Treasures of the Khao Luang Cave in Phetchaburi

posted in: Asia, Heritage, Thailand | 64

” Descending down into the cave, I braced myself for the expected darkness. Only to be pleasantly surprised to be enveloped by the spiritual glow of the Golden Buddhas that lit up the entire cave”. Thus began the treasure hunt of this Indiana Jones in the depths of the Khao Luang Cave in Thailand.

Tham Khao Luang Cave Temple in Phetchaburi, Cha-am, Thailand

Khao Luang Cave was one of my highlights in Thailand this year. A little offbeat, this cave surprised me with its creativity – the manner in which the Man-Made Buddha Idols were placed within the natural grooves of the temple. My visit here felt like a scene from Indiana Jones and Temple of Doom, where he stumbles upon the many Golden Idols.  Stay with me as I regale my tale of the Khao Luang Cave and be warned – you are going to add this to your list of key things to do in Cha-am or even Thailand.

About Khao Luang Cave

Buddhas placed in the Khao Luang Temple

Also known as the Tham Khao Luang, this cave temple supposedly existed during what the Thais call the Ayutthaya Period (the 1350s to 1760s). An old Chedi was discovered around here and they say a replica of Buddha’s footprints too, were found here. It was during the reign of King Rama IV that this temple was restored to become a meditation center. Golden Buddha statues were installed at various points in the cave to create a divine atmosphere. King King Rama IV further developed it and today, this Phetchaburi temple has become a protected ancient monument of Thailand.

The natural caves of Khao Luang

They say that the cave was occupied by young women. True or not, but it is still tended to by the Buddhist nuns along with the monks.

Descending into the Tham Khao Luang

I visited the cave temple on my way back from Cha-am to Bangkok. Enroute my guide shared the history of Khao Luang while at the same time cautioning me against the notorious monkeys around the temple. The moment the car parked at the base of the Khao Luang hill, one dropped plonk onto the bonnet. Now I knew – that I really had to Beware!

Buddhas at the entrance of the Khao Luang Caves

With minimal belongings, we hitched a ride on the official Songrathaew for a quick ride to the cave entrance. With a close hold on my camera and bag, I descended down a staircase to the Tham Khao Luang temple.  As I reached the final landing, a row of Golden Buddhas sat – waiting to unfold the secrets to the Khao Luang Cave.

Cavern One of Khao Luang Cave

The Golden Buddhas as seen from the entrance to the Khao Luang Cave, Thailand

While I did spend some time with the distracting Buddhas at the entrance, my feet were itching to enter the glittering cave that I had seen while I got down the stairs. With a promise to examine these Buddha idols upon return, I entered the dark crevices of the first cavern through its curtain of stalagmites. My jaw just dropped at what greeted me.  The eerie darkness of the cave was blown away by the glittering glow emanating from the many Buddha statues that were kept around the cave.

Buddha Idols lit up in Khao Luang Cave Temple

The Golden Buddhas though placed, seemed to be a part of the cavern. The Buddhas on these natural ledges were a perfect replication of how the actual Buddha might have been when he was meditating. Even though there was artificial light creating the mystical aura of the Golden Buddhas, my guess is that even without those, these would have brightened up the whole dank atmosphere.

My favorite Buddha Image in Cavern One of Khao Luang Cave
Buddha with the snake hood

Spellbound like a zombie, I slowly moved around this first cavern to see the various Buddha idols. My favorite was the one with the hooded snake over the meditating Buddha.

Idols along the walls of Khao Luang Cave
Stalactite with the Buddha Images at Khao Luang Cave Temple

Close to this Buddha, was this huge limestone pillar – a natural one from the way the stalactites created a design around them. While the natural formation itself was amazing, what enhanced were the idols that meditated in the grooves. The Stalactites actually framed a few of them beautifully while in some cases, they looked like curtains giving it a mystique aura.

2nd Cavern of Khao Luang Cave

The Chedis and Buddha Statue in Cavern Two of Tham Khao Luang Cave Temple

The Caverns were seamless but had a character of their own. The first one was subtle but like a prelude to the grandeur of the 2nd one. If anything, it definitely looked even more divine with that natural sunlight flooding to the center of its floor. Several chedis stood tall against one wall while a huge Buddha statue dominated the main hall. Hindu Gods like Ganesha were placed along with some of the Buddha idols – just as I had seen in the Wat Doi Suthep Temple.

Close up of the Chedis of Khao Luang Cave
Chedi in the Khao Luang Cave_
Ganesha Idol next to the Buddha Idol
Praying to the main Buddha in Khao Luang Cave Temple

This was the main Buddha statue of the Khao Luang Cave temple. This was where all the devotees offered their prayers. I noticed one very intriguing ritual. The incense sticks were kept in a small box that people shook till a few fell down. They picked the one or two incense and lit them while observing a pattern. My guide could not throw light on this but my guess is that it possibly gave an answer to their wish that they might have made while shaking the tin.

Shaking incense sticks in Khao Luang Cave
Row of Buddha in Cavern 2

And I walked towards the final cavern but not before a backward glance to the whole mysterious cavern. With that smokey atmosphere lit by the natural sunlight let in by the narrow hole in the cave, I wonder what you would describe it as.

The final Cavern of Khao Luang

Close up of the Sleeping Buddha

If there is one statue that will impress you in the cave temple – it would be the 5 m long reclining Buddha temple. Whether it is the size or the serene expression on his face or just his stance, there is no denying that it is one impressive idol in this entire temple.

Reclining Buddha in Khao Luang Cave
Idol of the King in the Cavern 3 of Khao Luang Temple

Walking further, the last cavern had a statue of the King. However, before I reached that, I noticed a stone corpse of a human kept along the side. Again, the lack of information on this had me even more curious. Guess, that will be a question left open to someone who can answer it.

Stone Corpse in Khao Luang Cave
Caves behind the Buddhas at the entrance

As I retraced my steps to return, I could not help but spend more time capturing details that I had missed the first time. Time was just not enough for there was so much to see. I exited to bid adieu to the same Buddhas that I had promised to return to when I entered. I could not help notice more caves behind this row. Guess, I just will have to return back to examine those. After all, Indiana’s quest is still not complete 😉

Getting here

  • Phetchaburi is 2 hours by road from Bangkok. If you are on your way to Cha-am or Hua Hin from Bangkok, this falls on the way.
  • Click here to get Khao Luang Cave on your mobile. You can get to the base using the map. However, once here, you will have to park here and take the local Songthaew to the top. This will cost you 10 Thb.

Travel Tips

  • There are no entrance fees for the Tham Khao Luang
  • The Khao Luang temple opens at 9 am and closes at 4 pm.
  • Please ensure that you cover your shoulders and legs before entering the cave temple.
  • There are public restrooms at the base of the hill. A small cafe too can be found here,
  • The monkeys are a huge nuisance and one needs to beware of them.
  • The best place to stay around here would be hotels in Cha-am. I stayed in one of those.

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