The whole reason why I had made my way to Nang Rong, was to visit the nearby Prasat Hin Phanom Rung. According to Lonely Planet 2012 edition, “getting to Phanum Rung without your own vehicle seems complicated, but it’s not.” Unfortunately, that might only apply on weekdays, as my personal experience on a Sunday wasn’t quite as uncomplicated, particularly for the journey back to Nang Rong.
At about 8.15am, I arrived at the morning market near P.California Inter Hostel, where I was to take a song taew to Ban Tapek (a very small village). There was nobody asking if I wanted to go anywhere, and nobody standing around idly for me to ask either, but there was a song taew in the middle of the market with an old lady and a teenage girl inside. With no other options I approached the teenage girl, pointed to the song taew, and asked, “Ban Tapek?”, to which the teenager nodded. So I got on and sat waiting as well. Finally at 8.40am, the driver appeared and drove off, not asking me where I was going till after all the other passengers had disembarked (I knew we were going in the right direction and had not yet arrived due to a map provided by the hostel). The driver acknowledged my request and continued on, making a few delivery stops enroute. It was 9.15am when I arrived at Ban Tapek, and the fare turned out to be 25 baht.
A motorcycle taxi rider immediately approached me asking if I wanted to go to Phanom Rung, and I negotiated a fare of 350 baht for round-trip transport (and waiting time) to Phanom Rung (~7 km from Ban Tapek) and Prasat Hin Muang Tam (a further 8 km from Phanom Rung). The combination ticket for both sites cost 150 baht, and the entire trip lasted almost 3 hours: Phanom Rung – 75 min; Muang Tam – 45 min; total transit time – 45 min. You don’t actually need that much time for each site, I just took longer waiting for people to clear out of my photos. 😉 Besides, I had taken all the effort to get there, I might as well take my time. Between Phanom Rung and Muang Tam, the former is definitely the better site to visit, with its forested setting atop a hill and the long promenade approach to the temple ruins helping to take me back to the past away from modern civilisation. Muang Tam can be missed if you can’t spare the time, and have already seen enough of temple ruins in the region. Both are best viewed in the morning when the sunlight bathes the east-facing main entrances.
At 12.20pm, I was back at Ban Tapek, and was paying the motorcycle taxi rider when a Japanese man who spoke a bit of Thai and English came up to ask about transport to just Phanom Rung. The two agreed on a fare of 200 baht, and before leaving, the Japanese man found out I would be waiting for a bus (or song taew) back to Nang Rong, and said maybe he would see me when he got back, since he was going in that direction too. Hoping that I didn’t have to wait that long for transport, I just smiled and said he might take awhile at Phanom Rung, so maybe I would be gone by then. Boy was I wrong…
The unsigned stop for the bus back to Nang Rong is at a T-junction just outside a police post. After I had stood in the sun for about 10 min, the policeman on duty gestured for me to take a shaded seat in front of his outdoor desk to wait for the bus. He spoke little English, but I soon gathered that I might have to wait for a long time. At 1.10pm, the Japanese man had returned to Ban Tapek, and there was still no sign of any bus. He was heading to Buriram via Nang Rong, so we waited for the bus together, and made casual conversation about travelling in Thailand and other parts of the world. I found out he was 63, retired with a pension, and had taken up long-term residence in a Bangkok hotel (which apparently is a cheaper retirement plan than buying a condominium, and has daily cleaning service to boot). He had a cheerful demeanour, could speak sufficient English (he had studied in an Australian university) to talk to easily, and could also speak basic Thai to act as an interpretor for me. 2pm came, and there was still no sign of a bus.
Then out of the blue, the Japanese man went up to the road to stop a mother with young daughter riding by on a motorbike-cart, and managed to get her to take us back to Nang Rong as she happened to be heading that way! According to her, we would have been waiting in vain as there were no buses between Nang Rong and Ban Tapek on Sunday. I could not thank her enough for her act of goodwill as she dropped me off near P.California Inter Hostel at about 2.40pm (she refused any form of payment for the 30 min ride), and I also said a grateful goodbye to the Japanese man, without whom I might have had serious problems getting back to Nang Rong. After picking up my big bag at the hostel, I walked to the main road to catch a bus to Khorat, where I had planned to spend the night. This time, I waited for *only* half an hour before a bus came, but to my dismay it was not heading for Khorat. The bus driver, however, allowed me to get on the bus for free, and dropped me off at the bus terminal which was on the other side of the town. There, I was finally able to take a 4pm van to Khorat (66 baht, 1.5 hours).