The twin towers of Kanchanaburi
Published/Last edited or updated: 11th February, 2017
The pagodas of Wat Tham Sua and Wat Tham Khao Noi can be seen from miles away towering side by side atop a limestone hill near the Mae Khlong River and each is distinctive and well worth a climb to see Thai- and Chinese-style art in symmetrical spaces opening to good views from all sides.
Not to be confused with the notorious Tiger Temple or another temple of the same name in Krabi, Kanchanaburi’s Wat Tham Sua (“Tiger Cave Temple”) was named after a small limestone cavern at the foot of the eminence where real-life tigers used to rest. Now housing a small tiger spirit shrine, it’s a minor distraction compared to all that’s been built at the top of the hill.
Climb the steep naga-rimmed stairs or pay 10 baht for a ride on a cable car to reach a wide, breezy platform in the shadow of a 69-metre-tall cone-shaped pagoda built in the 1970s. Complimenting that is a large Buddha image seated in the unusual gesture of debate, with thumbs touching index fingers. Sheltered by a massive concrete backdrop and showing a sparkling golden sheen, the Buddha image is accompanied by wihaans housing smaller Buddha images along with umbrella trees, prayer bells and all sorts of statuary.
Prepare yourself for a climb before entering the giant orange pagoda with staircases ascending a series of eight floors, each with Buddha images framed by windows. On the lower floors, colourful murals depict the Thai kings Naresuan and Taksin fighting nervous-looking Burmese invaders, while images in the upper halls display scenes from the Buddha’s final life and previous lives (Jatakas). On the top floor sits a reliquary enshrining the ashes of revered Thai monks, often overlooked in favour of the Mae Khlong River view.
Located so close to Wat Tham Sua that it appears to be part of the same complex, Wat Tham Khao Noi (“Temple of the Small Mountain”), also known as Chua Long Son, is a Chinese-style temple that’s just as captivating as its neighbour but draws fewer visitors. Set to soothing Buddhist music, the ground-floor hall shelters a dozen images of historic Chinese monks and other iconic figures. Wander further back to find stairways draped in frangipani and the twisting bodies of dragons.
At the top, a Chinese-style pagoda stands almost as tall as the orange pagoda at Wat Tham Sua, located no more than 10 metres away. Dizzying spiral staircases lead to octagon-shaped rooms with striking ceramic mosaics depicting prominent figures of Chinese Mahayana Buddhism, including a bearded Bodhidharma, the first Zen patriarch. Backed by fire and rainbows, thousands of miniature Buddha images also decorates the walls.
Those making it the top are treated to an easterly view of the river and the pagodas and spires of Wat Tham Sua to the south. Stroll to the west side for a vantage of cows and agricultural fields stretching on to mountains.
Wat Tham Sua and Wat Tham Khao Noi are located side by side, 16 km south of downtown Kanchanaburi and four kilometres south of Wat Ban Tham on the west side of the Mae Khlong River. To get here, follow the directions in the Wat Ban Tham listing and continue south until you see the twin pagodas. You’ll need to cut through Khao Noi village to reach the car parks; there are a few ways to do this and the constant sight of the pagodas make it easy.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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