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Krabi, Thailand: Wat Tham Suea (Tiger Cave Temple)

19 Jan

This year we spent another wonderful Christmas on the beaches of Ao Nang, Krabi. We rock-climbed, relaxed in the ocean, and on the fabulous beaches, slept in the jungle at the base of Spirit Mountain (Chong Phli)….where we woke up to the sounds of a rooster and some monkeys….and learned to live with colonies of ants and some scorpions.

It was different from last year in that we got to share each beautiful day with a Brie, Björn, Luka and Zora; a wonderful travelling family from the US that we had met in Cusco, Peru (they were at the start of their Southeast Asian exploration…sorry you weren’t with us GiGi)!

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With Luka, Brie, Zora & Björn, at the entrance of the temple complex

Our one cultural visit, was a motorcycle ride to the Buddhist Tiger Cave Temple, locally called Wat Tham Suea. What is appealing about visiting Wat Tham Suea is that it’s one of the most sacred sites in the province and an active meditation hub where monks live and worship. According, to our friend Michael who lives in Krabi… definitely one of the more interesting temple complexes in southern Thailand. So off we went on our scooters….in search of wisdom and enlightenment!

This golden temple is located about 3 km outside of Krabi Town, and as we slowly we approached it, we saw what looked like a tiny, shiny statue on top of a tall mountain. Filou kept asking me, if I was serious about us hiking up to this structure, so high up in the sky….but of course, I am! (trying to convince him that there might be an elevator, didn’t fool him – he knows better by now).

Western places of worship tend to be centrally located and somber in colour. In contrast, Thai temples are further removed and often located on mountains and in caves. They are very colourful in nature, often ”guarded” by brightly painted animals…a real focus of artistic endeavours (you’ll find unique architecture, sculptures, paintings, decorative arts and crafts in these locations). The Tiger Cave Temple was no exception!

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Tiger Cave Temple or Wat Tham Suea. Statue of Buddhist monk with golden tiger.

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Apparently, Wat Tham Suea (which dates back to 1975), got its name TIGER temple because of a monk named Jumnean, who went to meditate under the cave and witnessed tigers roaming around. Another legend talks about a huge tiger living in these caves in previous times. Tiger paw prints can be found on some of the cave walls and the bulge of the cave also resembles a tiger’s paw.

Besides tiger paw prints, many unique artifacts (stone tools, pottery remains and Buddha footprints) were found around these caves and temple grounds, which makes this an archeological site of interest…however, we were most drawn to climbing the limestone tower, so we could witness the “footprint of the Buddha” and the largest bell tower in southern Thailand.

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Largest bell tower in southern Thailand

So off we were, for our hike to the top. We consider ourselves to be in decent shape (after the many hikes we have done in the past year), but the heat (we chose to go only at 4:30 pm) and the 1260 steps to reach the top (some quite steep ones), made this quite the interesting climb up….

The stairs to the mountain-top shrine are surrounded by lush vegetation. We weren’t even walking for 5 minutes when large monkeys were surrounding us everywhere. This meant a couple of deep breaths, as these creatures might look cute but can indeed be quite vicious.

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Before taking off, some fellow visitors had expressed concern that we were taking our children up this steep staircase (with its many twists and turns). However, they didn’t know our “monkeys” yet…. All 4 children basically ran up the hill; even 5 year old Zora…what a trooper! Honestly, I could hardly move and didn’t feel my calves for a week, but we made it all, and…

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Björn and I. Me with my beet red face (not a sunburn… but the energy from walking up 1260 steps…still smiling though!).

The view at the top left us breathless! The area surrounding the temple is made up of jungles and forests, including many old and growing trees in the Kiriwong Valley. We had a 360-degree view of stunning countryside and the Andaman Sea. It was a moment to pause and take it all in…

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And of course, besides the views there was the huge golden Buddha statue, standing 278 meters tall….as well as several shrines, statues with interesting symbols such as snakes, and antique looking gong bells. The locals and monks were praying and showing us some of their rituals. Most local temples are off limit to visitors, so we felt thankful to have had this experience.

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And so when the sun was setting and it was slowly getting dark, we made our way back down the 1260 steps with a peaceful mind.

With a delicious dinner alongside the river, at the Krabi night market, we said good-bye to our wonderful friends and another great stay in Oa Nang.

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