If you’re the type of traveler that seeks gorgeous landscapes coupled with an adventurous journey—and doesn’t mind a little sweat along the way—add Tiger Cave Temple (also called Wat Tham Sua) to your must-see list in southern Thailand. Located between Phang Nga and Trang and set inland approximately 15 minutes north of the town of Krabi, this important religious site is known for its incomparable 360-degree vistas…and the steep, leg-challenging, gasp-inducing 1,237 steps it takes to reach the top. And yes, ascending on foot is the only way up. It’s the opposite of a relaxing, leisurely trek, but here’s why it’s well-worth the walk.
South Thailand’s beautifully scenic Krabi province is characterized by layers of jungles, cliffs, and isles. It’s a peaceful, relaxed area, in contrast with many of the country’s other hotspots which boom with tourists and nightlife. But to truly take in the magnificent landscape, an aerial view is a must. And there’s no better viewing spot than at 912-foot-high Tiger Cave Temple. The only catch is, visiting this site involves some walking. So tote plenty of water alongside your camera, but remember that this is a religious landmark too. Both men and women should cover their shoulders and knees before entering this temple in the sky.
Plan Your Climb To Tiger Cave Temple
Ascending Tiger Cave Temple is no small feat. Those 1,237 steps are not only numerous, they’re steep and uneven. Most trekkers take an hour or longer to reach the summit. However, in April 2016, an unofficial speed record was set with a 10-minute, 21-second climb. If you’re in top physical shape, take a stab at beating that time—if you’re truly up for it (whew).
As if climbing 1,200+ steps isn’t hard enough, Thailand’s heat adds another layer of difficulty. With average temperatures between 81°F-86°F all year round, choose your visiting hours wisely. Early mornings and evenings are the best times to go to avoid the most intense heat, as well as to catch the sunrise or sunset view from the top. Bring water, and lots of it, and keep a firm grasp on your bottle and other belongings. The stairs are often lined with monkeys, which aren’t shy about grabbing your things. Finally, rest as often as you need. The climb is difficult, sure, but has been done by people of all ages and fitness abilities.
Every 100 steps you’ll glimpse a marker of your progress (which can either be a motivating factor or a cruel reminder of just how many steps still remain!). But once you reach the top, the reward that greets you is a golden Buddha statue in lotus pose. If the strenuous hike up took your breath, so too will the lookout’s panoramic view of Krabi town, its undulating forest-clad scenery and limestone karsts, plus the sparkling Andaman sea.
So what makes Tiger Cave Temple so special? Endless views, tranquility, and peace are only steps away. Our advice is to appreciate the journey as much as the destination. Then, once you’ve snapped your selfies, you’ll get to walk back down triumphantly, jelly legs and all.
Why is it Called Tiger Cave Temple?
A Vipassana monk named Jumnean Seelasettho (though there are many variations of his name) founded the temple in 1975. Legend has it that Seelasettho went to meditate at the cave, and while meditating, encountered tigers roaming the cave (though evidently they were harmless enough that he lived to tell the tale). With a miracle in his rearview, his next logical step was to build a temple at the site and name it Wat Tham Sua, aka, the Tiger Cave Temple.
Other theories attribute the name to tiger paw prints on the walls of the cave, and the bulge of the cave resembling a tiger’s paw. No matter which details are true or embellished, we know two things: one, the tributary tiger statues that adorn temple outskirts are endearing; two, neither the cave nor the temple is the true draw. It’s the satisfaction of getting to the tip-top of an ultra-high vantage point and the 1,237 rewarding steps it takes to get there.