The practice of excavating caves to create temples originated in India several centuries ago and spread across Asia as far as China. They were often established in sites of outstanding natural beauty by passing monks who stopped for worship or meditation, and they would house monks and nuns. The interiors of the caves are brightly decorated and filled with images and carvings. Visitors will also observe orange-robed monks going about their daily business and worshippers praying or lighting incense. In southern Thailand many temples have been built into caves or clusters of caves on the sides of mountains and they often feature spectacular limestone formations.
Wat Suwan Kuha
The Suwan Kuha Temple is part of a complex of caves inside a limestone mountain around 10km from Phang Nga (near Phuket). The lower level includes brightly painted ceramic tiles and many golden Buddhas, including a 15m reclining Buddha. A flight of steps takes you to an upper cavern with strangely coloured rock formations and a large statue on a high throne.
The temple is well known for the troupe of monkeys that live in the rocks and trees around the cave and who are always on the lookout for food from tourists. There are stalls in the outer courtyard where visitors can buy food for the monkeys and for themselves.
You can reach Suwan Kuha by bus, taxi or as part of an organised tour.
Wat Tham Suea (Tiger Cave Temple)
The Tiger Cave Temple is situated in an area of forests and mountains around 3 km from Krabi. The cave is a place of archaeological interest as stone tools and fragments of pottery have been found here.
The temple itself was built in 1975 and is home to a community of monks and nuns. The story goes that a monk stopped to meditate here and saw tigers roaming around the cave. Alternative explanations for the name are that ancient tiger footprints were found in the stone floor of one of the caves, or that a nearby rock appears to resemble a tiger’s paw. Whatever the truth, tigers are no longer found here. However inside the temple you can climb a short flight of stairs to see a large ceramic tiger. You can also see thousands of Buddha statues on display.
Outside in the courtyard a vast new temple is being built, surrounded by tigers and dragons. There is also a staircase of 1,237 steps that you can climb to see a giant Buddha and a spectacular view across the surrounding countryside. (Be aware that the stairs are strenuous and that it may take up to 45 minutes to reach the top.)
The temple can be reached by taxi or minibus from Krabi. Sunset tours are also available.
Dragon Cave Temple
Also in Phang Nga province is the Dragon Cave Temple with its dramatic stalagmites and stalactites. The Dragon Cave is reputed to have healing powers and you can see monks preparing herbal teas for medicinal purposes. It can be visited as part of a tour from Khao Lak.