16 April 2014

Krabi - The Immaculate Wat Kaewkorawaram

Date of Exploration : 11 Jan 2014

When I came to Krabi, I thought that most of my 6D5N would be spent by the beach toasting the sunshine with ice cold wine. But instead, I devoted more time touring the inland sights and discovered that this Thai destination is pretty full of surprises... and one of them is the immaculate Wat Kaewkorawaram (known as Wat Kaew in short).

Zen is in the air. Wat Kaew is all white except for dark roofing tiles which bestow the temple with a modernist streak in traditional Thai monastic architecture.
Built around 2007, Wat Kaew is a relatively new addition to Krabi Town. In a small township dominated by low-rise shophouses and dwarf complexes, Wat Kaew's position on higher ground makes it easily visible. We didn't know about this temple until we caught sight of it upon our arrival in Krabi Town and decided to drop by for a look around.

Getting to Wat Kaewkorawaram

If you are staying in Krabi Town, Wat Kaew is a short walk from the junction with 4 cavemen traffic lights along Maharat Road (Thanon Maharat) in the direction of Vogue Department Store. The temple is near the mall.

Entrance to Wat Kaew from Maharat Road. Sitting on a 'white' hill made, the white temple with blue roofs seem to be floating when viewed from afar.
If you are coming from Ao Nang Beach, hop on a songthaew that goes to Krabi Town (there are lots of them). The ride takes approximately 20 minutes and should cost 30 - 40 baht (some drivers will ask for more during peak tourist season). Krabi Town is the end stop and all passengers are required to get off. Wat Kaew is a short walk from the drop-off point.

There are 2 entrances to Wat Kaew... from Maharat Road and another along an arterial road which I don't know the name off.
Visual Relaxation

The best way to visit Wat Kaew is to get in from the Maharat Road entrance and ascend a flight of stairs elegantly rimmed with 2 rows of golden nagas. Due to all that white and open spaces, it was instant visual relaxation as I stepped onto temple ground. Its xanax for the eyes!

A half-heartedly landscaped garden with an untended pond and ragtag collection of dioramas to the left were a disturbance to this masterpiece in white.

A heavenly sight to behold! Except for the sentry of golden nagas, Wat Kaew's pale visage and clean form is a refreshing departure from the vigour of colours and patterns that Thai Buddhist temples usually come dressed in.

Instead of looking tacky or scary, I thought the nagas slinking along Wat Kaew's stairway like a graceful bracelet added a touch of glam to the exquisite temple.

View of Maharat Road and the street of the songthaew drop-off stop.

It felt really peaceful here and a great place to just sit under one of its pavilions (called sala in Thai) and meditate.

Sala roofing support with a naga carving.

I was lucky that a lotus was in bloom in one of the few giant earthen urns dotting the temple's perimeter for a shot that brought together two different kinds of beauty.

The interior of Wat Kaew returns back to the Thai tradition of temple decorations.

When visiting the temple, dress decently. That is, no singlets, bikinis, shorts and revealing clothes.

A statue of Shakyamuni soon to be covered in gold 'leaves' offered by devotees.

The spirit is bigger than the person.


Wat Kaew offers a sanctuary for the senses... and a break from sunburning the skin.

Wat Kaew is definitely worth dropping by for some shots and a mind massage!

Related Posts :

Shrine in the Sky : Krabi's Tiger Cave Temple

Wat Sai Thai

07 April 2014

Krabi - Wat Sai Thai

Date of Exploration : 12 Jan 2014

Blink, and we almost missed it. Wat Sai Thai wasn't on our Krabi itinerary but having passed it a couple of times on our way to Krabi Town from Ao Nang Beach, we decided to check it out since we had a free day. I was so glad I dropped by.

Sitting at the foot of a limestone boulder, Wat Sai Thai is more of a huge shrine than a proper temple. It plays a central role during Buddhist festivals and weddings where locals would gather.

A 15m tall reclining Buddha is the obvious draw for Wat Sai Thai. But to me, the main attraction were something else. Read on to find out what they are.

Digging for information about Wat Sai Thai would put Sherlock Holmes out of business because it doesn't have much of an online presence. The temple is almost as invisible on the net as it is in guidebooks.

View of the temple grounds in front of the reclining Buddha. Apart from a shelter housing the Buddha, Wat Sai Thai is pretty naked. No ornate decorations typical of Thai temples here, but in my opinion, I think less is definitely more in adding a raw flavour to this religious site. It's a refreshing break from the majority of flambouyant wats in Thailand.

Nature overruns Wat Sai Thai.

A modest ubosot (prayer hall) and presumably future ho rakang (bell tower) at Wat Sai Thai. A shell museum of sorts was also under construction to recognise the site's archaeological significance to Krabi's formation and natural history.

I was wandering around taking photos of the temple when an elderly monk approached me. I had no idea what he was saying most of the time but through some miracle of my broken Thai and body gesturing, the kindly old man led us to discover more of Wat Sai Thai.

I had no idea what this crevice is but I assume it is a resting place for religious idols because I found these lining the shallow cave...

From figurines of the king (?) to headless religious statues, the idol 'grave' intrigued and unsettled me.

Moving past the hole in the limestone stump, I was led to a courtyard of impressive trees. The most impressive of all was this stunning giant...

I'm not sure I got it right, but according to the monk, this tree is more than a century old! This colossal tree is an attraction all unto itself at Wat Sai Thai.

As the temple was not developed as a tourist attraction, we could climb up and get upclose with the majestic tree. Watch your step while climbing though as there isn't a paved way leading up and the hardened earth the roots held on to are ready to drink blood.

The encounter with the forest giant was phenomenal. The old monk left us and we continued to explore Wat Sai Thai on our own. If you are facing the huge reclining Buddha, a pathway to the left leads to the massive tree while a path on the right leads to the monks' quarters. As we approached, a couple of dogs barked incessantly. They seemed hostile.

But a monk emerged from his lodge and spoke to the brown-coated dog. I think he told it to show us around. Because what followed next really blew my mind away!

The brown dog showed us around! It would walk ahead of us and look back often to see if we are following. It brought us to a rubber plantation at the temple's backyard. I found this spirit house at the entrance to the plantation peculiar for 2 reasons... first, it is made of stone (they are usually made of wood) and secondly, it is on the ground. Spirit houses traditionally sit on a pedestal.

Our four-legged guide pointed us to his playground.

My new furry friend. This dog made my visit to Wat Sai Thai that much more magical! He is definitely an attraction at the temple. I saw online that there were other visitors who had the privilege of this yellow dog's company. Wished I had some yum-yums to thank him with. If you visit the temple, bring along some doggy treats!

Our canine guide hard at work showing us the way up the side of Wat Sai Thai to some hillside pavilions, tombs and chedis.

Mid-way up Wat Sai Thai. At this point, our yellow friend went further up and deeper into the hill's foliage but we didn't follow as we weren't dressed for serious trekking.

On our way down from the hill, we spotted this peculiar coiled shell.It looked really, really old!

Was tempted to bag this highly unusual shell that looks like a curled up worm home but decided to just bring home photos. Take nothing from nature except images. A monk also gave May, our gungho explorer, three blessed stones, one for each of us but we returned them to the land from whence they came.

Unexpectedly, I spent almost 2 hours at Wat Sai Thai, much to the chagrin of my companions. I was captivated by the 'natureness' and unexpected discoveries of this rare Thai temple and its furry guide. Here we are waiting for a songtheaw back to our hotel along Ao Nang Beach.

Getting to Wat Sai Thai isn't difficult as the locals know this temple. You can either get a cab here and have it wait for you (approximately 400 baht) or take a songtheaw (20 - 30 baht one way per person).

We took the songtheaw option and while there were many prowling Ao Nang Beach where we boarded from, none can be seen along the highway where Wat Sai Thai sits. We were a little worried about not getting transport back but after a 15-minutes wait opposite the temple, a songtheaw came along and ferried us back to Ao Nang Beach.

Wat Sai Thai is one of those temples that doesn't seem like much on the surface but when you get under its skin, you get the kind of pictures that belong in the heart and not in the camera.

Related Posts :

Shrine in the Sky : Krabi's Tiger Cave Temple

The Immaculate Wat Kaewkorawaram

06 April 2014

Shrine in the Sky : Krabi's Tiger Cave Temple

Date of Exploration : 13 Jan 2014

Whenever I think about what makes Thailand unique, two things come to mind... ladyboys and Buddhist temples. However, while the ladyboys can look as different as Cinderella and Godzilla, temples seem to differentiate little. There are few temples ('wat' in Thai) that truly stand out from the crowd and Krabi's Tiger Cave Temple is one of those that would leave a deep impression. And I'm not kidding when I say it is heads above the rest! 

Tiger Cave Temple (Wat Tham Suea) is named for the tiger paw prints found in a cave within a complex system of caves in the vicinity. Another explanation for the name stems from a monk who had a vision of tigers roaming the area while meditating in the cave. Today, the tiger cave is an inner sanctum used by monks for meditation.

Regardless of the name's origin, I had an instant connection with temple because I'm born in the year of the Tiger.
My visit to the temple was part of a packaged land tour that included splash time at a hot spring and the Emerald Pool, two of Krabi's top natural attractions.

We purchased the package off one of the many tour booths that lined the Ao Nang Beach boulevard. The asking price was 900baht but we bargained to 750baht for the full-day tour that covered the three sights. Prices may change depending on tourist season so be prepared that they can be vastly different.

Always shop around and check the prices of a few booths before deciding on one. There's also a substantial price difference if you choose to tour with a large group of 30 or a small group of 12. We went for the 12 people in a mini van option.

Entrance to Tiger Cave Temple. No tigers around but the litter of commando-trained monkeys can be equally fearsome. Avoid wearing loose jewellery and secure your bags and cameras when visiting. These critters have fast hands.
A Guanyin shrine within the temple grounds.

I thought the concept of an open-faced pagoda to house the Goddess of Mercy statue rather innovative visually.
Time to Climb

I didn't get to explore every corner of Tiger Cave Temple because as you know, following a guided tour, time is usually limited. From what I've seen, Tiger Cave Temple seem to be made up of a collection of outdoor, indoor and cave shrines scattered throughout the holy site.

We were given 1.5 hours here by our tour guide who was more interested in finishing his job than ensuring we had a good time. Side story... during our drive to the hot spring, my 'chocolate eclair' factory had a delivery and requested for a stopover at a gas station along the way. The stop was made but our guide made sure I felt guilty for requesting a toilet break during the 80 minutes' drive throughout the trip. In all my travels, I've yet to meet a tour guide who made me feel so terrible for answering nature's call.

Heaven this way...
Other than the alleged tiger paw prints in a cave which we didn't get to see, the key attraction here is a butt-busting climb to a mountaintop shrine which has...

Get a good cardio workout while sightseeing... why not?!

Every thousand mile journey starts with one step. Every 1,237-step climb starts with a wish for longer legs to get to the summit sooner!

Here we go... YES! NO! Just climb LA!

It's such a freaking looooooooong waaaaaaaay up...

... he was a young man when he started the climb.

Finally, after quite a few breaks to rest and catch our breaths, we reached the final flight to the summit. A certain level of fitness is definitely required if you want to attempt the climbing feat.

But as long as you don't give up, you will reach the top! All of us made it after about 30 minutes of not quitting. Success! You can go topless during the climb to avoid soaking the tee but do remember to get dressed before approaching the shrine.

View of Krabi from the top of Tiger Cave Temple.

Taking in the mountain majesty.

A shrine with a gigantic Buddha statue sits about 2,000 feet above the base of the climb.

Shrine in the sky... some men trip over pebbles of life's troubles, yet others moved stones to build the impossible. I guess the long way up is a lesson of faith in oneself to reach our goal.

Instant nirvana... if not from these personification of calm, it's from the adrenalin overdose brought on by the challenging climb.

The blockbuster at the top is a 278m tall golden Buddha statue.

Wat Tham Suea subscribes to Vipassana Buddhism, a Buddhist tradition that focuses on gaining an insight into the true nature of reality through meditation. 

The 3 percepts key to the Vipassana school is the impermanence of life, suffering as a result of being dissatisfied with conditions of existence, and the notion of non-self (the illusion of self in one's possession, and spiritual freedom is achieved by not clinging to these worldly materialism).

Mystery of the weeping Buddha... From afar, the massive statue looks normal. But a zoomed in shot of the face revealed what seem like tear trails below the eyes. A case of 'Don't Cry for Me Bodhisattva'? I wonder what caused the stains of sorrow down his face.

When we took up the tour package for the Hot Spring > Emerald Pool > Tiger Cave Temple day trip, I wasn't quite keen on the religious leg of the journey as I felt I've seen enough of Thai temples in my years of exploring Thailand. But this temple was literally the high point in admiring the devotion of a nation and appreciating yet another manifestation of the country's faithful.

If it's not to behold the giant Buddha on a mountaintop or the aerial view of Krabi at the summit, Tiger Cave Temple is a must-visit to test the limits of your cardiovascular health!

Related Post :

Krabi Hot Spring & Emerald Pool

Wat Sai Thai

The Immaculate Wat Kaewkorawaram
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