Wat Tham Seua (Tiger Cave Temple)

A special place

Photo of Wat Tham Seua (Tiger Cave Temple), , Krabi

What we say: 4 stars

Nestled below a shaggy karst cliff to the north of Krabi town, this forest Buddhist temple was founded in 1975 by the now famous Thai meditation monk, Ajahn Jomnien.

In those days, the area was plagued by a Communist insurgency and the monk is said to have created the temple as a safe haven for fighters on both sides as well as the many neutral locals. A small village that sprouted around the temple remains today.

The tigers have long since vanished into the mountains of Khao Phanom Bencha National Park and the cave now houses a shrine with a statue of a tiger and numerous Buddha images. Other unique features include an oddly placed whale skull and human skeletons aimed at teaching visitors about the impermanence of life. A huge concrete chedi was being constructed during our most recent visit and an imposing pagoda that houses a giant statue of Kuan Yin is situated at one end of the grounds.

The temple's main draw is a gold-leaf covered chedi and Buddha image perched atop the cliff along with a large lookout platform. The views from here are magnificent -- Khao Phanom Bencha mountain looms to the north, the steep limestone cliffs that cut Railay off from the rest of the mainland rise to the west and the mouth of the Krabi river empties into the sea to the south. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Ko Phi Phi.

The cliff-top chedi is reachable only by a steep stairway with no less than 1,237 steps. It's an exhausting climb even for those in good shape. Be sure to bring water, but keep it secured from the troupes of monkeys that hang out on the stairs and are quick to snatch drinks and food from unsuspecting travellers. The best times to visit the viewpoint are early morning or late afternoon; attempting the climb under the midday sun is not recommended. At any time, be prepared to expend some serious energy -- we're still huffing and puffing as we write this.

At the temple's Thamseua Khaokaeo Vipassana Center, Ajahn Jomnien continues to teach insight and loving-kindness meditation, though he does not speak English. The master can often be spotted around the temple grounds with several talismans, mostly animal bones and teeth, hanging from his robes. These were accepted from lay-people and worn as a symbolic gesture of carrying the weight of their karma. Visitors can walk along a path through the forested meditation centre where a white jade Buddha statue and old growth trees are dotted among hanging mosquito nets where monks and white clad lay-practitioners meditate.

More details
Opening Hours: Sun up to sun down.
How to get there: The closest you can get by songthaew is Big C, from where the temple is about a kilometre away. A motorbike taxi can take you here for around 300 baht roundtrip. If going on your own steam, head north out of Krabi town on Uttarakit Road and take a right on to Phet Kasem Road (Route 4). The temple is located directly off a side road that shoots east (it's a left if heading east) right before the Big C shopping centre. There's only a single old faded sign from that direction so keep your eyes peeled. Admission is free but donations are appreciated.
Last updated: 16th September, 2013

About the author:
Usually found exploring Bangkok's side streets or south Thailand's islands, David Luekens is an American freelance writer & photographer who finds everyday life in Asia to be extraordinary. You can follow his travails here.
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