Wat Tham Seua is one of southern Thailand’s most famous and interesting forest temples. Mainly popular for the strenuous hike to the top of the karst where a huge Buddha statue is located, requiring the climbing of 1260 steep steps, Wat Tham Seua temple complex also hosts a deep natural amphitheater entirely enclosed by towering limestone formations, recently named ‘Wonderland’.
Wonderland is accessible through a secondary stairway of about 100 steps that starts at the far end of the main temple lane, right by the temple and statue of goddess Khuan Yin. This stairway takes those who are willing to make the effort to Krabi’s rarest of all features: a pocket of primary lowland forest. This circular rocky basin enclosed by high cliffs has the feel of a hidden word untouched by time and man.
This is of course not the case. Several monks live and worship in a maze of natural caves in this overgrown jungle valley, and Wonderland offers some fascinating features worthy of a visit even for those who are not religiously inclined. The first feature you will encounter in your path, not far from the descending steps, is the main cave amphitheater where a big Buddha statue and other Buddha images are set against the karst wall and fronted by a gleaming marble floor on which worshipers and monks prostrate themselves at set times of the day. Amongst the several items displayed by the sides of the Buddha are a real human skeleton enclosed inside a glass case and some bizarre photos of internal organs and split cadavers, as well as several clocks slowly tick away the time. These are supposed to reinforce the temporary nature of the body and help the monks focus on more spiritual matters, reminding them that time passes and that everything today will become nothing tomorrow.
Wonderland’s circular walking track starts here, and soon enough you will reach several monks’ kutis (small houses or huts where forest monks live); some are little shacks that look more like oriental garden sheds, others are rock holes barely big enough to lie down in. Most are meticulously landscaped on the outside with potted plants, sacred stones, and other eclectic adornments.
Next, you will find dozens of small cave chambers used by monks to meditate, some containing small effigies and images of the Buddha. For a proper exploration, you can turn on and off lights switches as you pass from one chamber to the next, admiring stalactites hanging from the caves’ ceilings and simple worshipping corners.
From there, just follow the nature trail that will take you on a journey to ancient times beneath huge seventy-meters-high limestone outcrops that dwarf the sky. This hidden area of untouched virgin forest in the past could only be entered by scaling the almost sheer rocking face hand over hand, clinging to the vines that draped it.
For a naturalist, the site is a microcosm of Krabi’s former glory. Primeval trees cluster silently together, their great trunks supporting the jungle canopy. The first marvel you will encounter is a tree adorned in sacred cloth that is reputed to have the largest flared root base of any tree remaining in Thailand. Further along the path there are a number of other magnificent trees to be seen, and placed discreetly here and there amongst the trees are Thai script signs that remind monks and spiritually-seeking visitors, once again, that everything is indeed nothing.
Thanks to the completely walled-in nature of this little forest reserve, it was spared from logging. Plus, when the first monks arrived here to set up a monastery they ordained the largest trees, thereby thwarting any cutting. Fauna is therefore present but limited to leaf monkeys, songbirds, and monitor lizards that still thrive here. The area is far too small and too detached from the national park to support any larger animals.
Done without stops, Wonderland hike should take about 45 minutes. Add a few photo-taking sessions and a couple of rest stops, and the hike becomes the perfect activity for a full-morning stroll amongst nature and culture.
Photo-opportunities abound, bring plenty of memory and batteries for your camera.
At Wat Tham Seua the feeling is casual but the site is holy and should be respected: dress appropriately.
To watch our video on the trek, click on this Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KniCVYaGvW8