Photo: Thai feasting.

Khao Ok Thalu

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The most dramatic of Phattalung’s many limestone massifs, Khao Ok Thalu looks like a giant shark’s fin of rock protruding from a jungle-clad body. A gaping crevasse near the roughly 250-metre peak is the highlight, while a second trail filled with animated Hindu/Buddhist statuary is also worth your while. Bring water and have a plus-size breakfast — you’ll need the energy.

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Khao Ok Thalu as seen from near the fresh market in Phattalung town.

Khao Ok Thalu as seen from near the fresh market in Phattalung town.

Towering two kilometres northeast of the train station, Khao Ok Thalu appears on Phattalung’s provincial seal and can be seen from all over town. It’s the largest of several limestone outcrops found on this side of town, surrounded by paddy and punctuated by numerous chedis and pagodas. Bicycling this way can feel like cruising through Phang Nga Bay, with a sea of rice plants in place of the water.

You don't have to climb too far for views like this.

You don’t have to climb too far for views like this.

There are two sets of cement stairs: the older and easier-to-miss steps on the right, if facing the mountain, lead straight up to the top, while the newer stairs marked by a pair of three-headed naga statues on the left meander through a forest monastery before ending at a meditation hermitage for Buddhist nuns. Many visitors stomp straight up to the top, but we also recommend the less-demanding temple trail.

Buddha image in the rockclimbing posture.

Buddha image in the ‘preparing to rock-climb’ posture.

Statues dotting the lower half of the temple trail include a chubby purple Ganesha; a four-faced Brahma next to an emerald-green Vishnu; and many different Buddha images striking many different postures. The largest Buddha, seated in the Subduing Mara posture with a saffron hue, stands high atop a hill and can be seen from the ground.

Ganesha just kickin' it.

Kickin’ it as only Ganesha can.

Then comes a newly built concrete meditation hall with a grand stature that looks out of place here; building materials were carried up the mountain by way of a pully system with carts attached to steel ropes. Inside sits a Chinese-style meditating Buddha marked by a svastika, an ancient Indian symbol that in Mahayana Buddhism represents the Buddha’s serene mind (and has nothing to do with Nazis). Further up the path are two Chinese-style pagodas joined by an image of Kuan Yin with 13 heads and over 200 hands (we lost count).

The biggest Buddha sneaks up on you.

The big Buddha sneaks up on you.

After backtracking, we embarked on the far longer and steeper climb to the top of Khao Ok Thalu. Draped in vines and palms, the steps seem to keep going and going, taunting you with intermittent platforms that look like they might be the end, but are only turning points to more stairs. It reminded us of climbing the limestone eminence at Krabi’s Wat Tham Seua, minus the tourists and bag-snatching monkeys.

No end in sight.

1,500 steps in all, according to our motorbike taxi driver.

Finally the steps culminate at a wide brick platform perched beside the “crown” of Khao Ok Thalu: a massive hole in the rock that allows you to gaze back down to the distant ground on the south side of the mountain. Looking back east you can make out Songkhla Lake through gaps in the branches. There’s also a small golden Buddha image seated at the foot of a cliff that reaches right up to the summit, which is impossible to reach without wings.

Probably good that it's fenced off.

Probably good that it’s fenced off.

Next to the giant hole is a tall chain-link fence that’s great for safety but not-so-good for photography. Do keep an eye on children anyway, as the western side of the platform does not have a rail and a fall from there would not be pretty. Though it appears to be a great place for it, rock-climbing is off limits at Khao Ok Thalu.

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What next?

 Browse our independent reviews of places to stay in and around Phattalung.
 Check prices, availability & reviews on Agoda or Booking
 Read up on where to eat on Phattalung.
 Check out our listings of things to do in and around Phattalung.
 Read up on how to get to Phattalung, or book your transport online with 12Go Asia.
 Do you have travel insurance yet? If not, find out why you need it.
 Planning on riding a scooter in Phattalung? Please read this.
 Buy a SIM card for Thailand—pick it up at the airport when you arrive.
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