If you’re up for something different
Published/Last edited or updated: 16th June, 2016
Fronted by sugarcane fields and backed by the Khao Luang range in a remote corner of Sukhothai, Wat Tham Phra Mae Ya is a cave temple that makes for an unusual break from the ruins.
The Temple of the Sacred Medicine Woman’s Cave greets you with a large walking Buddha, seated Buddha and golden lotus-shaped chedi framed by the forested mountains; all of these were built over the past few decades to mimic the ancient Sukhothai style. We arrived to find a pair of novice monks playing in an open-sided wihaan featuring rudimentary yet poignant murals of the Buddha meditating and teaching in the forest.
Cruise around the corner to find the entrance to the temple’s namesake cave, marked by a stairway with colourful nagas on either railing. Situated beneath a huge pancake-shaped boulder, the small cave enshrines an image of Phra Mae Ya, a local deity that’s been worshipped since the Sukhothai period.
The image seen here today is a replica of the original, which was kept in the cave for centuries before being moved to a shrine in front of the Provincial Hall in New Sukhothai. It’s thought that King Ramkamhaeng commissioned the original as a dedication to his mother, Nang Suang. Flowers and silk gowns are often placed at the cave shrine to keep the female spirit content.
Wat Tham Phra Mae Ya is one of several active meditation monasteries set at the foot of the Khao Luang mountains, which are part of Ramkamhaeng National Park. From Wat Chetuphon it’s a scenic 11-kilometre cruise past rice paddies and tiny villages before the road ends at the cave entrance.
From the road that rims the southern edge of the historical park’s central zone, head south past the old city guard post and continue for 1.5 kilometres. The sign-posted right (west) turn for Tham Phra Mae Ya Cave is next to a gas station, a couple of hundred metres north of Wat Chetuphon. Take the first left (south) from here and the road runs southwest for another 10 kilometres to Wat Tham Phra Mae Ya. Admission is free.
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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