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Thai Art, Architecture & Culture In Northeast Thailand

  • Northeast Thailand, (I' san) is famous for numerous places where prehistoric art and artifacts can be seen, early Buddhist art and Khmer art and architecture.
  • Good examples of prehistoric Thailand art can be found at the locations listed in the Thailand Prehistoric art link.
  • The first Buddhist art in East Thailand was initially made in India and its Indianized style later copied and varied by the locals.
  • The first local style theme for Thai art is Mon Dvaravati which ceased in the 10th century.
  • The dominant style thereafter was Khmer art, which was produced under direct control from Angkor. The Khmer rulers of Angkor were Hindu and supporters of Shiva (the Hindu God of destruction and regeneration of the Universe). In the regions of what is now modern Thailand then controlled by the Khmer the major faith was Buddhism. Thus Buddhist art and architecture in Thailand during those times was dominated by Khmer themes.
  • By understanding the differences between religious groups and ethnic groups one can look at a work of art and thereby date it and identify where it was made.


  • Khmer art and architecture are explained in detail in the Khmer art link. Here also are the sub links detailing Khmer art in Central Thailand Khmer art in Lower North Thailand and Khmer mythological beliefs in art and architecture. After 1220 no major Khmer monuments were constructed and by 1431 the Siamese Kingdom of Ayutthaya destroyed the Khmer Kingdom sacked Angkor (its Capital city) and forced its survivors to re-establish at Phnom Phen.
  • By this time these Cambodians were no longer Hindu, but Buddhists who had lost their Khmer heritage. So it remained until French colonialists re-discovered Angkor's ruins in 1860. The Khmer ruins and art in Thailand and Cambodia are more than a pile of rocks and mortar with unusual art objects. They reflect a belief system, the remains of which are apparent everywhere today in South East Asia and confirm the level of understanding the Khmers had 1000 years ago about astrology and the impact of the planets on daily life, mathematics and mythological concepts.
  • Many Thai architectural forms are adopted from Khmer heritage, such as the Phrang, and many mythological animals are also adopted, the Garuda, the Naga, Kala etc.

Where To See Better Examples Of Khmer Art In I 'san:

  • Phimai National Meseum, and
  • Ubon Ratchathani National Museum

Khmer Art In I ‘san, Cosmology And Architecture

  • Khmer religious Temples were built to demonstrate on earth the divine nature or order of the Universe as proclaimed by the Hindu religion. The monuments were the earthly embodiment of the cosmos, a microcosm of that belief. At Temples such as Phimai and Phanom Rung, the Central sanctuary tower [ prang ] represents in stone and architectural design, Mount Meru, at the center of the Hindu perceived universe.
  • The various decorative and strange figures that ornament the tower represent the various inhabitants of the many levels on Mount Meru. The stone galleries that encircle the tower represent the surrounding ranges. The ponds and moats around and within the complex represent the cosmic ocean on which the universe rests. At Phimai the outer rectangular wall represents the boundary wall that encircles the universe.
  • The temple complex was designed to be seen from above, before man could fly, and for the Gods to view and to so demonstrate that here on earth we replicated in stone the divine order of the cosmos, ensuring harmony between the world of man and the world of Gods.