Wat Thum Sua (Wat Tum Sua) is easily one of my favorite 3 Buddhist temples in Thailand. I’ve spent many hours there and I always come away feeling refreshed and happy that I made the visit – and inevitably, one of the two climbs. There is plenty to see at this temple. The temple is located at the base of a large limestone mountain. There are many buildings, monks, and lay people walking around.
Wat Thum Sua (Thum Seua) Khao Kaeo Vipassana Center in Tambon Krabi Noi, Muang District, Krabi is an ecclesiastical residence for meditation founded by the Venerable monk, Ajarn Jumnien Silseto in B.E. 2518 (A.D. 1975). A monk told me recently that Aj. Jumnien’s good friend is Jack Kornfield, who has written many books about the subject of meditation. The monk told me that Ajarn Jumnien and Jack Kornfield stayed at the same temple in Banasan, Surat Thani province, Thailand for a number of years. Yearly now Ajahn Jumnien goes to California to teach a meditation course with Jack Kornfield.
I spoke to a Thai monk today and he told me that there are 200 laypeople living in the houses at the wat (I counted 112 houses from the mountain). There are 80 monks in the main wat and 8 monks living in the caves in the foothills. The people outnumber the monkeys at Wat Thum Sua, though only by a little. Recently there were many baby monkeys born and the population of monkeys must be over 100 by now.
You can feed the monkeys bananas or just about anything, and if they are very hungry they’ll just jump on you and open your bags to get at whatever you brought. I’ve had water bottles ripped out of my backpack and watched as they bit through the plastic to get at it. I’ve seen a woman’s purse taken and bags of groceries taken. Be careful and hold your purses and backpacks tightly, especially if they contain food.
There are meditation halls, small caves and many stupas and other altars where one can make offerings. There are places to buy Jatukum (Jatukam) amulets which are made at the temple on the 2nd floor of the new chedi (seen below) as well as other amulets, cases, and memorabilia (charms, necklaces and bracelets).
They are building a new Chedi that will have 5 levels that are walkable but there are about 9 levels in total. The 5 main floors are very large. This chedi is 99 meters high. There are steps inside leading to the different levels, and though it’s not complete – one can walk all through the structure without being asked to leave. Floors 3-4 are good for meditation right now as there is little going on.
There are two very fun things to do at this temple besides what I just mentioned.
1. Go into the foothills and see the monks’ kutis (where they live) – they’re huts that are built into the caves. For this, you can walk straight back to the far end of the complex near the female god, “Gwa-Neen” statue housed in the elaborate Chinese pagoda structure. Turn left and you’ll see stairs leading up the mountain. Follow them. It’s 136 steps up the first set of steps that leads to a small rest area with benches. Then it’s 87 steps back down into the valley (foothills) where the caves are. It is here that a large tiger that this wat was named after, used to live many years back.
In this area are some kutis where 8 monks live presently. The name of the cave meditation area in the foothills is called “Kiriwong Valley”. The other cave names: Tham Khon Than, Tham Lod, Tham Chang Kaeo, and Tham Luk Thanu.
The whole area is usually screaming with cicadas and it’s well worth the walk around the path that takes you by the 1000 year old tree (there are 2 and I’m not sure which one is bigger), more caves, and spiders in your face as you break the trail for those that will come after you if you happen to be the first one around the trail. This area is not that popular with the tourists, but I can’t figure out why. You can see the monks as they live in this really lush jungle valley and dream about what it might be like to live there yourself as a monk. I did anyway.
There are bats that routinely fly through the caves every 10 minutes or so to check the cave for mosquitoes. I tried to get a picture of one with the flash but I couldn’t time it right.
Once you finish with the caves and walking around the foothills head to attraction number 2 if you have a LOT of energy left.
2. One thousand two hundred and thirty seven (1,237) steps above the ground level of Wat ThumSua is an incredibly scenic place, as well as an important Thai Buddhist monument. It is a tough climb if you are not fit and sometimes even if you are fit as you might be carrying your children on your back if you really want them to see it. There are numbers in orange on the handrails corresponding to the number of steps you are on. If you’re at 600 and are on the verge of heart attack, turn back or proceed very slowly. There are 3 steep sections, so don’t be disheartened when you face the first couple. It has taken me about 10 climbs to finally be able to just walk up it without stopping. It is always an effort though!
It is always hot in Thailand and you are well-advised to drink lots of water an hour before starting the climb, and, drinking as you climb. The steps are NOT the steps you are familiar with at home, these steps are often much higher than they are deep. This means you are climbing at well beyond a 45-degree angle, and sometimes it is more like climbing a LADDER than stairs.
This is no joke. Wear proper shoes – sport sandals are perfect, the kind that has straps for above your toes, above your forefoot, and that wrap around behind your Achilles tendon. Don’t wear $2 flip flops that are held by a piece that goes between your toes as you could slip right out of it and fall to your death. Again, not joking. The steps up the hill at Wat Tum Sua are very steep and sometimes slightly slippery. Sometimes they are wet and when your sandals get wet your feet can slip out sideways from them. Ok – enough precautions? Heed them!
I have seen 5-year-olds make the trip as well as 60-year-olds. I’ve seen a couple of women that weighed in excess of 200 pounds (90? kg). I saw a guy that was 300 lbs (140kg?). If you are FIT, you can make it. Go slowly, it’s not a race. I think it takes most people 40 minutes to an hour to get to the top.
When you do get to the top you will be 1000 feet up vertically from sea level (my guess) and there will be a cool breeze to help you cool off. There is refrigerated water in one of the two fountains, but bring your own cup or water bottle to fill up as they only provide 2 plastic cups for everyone to use. I often use them as I forget my own cup, but maybe it’s not a smart thing to do as there might be 100 others that used it before you that day.
There are multiple levels and you can sit in the shade if you wish – there are benches and steps for sitting.
I think the photos speak for themselves. I’ve made this climb somewhere between 10 and 15 times now. It gets easier. Much easier without a backpack I’ve found. Some tourists choose to leave their bags at the bottom and have someone watch them. I guess that’s pretty safe to do at the temple, but I wouldn’t leave a bag with a notebook computer or something else of value.
Ok, enjoy the photos and videos. You really MUST come and see this temple if you have an extra half-day in Krabi, or maybe if it’s raining and you aren’t going to Railay beach or some other beach location. This is a good trip for a rainy day.
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