Located a few km from Krabi Town center, the karst outcrops belonging to the Khao Phanom Bencha mountain range are home to one of the most sacred sites in the South of Thailand. The spectacular Tiger Cave Temple, or
Wat Tham Seua, is so-called because a tiger once lived in the cave that is today the monastery’s main hall.
Although most of the buildings are in a natural forest park accessible by any vehicle, the most stunning construction is at the end of a rather large stairway taking you upwards 1260 steps, so to fully enjoy the marvels of the Wat Tham Seua surroundings, one must be willing to embark in an extra challenge: a climbing journey to the top of its mountain. And this is exactly what Fantasia Asia team and I did on a warm winter morning.
Upon our arrival at the Wat Tham Seua parking lot, at 6 am in the morning, we quickly explored the main temple at ground level before embarking on our trek.
The steps are 1260, and this is reminded to you right away by banners and post at the bottom of the karst hill. We started our ascent with boosted energy and motivation, and since I have done this trek a number of times, let me warn you straight away about a few important details:
– There is a tendency to climb the first hundreds of steps too fast; you risk overtiring yourself and to find the rest of the climb strenuous
– There are 1260 steps, doubling to over 2500 for the round trip. None of them of the same height or width, so do not assume you have mastered your pace and do not forget about watching out your steps; should you slip or misplace your foot, the fall can have tragic consequences.
– At every landing, a column is marked with the number of steps climbed so far. Checking on them regularly can be a mistake: they will surely give you a boost of energy at the beginning when the numbers roll fast, but they can turn a bit depressing later on when you seem to be near the top and this number is so painfully slow to increase.
– Families of hungry monkeys populate the starting section of the climb (and the ending), and they are known to be great thieves: they will either try to grab a snack or a water bottle from your hands or rucksack (and they can fight for it) or they may turn naughty and try to steal your camera, your hat or your phone. Do carry a stick and do not show food. Do protect your belonging.
– Trekkers on this track will sweat, and their skin will attract mosquitoes. Either keep on the move or accept a few bites every time you stop for a break.
We tackled this trek with fitness and nature in mind, and we tried to fully admire the marvelous landscape that kept changing around us as we climbed: deep gorges covered by diverse vegetation that changes with the altitude and various species of birds that freely fly in the sky observing us from high above. Having to climb those steps sounds like a very daunting task, but the trick is to take your time to walk and stop along the climb up and admire the view. It is definitely not a race, and the average time needed to reach the top is about 1 hour to 1.5 hours with stops along the way, and about half that time to walk back down.
Reaching the top and seeing the stupa for the first time gives quite a sense of rewarding. We washed our faces in the fountain right at the entrance, took off our shoes in sign of respect for a sacred area, and climbed the few steps to the higher floor, where we admired stunning 360 degrees views of the surrounding countryside, of Krabi Town and of the Andaman Sea.
We took a stroll around the small area and enjoyed the presence of a massive Buddha statue sitting cross-legged and receiving the gentle breeze that usually blows in the summit. To the West, the town and the coastal area of Krabi province were at our feet. Further, we saw mangrove forests surrounding rivers that mix with the sea, the Saitai Massif of karst mountains, expanses of pineapple fields, and the different greens of palm plantations.
Walking North, we came across what is known as a ‘Buddha footprint’ embedded in the rock, and past that, a few steps up, a sacred sala, or gazebo, from where we had a clear view of the Khao Phanom Bencha mountain and its range. Time flew as we marveled at all those beauties, and soon it started to feel quite hot, and our bellies claimed some food. It was time to make our way down.
This is perhaps the worst of the trek. Do not underestimate your way back, which depends on your knees and calves, strained under the weight of your body for 1.260 steps! It is essential to pay attention to where you place your feet, keep your knees flexible, do not go too fast and concentrate on the steps, and all will go well. We did not make too many stops and, with the right time and attention, made it down safely. This trek was indeed a healthful start of the day, and we drove towards a deserved breakfast.
The enjoyment of this trek will depend on you physical shape, and even if you are in good shape, the heat and humidity may make it a difficult hike. Having said that, I believe everyone should attempt it, kids, adults and aged persons too; this trip is definitely worth the effort and you will experience the many positive emotions this climb has made us feel.
Do not attempt the climb without a stock of water bottles. The air is humid, the climb hard and long, and dehydration will soon appear if you do not keep up the drinking. Filtered water is available at the top for drinking and refilling your bottle.
Every landing is equipped by a rubbish bin geared up with anti-monkeys net: use them!
Leave early in the morning and do the trek up before the heat rises.
Consider a pre-dawn climb to watch the sunrise or a sunset ascent (especially on a full moon), which are becoming popular.
At Wat Tham Seua the feeling is casual but the site is holy and should be respected: dress appropriately.
HOW TO REACH: take a taxi or motor-taxi from Krabi Town; if self-driving, take the way to the airport and turn left at the Wat Tham Seua traffic light, a few hundred meters before Big C complex.
To watch our video on the trek, click on this Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KniCVYaGvW8