Tiger Cave Temple – Wat Tham Suea
Getting There: grab a Songthaew (traditional Thai bus) from Krabi town center for a maximum of ฿60 or hire a motorbike for the day for ฿150
Costs: the temple entrance is free, so your only expense for this activity is the cost of getting there
Suggested Time: I’d recommend early morning or late afternoon to avoid the heat of the day – It takes at least 75 minutes to climb up and down the cliff to see the giant Buddha, I’d dedicate 4 hours to exploring the whole site
It sounds incredible right… a cave full of tigers?! Well that was what I first thought when I heard about this temple… I was sadly very wrong and if you are hoping to see tigers this is not the place!
A tiger did live here once hence the name; the villagers could hear the tiger roar from his home in the cave, however the tiger disappeared after a collection of monks came to the cave to practice Dharma (the moral force that holds the universe) and the tiger has never been seen since, according to one of the locals I spoke to the tiger the villagers believe that the tiger still roams the area around the cave.
The actual temple complex is split into two sections, there is the Tiger Cave located just to the left of the main entrance on the ground floor and then there is the Giant Buddha located 1,237 steps up on top of the cliff. If you don’t want to see the Giant Buddha you don’t have to make the climb, as there are many ornate buildings, temples, and stupas all at the base of the temple complex to explore and get lost in. However I came to see the Giant Buddha so I had to climb those 1,237 steps.
The climb is rough… that’s the disclaimer I’ll start with… you’ve got to mentally prepare yourself for at least half an hour or brutal punishment on your thighs. The record time someone has made it up the stair is 10 minutes 16 seconds, so if you consider yourself a fitness addict maybe you can beat that record. There was no way I was going to try, so I took it at a leisurely pace breaking every couple of hundred steps to check out some of the statues on the way up and admire the view. Watch out for the pesky monkeys trying to steal anything and everything!
Back to the climb… the locals call this the Stairway to Heaven, something to do with finding enlightenment during the climb. I’m not so sure about that, but I did find out there were muscles in my legs I’d never felt before. The steps aren’t normal steps either, some are as shallow as 3 inches others are at least a foot high so it takes all your concentration to ensure you make the footing on each step.
As tough as this sounds I loved it, i’m not an overly fit guy but will always give something a go and as sweat inducing as this was I really enjoyed it. It had been raining the day I went so I generally found myself climbing on my own, at peace with the mission ahead of me and the fresh mountain air in my lungs, there was never any point when I thought I wouldn’t make it!
Finally after 1,237 steps you reach the summit, stunning views across the South of Thailand, an enormous statue of Buddha, plenty or gongs, bells and smaller statues to occupy you and there is even a fountain of purified water to refresh yourself. As with all Buddhist temples you have to take your shoes off and can then walk around the Giant Buddha and other sites at the top. I’ll be honest it’s a little bit anti climatic, after that epic climb I was expecting a little bit more don’t get me wrong the views were stunning, but for me after over 1200 steps I was hoping for a little bit more!
I’ve heard this is a premier sunset spot in Southern Thailand so if you get the chance head up later in the afternoon, the sun normally sets around 6:30 and the temple closes at 7pm, giving you half an hour in dim light to get back down… maybe take a torch with you!
The Giant Buddha and Tiger Cave were some of my favorite things to do in Krabi, so much so that I’ve climbed to the top of the cliff twice. The climb is hard and the ending a little bit anti climatic, but the sense of achievement you have standing on top of the cliff surveying Southern Thailand is empowering!
This temple and view is definitely well worth a trip when in Krabi!