Most who arrive at Krabi airport are eager to head straight to the beach. But the provincial capital, locally known as Krabi Town, is more than just a pass-through destination. From the town center you have access to both a stunning viewpoint and numerous caves. And some of these caves have been home to everything from prehistoric man, tigers and Buddhist forest monks! On your way to the province’s beaches and islands, be sure to spend at least a night in the city to explore sites like the Tiger Cave Temple and Khao Khanab Nam.
Exploring Krabi Town
Arriving in the late afternoon, I decided to spend half a day exploring the city before venturing off to the caves the next day. One of the most popular things to do in this city of 55,000 is to stroll along the riverside. And from just about everywhere, you can see the mysterious twin peaks of Khao Khanab Nam in the distance.
The rounded limestone karsts, now a symbol of Krabi, almost resemble an entry gate to the city. And as we’ll go over below, one of the cliffs can actually be entered.
The riverside is also home to a few interesting sculptures. One of the most popular is, quite fittingly, a crab. (In Thai, though, the name “Krabi” means something like “sword.”) There are also a number of statues of eagles, while eagle imagery also appears in some nearby modern art pieces.
If you happen to be in town on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night, you can go to the night market. It’s pretty typical as far as Thai night markets go, but it’s worth checking out for some tasty local street food and live music.
Admittedly, none of these things on their own make Krabi Town worth going out of your way for. Rather, they’re some extra things to do in town if you have some time to kill. What really makes the city special are the two sites covered down below.
The Tiger Cave Temple
One thousand, two hundred and thirty seven. That’s the amount of steps visitors need to climb in order to see some of the most stunning views in southern Thailand. The climb is tough, and before my visit, I’d even met a few people who tried but gave up.
Not in a major hurry to start the climb just yet, I first went to go see the cave after which the temple was named. Locally known as Wat Tham Suea, a monk who used the cave for meditation back in the 1970’s supposedly saw tigers roaming around the area. Obviously, there are no longer any live tigers here, but the animal is continuously honored all around the complex in statue form.
The main cave is now part of the temple and is often occupied by monks. It even has an upper level, containing a small shrine which appears to be dedicated to a tiger (or tigers) that once lived there. Nearby are over a dozen Buddha images, the largest of which is a replica of the Emerald Buddha.
Also on the lower level is a Chinese-style pagoda with a statue of the bodhisattva of compassion, Guan Yin. Though not really a part of the Theravada sect of Buddhism practiced in Thailand, Guan Yin statues are becoming increasingly common at Thai temples nowadays. Maybe it has something to do with the Chinese tourism boom?
Finally, it was time to start climbing. Like many mountains in Southeast Asia, this one is inhabited by a large community of macaque monkeys. If you’ve come across these monkeys in Asia before, you know just what to expect. If this is your first encounter, be sure to zip up your bags, as these little guys are notorious thieves. Don’t be surprised if some even hop on your back to get to the other side! Fortunately, the higher you go, the less monkeys there are.
Though I exercise pretty regularly, it wasn’t long into my climb before I found myself sweaty and out of breath. The steep staircase combined with the simmering heat of southern Thailand makes for one nasty combo. One recent visitor even commemorated the spot where they vomited with a small inscription. Thankfully, I met some other climbers on their way back down who ensured me that the views were indeed worth the effort.
Along the way, pillars are marked with the number of steps you’ve climbed thus far. This can either be encouraging or disheartening, depending on how far left you have to go! But eventually, after a few breaks along the way, I finally made it to step number 1,237. I first sat down for a much-needed breather and before taking in the view from 278m above sea level. Yes, the climb was worth it.
The top of the mountain offers 360 degree views of the surrounding limestone cliffs in the distance, in addition to the town and the temple down below. As this is still part of the temple, the top also contains several large golden Buddha images demonstrating different postures, or mudras. And off to one side is a small shrine with a mix of Buddhist and Hindu imagery.
Despite the being such a hot day, there was a cool breeze blowing at the top of the mountain which was more than welcome. I rested my legs and enjoyed the views for awhile longer before starting the long descent back down. This time I got to be the one encouraging exhausted climbers not to give up.
Eventually I was back at the base of the temple with sore and shaky knees, but the excursion wasn’t quite over yet. Over on another side of the mountain is a series of several other caves to explore. Despite how many visitors come to the Tiger Cave Temple, very few people know about these caves, which is probably due to the poor signage. On the plus side, you’ll likely have them all to yourself.
Before the cave entrance is a Buddhist shrine with the side of the mountain acting as a canvas for murals. There are also some quirky decorations, including a skeleton encased in glass. Meanwhile, the area is dotted with small cabins which appear to be living quarters for monks. They likely still use some of these caves for meditation purposes, and archaeological evidence suggests the caves have been used by humans for a very long time.
The caves are all connected to one another, but individually go by the names of Meousaeik, Loogtanoo, Tham Lod, Konthun and Lod. While no climbing is required, you may have to get down on all fours at some points to get through some of the passageways. Maneuvering through the caverns ends up being a lot tougher than it should be after the long climb down the mountain!
Khao Khanab Nam
The Tiger Cave Temple isn’t the only cave attraction in Krabi town. Khao Khanab Nam, the city’s main landmark mentioned above, can actually be visited. But to get there you’ll need to hire a boat. If you hire a private boat with a few other attractions thrown in, the standard price is around 500 baht. If you’re in a group, though, you may be able to pay per person.
I got dropped off further down the beach and then walked up to a ticket gate where I paid the 30 baht entry fee. Outside the entrance to the cave is a replica of a human skeleton once found here. Supposedly, it’s over 43,000 years old and was just one of many to be discovered in the area.
A twisty staircase takes visitors up to the cave entrance. Well-lit by the natural daylight, the spacious cave is full of massive stalactite and stalagmite formations. It’s much larger and more open than anything at the Tiger Cave Temple, as well as other caves in the province like Railay.
Throughout the cave are various exhibitions dedicated to its former inhabitants. Some are cave paintings and tools found here (though probably really just replicas), while others are kitschy caveman statues. Informational signage probably would’ve been enough, in my opinion.
This cave was also home to some relatively recent inhabitants as well. During World War II, the Japanese military established camps here during their invasion of the Malay Peninsula.
Overall, the cave itself shouldn’t take much more than 30 minutes. Generally, the 500 baht private boat tour should include a visit to the mangrove forest and floating village. But the driver merely pointed them out in the distance to me. I was probably being ripped off. But as I’d just visited the Tiger Cave Temple that morning, I was more than happy to cut the trip short and finally return back to my hotel.
Krabi is a fairly sizable town and its airport can be reached directly from many other airports in Thailand. You can fly there directly from Bangkok and Chiang Mai, and even from cities abroad like Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
You could also take a bus from Bangkok but it would be a very long journey of about 12 hours.
From neighboring towns like Nakhon Si Thammarat, it’s just a couple hours by bus.
Krabi Town is pretty small, so anywhere near the town center or river would be just fine. If you want to visit the Tiger Cave Temple and Khao Khanab Nam in the same day, stay for at least two nights so you have an entire full day to do both.
The Tiger Cave Temple is accessible by red songthaew from most places in Krabi town. Most foreigners get charged 100 baht to get taken right to the temple. If you don’t want to pay that much, supposedly you can get them drop you off along the nearest highway for much less.
Unfortunately, when it comes to Krabi and the touristy parts of South Thailand in general, it’s hard to know if the price you’re being quoted is real. On my way back to town from the Krabi Cave Temple, I negotiated a price with a songthaew driver only to be dropped off outside a Big C shopping center! He told me I could easily catch another ride from there, but he still wanted full price! I refused and gave him half.
Getting to the bus station from town was another adventure. Though my hotel receptionist gave me an idea of how much I should pay, 4 drivers in a row wouldn’t give me a price anywhere close to that. I finally found a driver who’d take me there for the normal price. Except just to the closest point along the highway, and not to the actual station.
While Grab does exist in Krabi, the rates are much higher than what you’d normally pay in Chiang Mai or Bangkok.