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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