paths around them, seemed to be for visitors to rent.  Although there were a few that were obviously for workers of the park to reside in.

Houses for people to rent in the park . . .

. . . and houses for people who work in the park.

I kept going on the perimeter road and came across two of the smaller ruins that the park made a point to display on the map.  These were technically in the center of the city wall area, despite the fact that a large, very open area laid to the west.  There was very little of either of these monuments left and were near impossible to picture as fully intact buildings, as each would have roughly the same size as my apartment’s bedroom.

Monument #3

Monument #4

Old, crumbling city gate.

The map had a section of city wall and ramparts that were well outside of the main road through the park, but still near where I was.  So, taking some of the back trails on my motorbike, I finally came to a barely obvious ruined city gate.  Going trough lead into a small ditch filled with vegetation.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t figured that much of it would be thorny, and ended up getting a few good scratches, including 1 or 2 that drew blood.

From inside the city gate.

The ramparts were nowhere to be seen, though, and I had to backtrack to the main road.  On the way back, I happened upon an idyllic pond teeming with water lily lotuses.

Water lilies brightening up the whole pond.

I returned to the central, primary ruins, complete with a small museum and visitor center just to the north.  Inside the museum are replicas of many of the grander statues and pottery that were found at the Muang Sing site.  The originals had been moved to higher profile museums.

Statues found at the Muang Sing site.

To-scale replica of the park. The giant tower is just a sprinkler, not an ancient monument.

Outside of the museum is a to-scale layout of the Muang Sing Historic Park, with all buildings represented.  Across the parking lot is a row of souvenir and food stands.  I grabbed a red Fanta in a glass bottle and a snack of potato chips from them before heading across the street to the centerpiece monuments. While Monument 1 is certainly the more impressive and better preserved of the two, there is something about Monument 2 that grabbed my attention first.  It’s not like anything that I had seen at Phanom Rung or Muaeng Tam.  It had a sleeker look to it, with perfect right angles at every surface and inscribed parallel lines running the length of the base.

Monument #2

Monument #2 interior

Monument #2 interior

Monument #2 interior

Very little of the interior survives, but what does gives the impression that it was a very tight space.  The informational guide handed out at the park says it stood with 3 towers and was covered in a lime plaster.  However, this is very difficult to imagine walking through it.   That isn’t to say it’s untrue, just not something that would occur to you as you explore the alternating levels of Monument 2.

Monument #1

Only a few steps to the southeast stands Monument 1, the main temple of the forgotten city.  In a way, it seemed a smaller version of Phanom Rung, and presumably most other Khmer temples.  The outer wall surrounded an inner gallery and the central shrine.  Quite beautiful inside were the young trees that had taken root amidst the stone bricks and were blossoming with purple flowers.

Monument #1 interior

Monument #1 interior

Monument #1 interior

Monument #1 interior

Monument #1 interior

Proof that I was there.

The central shrine holds an 8-armed statue a of the bodhisattva Avalokitesavara, created as a savior to the world after the Siddhartha Gautama (the founder of Buddhism) entered nirvana, and until the bodhisattva Maitreya (the big, golden guy at Wat Intharawihan) attains enlightenment.

The Khmer king, Jayavarman VII is believed to be responsible for this city’s construction around 1200 CE.  Curiously, the face of this bodhisattva statue looks peculiarly like the statues of Jayavarman VII found in Cambodia.

This bodhisattva looks a lot like. . .

. . . the emperor who built Muang Sing. **© Suzan Black, Accessed from Wikipedia

In an odd coincidence, I later recognized these ruins (Monument 1) in an episode of Lexx I watched in which one of the main characters is being held captive there.

Tourists!

In a blessing of timing, just as I was leaving the 2 central monuments, 2 mega tour buses pulled up and began unloading.  Dozens of Thai tourists began pouring out and walking toward the Khmer monuments I was walking away from.  Curiously, one or two of them tried to get pictures with me, apparently more interesting than the ruins straight ahead. Hopping back on my bike I motored away from the main monuments towards another edge of the old city wall.  This gate was much more intact than the previous, though didn’t lead to anything interesting on the other side.

A more intact city wall.

Further along that wall, however, there is a small village actually inside the walls of both the old city and the National Historical Park.  This is likely because these were in the location before this was made a historical park in 1987.  Consisting of maybe a dozen homes at most, the seemed to go about their business oblivious to the rest of the park.  Though I did get a few stares as I slowed my bike to check out the homes.

A shot of some of the homes inside the park’s village.

For being so far removed from the rest of the concentration of Khmer Ruins, Muang Sing remains one of my favorites I have seen.  One last loop out through the city wall and River Kwae, past some ramparts, and I was back out on the road.

Ramparts!

**Photo of Jayavarman VII by Suzan Black, Accessed from Wikipedia <div xmlns:cc=”http://creativecommons.org/ns#” xmlns:dct=”http://purl.org/dc/terms/” about=”http://i.images.cdn.fotopedia.com/jmhullot-IpY0Ew8Q1Ao-hd/Paris_and_Vicinity/The_City_of_Paris/16th/Musee_Guimet_/Jayavarman_VII_head_Bayon_style_Musee_Guimet-Paris.jpg”><span property=”dct:title”>Jayavarman VII head, Bayon style, Musée Guimet-Paris</span> (<a rel=”cc:attributionURL” property=”cc:attributionName” href=”http://www.fotopedia.com/users/suzan”>Suzan Black</a>) / <a rel=”license” href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/”>CC BY 3.0</a></div>