On a cloudy day last week I ventured out to explore Krabi town and to ascend to the holy shrine at the top of Tiger Cave Temple, which is so called for a few reasons; the main body of the temple is a cave and tigers reportedly used to live there, but the rocks where the cave is situated are also supposed to resemble a tiger's claw. I made the journey on my own; funnily enough as soon as I mentioned the words "over a thousand" and "steps" to NewMan he suddenly referred to a huge and pressing backlog of work...Those 1237 steps take you up to the top of the mountain, in which the caves are found, where a holy shrine to the Buddha and other Buddhist symbols can be found. The steep, exhausting journey is made by Buddhists on special holy days and more regularly by the male and female monks who live within the temple's surrounding compound. Chris, our "landlord" while we stayed in Koh Lanta, told us that one monk used to ascend to the top and come back down again an unimaginable five times every day - he told us to look out for his calf muscles. (I didn't spot him and it's a good job I didn't as I would have tapped him on the shoulder - as he overtook me of course - and breathlessly told him was a very crazy man.) With my transportation waiting I only had one hour and ten minutes to visit the cave, climb up to the top of the mountain, and get back down again. After reading numerous reviews online, all saying it was worth the hard work to get to the top, I was determined to do it so after a brief looksy in the cave and a quick but very lovely chat with a female monk off I went and I quickly learnt that the reviews had been accurate in describing some flights of stairs as steep as ladders and some of them (now disused thank goodness) as a little unsafe.The reviews had also warned against the monkeys.
My month in Thailand has taught me that the phrase "cheeky monkey" didn't come from nowhere.
Despite someone kindly building a monkey "play park" at the base of the mountain for them to hang out in they were far more preoccupied with throwing things from their treetop posts and knocking over bins in search for food.
I suppose you can't blame them, the monkeys here are wild animals and as we humans invade further on their territory they react with a rudeness they are unaware of as well as a tendency to take liberties, and your food. On my way up I saw one girl be scratched by a monkey because she (accidentally) got too close to one of the baby monkeys so bear that in mind should you ever come face to face with a gang of monkeys, which happened only too often on those 1237 steps. I found avoiding eye contact and walking past with purpose and a little swagger helped; it is a similar tactic to the one we girls adopt when walking past that ex boyfriend you never wanted to see again.
Having said that the shop at the bottom of the walk does sell peanuts and bananas for you to feed the monkeys, should you wish to appease them in to letting you pass. I'd be lying if I said that the climb up is easy. It's not and I saw more than a handful of people turn around and give up. Yet it is possible and had I had more time to rest more often I would have found it much easier too. One of those reviews I read was from a "56 year old Grandmother who smokes" who sagely commented "if I can do it, anyone can" - I kept that in my pocket for when my jelly legs wanted to give up on me near the top. I have no idea what the Thai writing says on this, the top step, but I would like to think it's "Bloody Well Done". It probably isn't that though, is it... Even on a cloudy day (which was probably a blessing as I sweated enough, thank you) the views were worth the physical exertion and there was definitely a sense of spiritual calm at the summit. The gold of the holy statues and shrines contrasted with the rich green and greys of the limestone cliffs dominating the 360 degree views. It has certainly nurtured my desire to learn more about Buddhism, which is also being fuelled by my current reading material, The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama by Thomas Laird.
My only complaint was the way other people (tourists) treated this holy site. Aside from the sadly predictable girls in bikini tops, there was one man with his top off as well as a handful of people climbing over one of the statues to have their photo taken. Additionally a mother and her daughter had positioned themselves a on the side of the main Buddha to eat a picnic, even though there were purpose built seats not far away. I felt completely over the top conservative in my mid-calf length skirt and my shoulders purposely covered with a scarf. I hope some of the people who looked at me strangely eventually worked out why I was dressed like that...
The journey up and my exploration of the summit ate up 45 minutes and so with the clock ticking away I started my descent, which needless to say was much easier and quicker though I still had to contend with monkeys, those incredibly steep steps and the usual flip-flop related slip up.
I rejoined my taxi with plenty of time and the driver seemed genuinely impressed that I'd made it up to the top."Very good. Very, very good" I heard him say as I collapsed in a heap in the back seat.For more information about Wat Tham Seua and about the statues and history of the site please refer to this excellent article on Thaizer, which is run by a QPR supporting Brit who knows and has published online an incredibly amount of information about Thailand. It is an excellent resource for all things Thailand and one I keep going back to.
Frances M. Thompson
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