Tiger Cave Temple
At the 300th step I'm panting. It doesn't help that some of the steps are so high I have to raise my knees into the air like a polevaulter. The high temperature and humidity add to the fun on my slog to the top of Tiger Cave Temple (Wat Thumsua) in Krabi, Southern Thailand's so-called 'enchanted province'. I drink lots of water, grip the hand rail and, as gibbons weave past me, heave myself up the staircase built into a very steep wooded valley surrounded by cliffs. I'm beginning to have doubts about whether I will reach the top, take some pictures and make it back for my taxi pickup in 90 minutes.
The distance between the breaks I take narrows. Drenched in sweat, I'm feeling giddy. However, the end comes early because there are just 1,200 steps - not 'more than 2,000' as Frommer's travel guide claims. Thanks be to Buddha - represented in gorgeous and almost garish splendour by one colossal figure and a golden team of clones gleaming in the twilight. The view is as striking as any I have seen. Picture mangrove forests offset by rubber and palm-oil plantations. On the horizon lie the inner Andaman islands. Here, up on this platform in the clouds, you feel closer to the twin spirits of the temple's faith, Vipassana (clear-seeing) and Anapanasati (mindfulness with breathing). These are essentially mental health therapies which are compatible with all religions and which have reduced the suffering (caused by excessive attachment to impermanent phenomena) of millions, maybe as many as billions, of people.
They are predominant in Theravada Buddhism, which is mainly practiced in SE Asia and which maybe contributes to the fact that Thai people, most of whom adhere to these beliefs, are amongst the most content in the world. The Tiger Cave Temple is considered by Krabi's Buddhists to be one of the most sacred sites in the province. Even for those who are not religiously inclined there are some fascinating features here well worthy of a visit, which can include either a moderately strenuous or a very strenuous hike, depending on which of two staircases you choose. The view from the top, combined with the lovely Buddhist statuary, make the summit of the hill an unforgettably and serenely beautiful place. Sunset ascents are becoming increasingly popular, especially at a full moon, when it is possible to see the sun setting the islands in the Andaman Sea on fire in the west, while a golden moon rises over the Krabi lowlands in the east. The cave temple is aptly named because of the rock outgrowth nearby, which resembles a tiger's claw.
Tiger Cave Temple is a center for meditation, its spectacular setting in the Ao Luk Thanu mountain ranges providing the tranquillity necessary for meditation. The main vihara or holy of holies is inside a small shallow limestone cave, of which both sides are lined by monastic cells, like caves, called kutis. The well-lit and well-maintained temple compound is currently home to some 250 monks and nuns. This little forest reserve was spared from logging by the monks ordaining the largest trees and thereby thwarting any attempts at cutting them down. So as well as the human monks and nuns there are also a number of monks going by the name of "Phra Ton" - "Tree Monk" in Thai.
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