Until recently, Buri Ram might have been one of the best kept travel secrets in Thailand. Known for years for having Thailand’s most significant Khmer ‘castle’, Prasat Hin Phanom Rung, Buri Ram today is positioned to become the country’s mecca for sports tourism.
Now Buri Ram boasts multiple attractions, and the ones grabbing all the headlines are sports related. First, in 2011, came the imposing ‘Thunder Castle’ (now known as the i-Mobile Stadium), a mega millions football stadium purpose-built for leading Thai premier league team Buri Ram United. This was followed three years later by the US $58.9 million Buri Ram United International Circuit (also known as the Chang International Circuit), the first Formula One certified track in Thailand.
These newest ‘castles’ have quickly transformed the provincial capital into a must-visit destination.
Just a few years ago this once single sleepy tourist town and rice-farming fiefdom would appear an unlikely sporting Camelot. However, in less than a decade Buri Ram has been changed forever as it is poised to host Thailand’s first MotoGP.
The Sports Authority of Thailand (SAT) said on its Facebook page that MotoGP owner Dorna Sports gave it the green light to organise a prestigious 2018 MotoGP. This is a personal coup for the Thai track owner who has lobbied hard to bring international events to his flagship venue.
This high-profile motorcycling extravaganza could potentially pour millions of dollars into Buri Ram. If successful, it will truly complete the integration of old castles with the new.
Old Khmer Castles
Prasat Hin Phanom Rung is perched on top of an extinct volcano 60 kilometres south of Buri Ram city. It is the largest and best restored Khmer site in Thailand and offers fine views of the surrounding rice fields. On clear days, even the Dangrek Mountains on the Cambodian side of the border are visible to the southeast.
Prasat Hin Mueang Tam means literally ‘stone castle of the humble city’ and is considered the third most significant Khmer complex in Thailand in terms of size, sophistication of architecture and quality of restoration. It was constructed during the late 10th and early 11th century under King Jayavarman V with the deities worshipped being Shiva and Vishnu.
Also once an active volcano, the Khao Kradong Forest Park is another well established and popular relaxation spot. Visitors can either drive up to the top of the 265-metre-high mountain or walk up the 297 steps leading to the viewpoint where an impressive sitting Buddha image, Phra Suphattharabophit, is located as well as a replica of the footprint of the Buddha called Prang Ku.
New Sports Castles
A visit to Buri Ram without a trip to the ‘Thunder Castle’ (i-Mobile Stadium) is like a trip to Manchester without visiting Old Trafford. Even if you can’t get a ticket for a Thai premier league match of Buri Ram United, or there is no match scheduled while you are in town, there are tours offered daily that allow you to go inside the Stadium, the players changing room, the press room and more.
The Buri Ram United International Circuit has exploded onto the motorsports scene, propelling Thailand onto the international stage for the first time. Now also known as the Chang International Circuit thanks to a sponsorship deal with one of Thailand’s largest breweries, the Circuit has been created to the highest FIA and FIM standards.
Situated between the aerobics dome and the town centre moat, Sroew Ground Walking Street weekend market contains beautiful and skilfully made local crafts. Handmade silk, bags, jewellery, paintings, and even pottery are not only sold at the market, but demonstrated right in front of your eyes. Thai silk can be seen being painted by hand, pottery being turned on a wheel, painters painting, and other people making jewellery.
Play La Ploen is a flora and adventure park/resort that offers families a fun day out with to scale models of iconic global landmarks including the Eiffel Tower, Great Wall of China, Leaning Tower of Pisa, and London Tower Bridge just to name a few. But the main attraction here is the beautiful flora section dedicated to a huge assortment of plants and flowers.
The owner of both new sports facilities claim that thousands of jobs were created by the stadiums; also adding to that up to 5,000 new hotel rooms and hundreds of restaurants. While possibly inflated, the figures are an indication the stadiums have spurred tourism infrastructure investment that will help Buri Ram handle any influx of domestic or international visitors attending events there.
When all is said and done, world-class motor sport and football events could drive significant Sports Tourism revenue to Buri Ram as attendance is normally large. By positioning Buri Ram as Thailand’s emerging Sports Tourism capital, it is set to be a magnet for foreign visitors, possibly for many years to come.