Thailand is renowned worldwide for its sophisticated Buddhist temples. While many of the country’s most fabled sacred sites are in the central and northern regions, the southern province of Krabi is home to a real gem. Tiger Cave Temple, Krabi – also known as Wat Tham Sua – waits at the top of a flight of over a thousand steps, 278 metres above the ground. After tackling the challenge ourselves, we’ve compiled this guide to help you get the most out of your visit.
Tiger Cave Temple was established in 1975. There are various accounts of its origins and how it got its name, but the prevailing one is that a Buddhist monk who meditated in the cave saw some tigers roaming around.
Another legend has it that a single large tiger used to sleep in the cave’s mouth, and one day in 1975 it disappeared into the nearby forests, never to be seen again.
The site is now one of the most popular tourists spots in the Krabi province. Along with Dragon Crest Mountain, we found it to be a great alternative to the beaches and islands, and a welcome physical challenge after a few weeks off the hiking trail.
The main attraction at Tiger Cave Temple is a sacred site that stands at the top of a 238-metre-high flight of 1,237 steps. In some sections the steps are over a foot high, so it’s a gruelling challenge, but infinitely worth it for the reward at the top.
When reaching the summit you are welcomed by a majestic golden Buddha statue, a sacred shrine, and spectacular 360 views across the green Thai countryside, from the ancient trees of the Khiriwong Valley out to the Andaman Sea.
There is more to see and do around the temple complex at ground level. Back at the bottom you can enter the main temple cave, receive blessings from monks, and explore golden Buddha statues and ornaments inside an underground shrine.
Around the grounds you can also discover interesting structures such as beautiful green-and-gold dragon sculptures and decorated buildings.
Tiger Cave Temple is located inland in Krabi province, some 7 kilometres from Krabi town by road and around 22 kilometres from Ao Nang Beach.
There are several options to find your way there:
When arranging pick-up times for a return journey, we would recommend to allow around three hours to get up and down the tower of steps and explore the complex.
Good news – there is no entrance fee to Tiger Cave Temple. It’s free! We found this to be a welcome surprise, as we’d become accustomed to unexpected tourist-trappy fees throughout our southern Thai travels up to that point.
There aren’t any other hidden fees inside the grounds, either. The toilets are free of charge, and there is a water tap at the temple summit.
There are donation boxes should you wish to make a contribution, which we were happy to do.
An alternative option to visiting independently is to book a full day tour package to Tiger Cave Temple, hot springs and Krabi’s Emerald Pool. This covers a wider range of attractions in the Krabi Province rainforest, including natural thermal springs near Klong Thom waterfall and the chance to swim in a crystal pool.
The tour includes transfers, lunch, water, entrance fees, tour guide, insurance and free cancellation.
Tiger Cave Temple is open every day from 8am to 5pm.
It’s better to think of this in terms of when not to visit Tiger Cave Temple. You should try and avoid the middle of the day and early afternoon, when the heat is at its strongest. We made the mistake of arriving at 2pm for our ascent, and the peak temperature of the day made it a lot tougher.
It’s a much better idea to time your visit in the early morning shortly after the gates open, or later in the afternoon.
There are a few more things to know beforehand to get the most out of your visit:
Having arranged a private car, we had naive visions of a lush air-conditioned taxi turning up at our hostel. What actually arrived was more like a rickety open-air jeep. Not so bad, it turned out; it was a bumpy ride, but we saw a lot more of the Thai landscape than we would have from inside tinted windows!
We held on tight in the back for the 20-minute ride to the complex, and arrived fresh and ready for the climb. Inside the grounds we didn’t waste too much time getting started, with the “1,237 STEPS” sign at the bottom a reminder of the task ahead.
For the first couple of hundred steps we ambled cautiously past the packs of monkeys, which were clearly up for some mischief. Just behind us we saw a monkey swipe a big box of salad from someone as they were trying to stop and eat. The little cretin then emptied the box and threw its contents back down the hill, only choosing to eat the sachet of sauce. Charming.
Pressing on up the steps, it was a relief to make short stops at the resting areas at the top of each individual flight. These flights zig-zagged up the limestone tower in batches of 30-or-so steps at a time.
A marker at the top of each flight indicated how many steps we’d already climbed. We found that knowing how many steps we were yet to cover made it much easier to tackle the climb psychologically.
Once we were past 900 steps, the heat and the pain in our legs began to take its toll. But knowing we were close to the top made it easy to find that extra reserve of energy to propel us there.
Ascending the final few flights, we had already caught glimpses of the views in store ahead. Drenched with sweat, we removed our shoes (as requirement dictated) and strode out onto the platform.
It had taken us around 45 minutes of toil to reach the summit. The views now surrounding us made the pain instantly worth it.
We stopped, breathed and looked around at a beautiful panorama, the ocean at one extreme, and endless grass and forestlands at the other. Towering over us atop the temple structure was the giant golden buddha statue, staring serenely into the distance.
In no rush to set off again, we pottered slowly around the temple grounds, taking in the scenery from each viewpoint. There were quite a few tourists around, but it wasn’t so crowded as to mar the experience.
We spent a good half-hour enjoying the moment, recuperating our breath, capturing our photos, and appreciating the landscapes and the religious sculptures. Perfection.
Before beginning the trudge back down to the bottom, we stopped at the water station to refill our depleting supply. Contrary to our expectations, the descent was barely easier than the climb.
It had been a while since our last significant physical exertion, and it showed. As we descended the steps, both of our legs turned to jelly, quivering voluntarily, and we had to take several rest stops before making it to the bottom.
The steepest sections, with steps over a foot high, were particularly tricky, and in places we even resorted to scaling down backwards. Stepping back onto level ground at the bottom brought another sense of achievement – one we’d been missing for some time.
At the lower complex we still had half an hour spare before our driver arrived to collect us. It was the perfect interlude to have a look around, enter the shrine and read about the origin legends of the Tiger Cave Temple.
By the time our car arrived, we were ready to call it a day. All that was left was to relax with a cold beer back at Ao Nang Beach and enjoy a Thai ocean sunset.
The two most popular bases to stay for visiting Tiger Cave Temple and the Krabi province are Krabi town and Ao Nang beach.