The Thai sun beats down on the staircase of the Tiger Cave Temple by the time the clock has reached midday. The temple, which is also known as Wat Tham Suea, is a sacred site in the region of Krabi, in northeast Thailand. The foot of the temple is a short drive from the town of Krabi, or from Ao Nang, a beach resort known for its dive spots and rock climbing.
You'll be looking out to the gripping greenery and formidable limestone walls of the Kiriwong Valley in one direction, and all the way back to the town of Krabi, and beyond to the region’s farmlands, in the other...
The eponymous Tiger Cave is actually at the bottom of the mountain, where there’s also an opulent, outdated sign informing you that you’ve got 1,237 steps to go to reach the temple built on the summit. Unfortunately, this sign is misleading. Since one section of the staircase was renovated, the climb has been 1260 steps - and every step matters when you’re ascending to 309m.
Getting up to the temple is not easy, but it is a beautiful, and engaging, climb. You’ll be working your way up a variety of staircases which twist and turn up the mountain. The route is always passing tightly-packed trees, and is often lined by golden chedis (sacred bell-shaped monuments with a sharp spire at the top).
There’s also an extremely-high chance that you’ll encounter monkeys on the way up to the temple. Be careful of your belongings when they’re nearby. They may be cute, but they’re also handsy, and if you catch their eye, there’s a chance you’ll get a big show of teeth from them as they try and intimidate you (before they come for the shiny iPhone you've just brought out for a nice photo). If you’ve got anything dangling off the back of your rucksack? Time to put it away. Once the macaques have got your water bottle, getting it back will be easier said than done.
You’ll quickly realise that not every single step is the same height. Some of the steps are small, while others can be up at knee-height. Bring plenty of water and take breaks if and when you need them on the way. The views are beautiful, and what’s the rush? Owing to the humidity, it’s not a bad idea to bring a spare t-shirt with you either, if you’ve got the room (and any remaining clean clothes).
While the record time for climbing the staircase is 10 minutes and 21 seconds, an estimated climbing time of 20-45 minutes is more realistic for the journey.
When you are on the cusp of completing the hike and finally climb over that final step - which you’ll see marked with the number 1,260 - you’ll find that your effort wasn’t in vain.
On the summit of the mountain sits an enormous golden Buddha, a huge golden chedi, and a beautiful little temple, up yet another (thankfully small) set of stairs. Best of all, though? The remarkable view out over the lush Thai mountains.
You'll be looking out to the gripping greenery and formidable limestone walls of the Kiriwong Valley in one direction, and all the way back to the town of Krabi, and beyond to the region’s farmlands, in the other.
On a clear day, you can even look right out to the Andaman Sea and to the islands in the area. There are a total of 836 islands, islets and rocky outcrops amongst the turquoise water and dreamy beaches of the area - only 38 of which are permanently inhabited.
A new sign greets you at the summit too, confirming: “You have ascended 309 metres vertically along a 600m path comprised of 1,260 steps” - just so you get that credit for the extra 23 steps. And a bit of admin - there are taps at the top where you can refill your water bottle.
Some like to visit Tiger Cave Temple for sunrise or sunset. By doing so you not only avoid the heat of the sun in the early afternoon (and the crowds), you also get to see the region of Krabi drenched in oranges and reds as the sun goes up or down. If you are opting for either of these options though, remember to bring a head torch with you for your ascent or descent where appropriate.
The eponymous Tiger Cave is more easily-reached, at the foot of the complex - on an undemanding 20-minute trail through the ancient trees of the Kiriwong Valley rainforest.
The cave network is still an active sanctuary and sacred site, with monks living within. Thailand has around 300,000 Buddhist monks in total, and in the cave, you can often observe monks praying or meditating. To go inside the cave, you’ll have to cover your shoulders and knees. There are usually cheap towels on sale in the area (costing around 20 Baht, or £0.50 GBP) if required.
The name, and modern cave complex, is relatively recent. It dates back to 1975, when a Monk was visiting the caves. While meditating, he spotted numerous tigers roaming around the caves - which led to the name.
It’s also a site of historical significance though. In Temple Caves & Grottoes in Thailands, Nils B. Vogt writes that “the caves are said to have remaining footprints of the tiger and are of archeological and historical interest because of the human remains (stone tools, pottery remains, etc.) from prehistoric times.”
Inside, you’ll see a mixture of miniature and large models of Buddha (and of tigers). Day trips can often feel throwaway on longer adventures - activities put together to lure in tourist cash without much substance - but a visit to Tiger Cave Temple is a worthy one. It’s a day trip that offers not just culture and stunning views, but an immersive adventure... and yes, lots of cheeky monkeys.
Inspired? Check out our nine-night Kayak and Hike Wild Thailand adventure, which takes in Tiger Cave Temple on the way!