Certainly worth a Sunday afternoon drive and we were back home in time for the kids to get a couple of hours wakeboarding in.
Tham Paya Nakarat is built into a rocky limestone hill with caves and huge stalactites, and I was surprised that I’d not heard of it until I got a message on Twitter a couple of weeks ago asking for directions to the Dragon Cave Temple. Never heard of it.
A little Googling found some tour companies in Khao Lak visiting this temple, but I found no Thai name or map. So using Google image search I tried to find other pages with similar images and finally found a location on Google Maps, with a photo that matched the name Dragon Cave Temple, but on the map it just said “Monastery”.
Well, it looked like we’d have to take a drive to see what we could find! Over the years we’ve done many of these drives exploring back roads and we always make it into a nice family day.
After lunch at Dairy Hut Seafood, just outside Phang Nga Town, we took the main road east to the small town of Thap Put which we drive through often on the way towards Surat Thani and Chumphon.
At the junction in Thap Put Town, almost everyone turns right, but we headed to the left. This road heads into the hills and eventually back to Phang Nga Town. I have seen it written on maps as the “Road of 100 Bends” and it is indeed a twisty road and climbs up and down, lots of views, and some steep drops by the road.
We’ve been this way only a couple of times before, but did not know about Tham Paya Nakarat, down a small side road marked with a dilapidated sign.
A narrow road heads south for about one kilometres and there is a rather unimpressive concrete building to the left and lots of parking space. Was this it?
No sign of a cave or temple, although I could see monks robes hanging around on the balconies of the building. We drove in and parked, then we could see a stairway heading up the cliff.
The stairway was lined with bells. I am never quite sure if I should ring these bells. Best not unless you are sure of the spiritual significance. But I rang some anyway. I hope that is good luck.
At the top of this stairway we passed a doorway with a sign saying “Please remove shoes” and found a Buddhist shrine, along with a desk staffed by a young guy (not a monk), a donation box and a table of temple items for sale, and stairways heading up in two different directions.
We took the stairs to the left of the shrine heading up the cliffside. No idea how many stairs there would be. Maybe 1,000 plus like the Tiger Cave Temple in Krabi? Luckily not so many! The whole place is built into the side of the cliff with giant stalactites hanging down and the jungle growing up into the cave.
On this higher level you start to get some views across the valley. The floor here has been either tiled in some places or covered with sand in others.
The path is not long, maybe 100 metres, passing a small chedi before you get to the big view, with another shrine and collection of Buddha statues. Now, this is a view I could sit and admire for a while.
This place is shown on the map as a monastery, or a meditation centre rather than a temple and I think the viewpoint is a good place to meditate and it made the trip worthwhile!
At this viewpoint next to the shrine is a wooden bench and a giant snake-like creature, which could maybe be mistaken for a dragon (maybe why some tour companies call it Dragon Cave Temple), but this is a Naga, and not just any Naga, this is Paya Naga, the king of the snakes, leading to the name of this temple.
The Naga is part of Hindu mythology and is also shared by Buddhism (which is related to Hinduism). So this is the cave of the King of the Snakes.
We walked back and down the steps to the first level again and then up a different stairway into a system of caves which went further back than I wanted to explore due to a very rickety looking bridge which I felt might not hold my weight! Inside the caves were shrines of Buddhist and Hindu origin.
A fascinating and beautiful place. I notice on Google Maps that the small road passing this temple seems to keep going south all the way back to the main Phang Nga-Thap Put road about 5km east of the Dairy Hut Seafood restaurant. A small potentially scenic road that I need to follow one day.
I’m very glad to have found out about Tham Paya Nakarat. Sure, you might not drive all the way from Phuket just to visit this one temple, but combined with lunch, visiting Wat Suwan Kuha or Wat Bang Riang (near Thap Put Town) and maybe Wat Thamtapan in Phang Nga Town and you have a selection of interesting temples in this small area.
Jamie Monk works at liveaboard dive specialists Sunrise Divers. For more information call: 084 626 4646 or visit: sunrise-divers.com