Earn the view
Best known for tremendous views from a clifftop chedi reached by an exhausting stairway, Wat Tham Seua is a forest temple founded by famous Thai monk, Ajahn Jumnien. The “Tiger Cave Temple” stands as a major tourist attraction, meditation venue and monkey village.
The name comes from a small cave where wild tigers once slept—they’ve long since vanished and now the cave houses a shrine with a statue of a tiger along with numerous Buddha images. Monks and nuns tie strings around wrists of visitors for good luck, while volunteers sell amulets and take donations to fund funerals for the poor, among other initiatives.
Signalling the area’s Chinese influence, a towering Chinese-style pagoda houses a giant statue of Kuan Yin, the Mahayana Buddhist “goddess” of compassion. Other features include an oddly placed whale skull, human skeletons used to aid in contemplating the impermanence of the body, and an enormous concrete chedi that has been under construction for years.
But the main attraction is a large seated Buddha image and gold-painted chedi set high atop a cliff and surrounded by a lookout platform. The views from here are breathtaking: the peak of Khao Phanom Bencha looms to the north as Ko Jum’s mountain and the steep karst cliffs that cut Railay off from the rest of the mainland rise to the west and the mouth the Krabi river empties into the sea to the south. On a clear day you can see all the way to Ko Phi Phi.
Our last visit to the top proved magical. Clouds hung here and there as we arrived. A fellow climber uttered, “this is amazing,” after reaching the summit. Suddenly rain began to fall, heavy for a pinch and then gone like a ghost. The sun reappeared as a breeze picked up, chiming the prayer bells.
This unforgettable scene does take hard work to reach. A 278-metre-high stairway with 1,237 steps, some more than 20 inches high, is the only way to the top. It’s a gruelling climb for anyone not in good shape. Bring plenty of water (free water is also available at the top) and keep bottles and valuables secured from brazen monkeys that are not afraid to snatch. The best times to make the climb are early morning and late afternoon.
Wat Tham Seua also has an intriguing history. Born in 1936 and trained in childhood by his doctor/shaman/fortune-teller/meditation-master father, Ajahn Jumnien lived in Surat Thani province in the 1960s and ‘70s. Then a stronghold of a Thai Communist insurgency, the area saw bloody fighting for several years. The monk served as an influential neutral figure, brokering ceasefires and providing a sanctuary for locals and fighters from both sides of the conflict.
In the mid ‘70s, Ajahn Jumnien set out on tudong (ascetic wandering) and found the caves to the north of Krabi town to be suitable for meditation. He had become well known as a master of meditation and compassion, and with local support, Wat Tham Seua grew up around him. We met him years ago with several talismans hanging from his robes, which he accepted from lay people and wears as a symbolic gesture of carrying the weight of their karma.
Instruction in insight and loving-kindness meditation is now mostly handled by some of Ajahn Jumnien’s longtime students, including some English speakers, at the Thamseua Khaokaeo Vipassana Centre that covers a forested hill near the Kuan Yin shrine at the back of the grounds. Visitors can walk a path leading past a white Buddha image and old-growth trees among the hanging mosquito nets that protect meditating monks and white-clad lay-practitioners.
Admission to Wat Tham Seua is free but donations are appreciated. It opens daily from sunup to a little past sundown. Despite the sweaty climb, visitors are asked to dress respectfully by not wearing revealing clothes.
Wat Tham Seua is located seven km north of downtown Krabi and 20 km northeast of Ao Nang. If going on your own from Krabi town, head up Uttarakit Road and hang a right on Phetkasem Road (the main highway) and then turn left after a kilometre onto the access road, which is marked by a small sign. Alternately you can take a maroon songthaew for 40 baht (this will entail walking some distance to the temple), or book a minibus that includes pick up at your guesthouse for 100 baht one way or 150 baht round trip—these depart Krabi town every two hours from 09:00 to 17:00, with the last one returning from Wat Tham Seua at 19:00. If taking a private taxi, expect to pay 300 baht per way from Krabi town, or 500 baht per way from Ao Nang.
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.
Our top 9 other sights and activities in and around Krabi