The Tiger Cave Temple was calling me – after a couple of days without seeing temples, I start to miss them.
Unlike Bali, where there are shrines, temples, carved decoration and sculptures everywhere, here in Thailand, at least in Krabi area, while small personal family shrines are relatively plentiful in houses and front yards, full scale public temples seem few and far between. The most famous such temple in this area is the Tiger Cave Temple, about 30 minutes drive from Ao Nang, near Krabi Town. We had hired a driver for the day, and as we approached the foothills, passing elephants and their whisperers on the way, he pointed out what looked to be a tiny golden structure glittering on the hilltop – part of the Tiger Temple complex.
We pulled up to the temple grounds just as the shops were opening and were surprised to see that a new gigantic concrete pagoda-shaped building is being constructed, a new temple right next door to one of the smaller ones on the compound. Outside this structure are two gigantic green serpent guardians, as well as two orange tigers guarding the entrance way. The smallish temple next door is also being refurnbished; pots of red and gold paint occupied several corners waiting for workers.
Behind the gigantic cement pagoda we found two small disused aircraft, one now serving as a seat for yet another golden sculpture.
Built into the base of the hill is the main Tiger Cave Temple itself. Many golden Buddhas of all sizes, as well as sculptures of tigers and other cats, and actual cats, decorate the interior.
As we entered a service was being conducted to a small audience of the faithful; we crept past them and entered into the tiger’s cave, a smallish area accessed by stairs into the hill rock.
Inside we found more small golden Buddha sculptures, as well as a beautiful jade one, and a screened off area – the legendary tiger’s lair – into which people toss coins for luck. This temple gets its name from the olden days when apparently a leopard – not a tiger at all – used to live in this area and terrify the villagers. Later, when the monks moved in and established the temple, the beast was chased off, never to be see in these parts again.
After contributing a few coins to the collection, we headed through the gate and up to the enormously long staircase snaking up the mountainside to the hilltop temple.
A sign at the entrance noted that there are 1237 stairs to the top; however, as we found out, many of these “stairs” are actually about three regular stairs worth in height.
None of the multitudes of stairways have steps the same dimension – they vary from, say, ten inches in height to more like eighteen inches in height. And some were unbelievably steep. These staircases travel up and around the mountain to finally arrive at a multi-leveled hilltop area adorned with a gigantic golden Buddha and bell, and several smaller reclining Buddhas, as well as a shrine at the hill’s highest point.
It was a hot day and, as we made our way slowly up each set of stairs, the metal railing got hotter and hotter. We paused every ten minutes or so for a rest whenever the stairs were in shade, trying to avoid overheating. Monkeys watched us as we passed but made no attempt to approach us. As our faces got redder and redder and our legs more tired, I mused on how many people had had coronaries on the way up or down this route. Given the vertiginous steepness of some of the staircases, I also wondered what we’d do if someone above suddenly slipped and fell, rolling pell-mell down the hill … I’ve been reading too many high altitude climbing books, I guess.
Finally, after about an hour and two bottles of water, we reached the top, refilling our bottles from the water storage containers there. We spent about 45 minutes on top, resting in the shade of a platform and enjoying the incredible view out over Krabi, the islands beyond, and Ao Nang.
We could actually see the limestone cliffs of Ao Nang in the distance.
Since we were quite early, there weren’t many people either at the top or climbing up, making the journey easier than it might have been later in the day.
Going down, although still difficult, took about half the time of the uphill hike. Once down, we rested under a tree and watched the antics of the monkeys, many mothers with babies cradled to their breasts.
After spending the morning at the temple, we drove south, past Krabi and through Klong Thom into the interior to the Klong Thom Thermal Waterfall in a national park. Here at the entrance was the usual cluster of food stands, where we had some nibblies before walking through the tropical forest to the “hot stream”, a 42 degree thermal spring and several pools.
Quite a few people were lounging in the hot water and enjoying the feeling of the rushing thermal stream running over their bodies. After our tiring climb up the mountain, these waters felt great.
Our final stop, about 10 kilometers further inland, was the Sa Morakot Emerald Pond, a volcanic thermal pool of opaque turquoise water about a mile’s walk along a muddy orange path from the parking lot, in which hundreds of people were swimming and goofing around in the water and onshore.
The wooden walkway to the pool and through the rest of the park area was in really sad shape, with broken boards and exposed nails making it imperative to watch one’s step carefully.
Ty and I crept gingerly over the very slippery ground into the pool for a soak (without putting our faces into the water – didn’t look too clean) and then explored some of the landscape further uphill where the ground was a strange combination of orange, blue and black rocks, sand, water, and sludge. We both found this spot quite fascinating; all of the topography and foliage was intriguing and it was fun watching all the kids playing in the water.
Finally at 4:30 we hopped back in the car and the happy smiling man driving us around chauffured us back in what became a torrential rainstorm, so strong for a few moments that I don’t know how he was able to see the road. Our driver was quite funny; he spoke almost no English and addressed all his remarks to me – “Madame” – apologising profusely for the rain as he dropped us off: “Madame, so sorry, so sorry … madame”.
See more pictures here.