It may be hard to drag yourself away from Krabi’s beautiful beaches, but a visit to Wat Tham Seua is recommended. A tiger once lived in the cave that is now the monastery’s main hall and hence the name. Set in a tropical forest 10 kms outside of Krabi Town, the main cave and temple is interesting without being particularly special, but beyond the cave are the two staircases that lead the visitor to the star attractions.
The staircase closest to the large statue of Kuan Im, the Chinese fertility goddess, is by far the less arduous of the two. After an initial small ascent, the steps lead down to the forest floor. Surrounded by limestone cliffs and immense trees, a circular path winds its way around the deep dell and past the monks’ meditation cells and living quarters.
The other staircase has over 1200 steps and it’s a climb that should not be attempted by the faint-hearted. The steps are steep and uneven and rise up the 600 metre-high cliffside.
I last made the walk up the staircase about 4 years ago and it made me realise just how out of shape I was! I didn’t do myself any favours by beginning my climb in the early afternoon and within 10 minutes my shirt was soaked with perspiration. The best time to go is in the early morning or early evening when heat and humidity are lower. Sunrise and sunset ascents are now popular because the 360-degree views at the top are spectacular, encompassing the Andaman Sea, distant islands, limestone karsts and forests.
Take your time and make sure you have plenty of water; you will need it. 10 minutes into my climb, I saw a group of children and then two old women smiling at me as they made their way down the steps. Had they really been all the way to the top? If they had, it was putting me to shame and if they hadn’t, they were probably smiling because they knew how stupid I was to be going up at the hottest part of the day. It took me at least 45 minutes (and plenty of rest stops) to reach the shrine at the top of the mountain. As I took in the stunning views, I quickly downed a bottle of water. It had been a real effort to get to the top, but I was pleased I did it because I spent about an hour at the summit just gazing at the view and sitting in silent contemplation. Remember this is a holy site and no matter how hot and sweaty you are at the top, the only thing you should be taking off is your shoes.
It was a bit quicker coming back down, but you do have to take care with some of the narrow steps. As I neared the bottom, dozens of monkeys started to appear and I later found out that many visitors buy bananas to feed to them. No matter how tame they seem, these are still wild monkeys and they can bite and scratch.
Wat Tham Seua is on the itinerary of all tour operators from Ao Nang and Krabi Town and will vary in price depending if you go by shared mini-bus or private taxi. It’s possible to make the trip under your own steam. I last did it via a songthaew from Ao Nang to Krabi Town and then another songthaew from Krabi Town. This is probably the cheapest way of doing it, but the songthaew stops at the road adjacent to Wat Tham Seua and leaves you with a 20-minute walk to get to the monastery. It is also not so easy to get a songthaew on the way back. An option is to hire a tuk-tuk from Krabi Town or Ao Nang and negotiate a rate to go to Wat Tham Seua and back.