After humming and awing over where would be a good location to visit in Thailand taking into account the poor weather and light we have at this time of year I plumped for some indoor locations. Being a Bangkok resident it goes without saying that an outing in Bangkok to take photographs does not really cut the mustard so an alternative location was needed for a miserable and wet September weekend.
After a bit of research I decided to head back to one my favorite provinces in the whole of Thailand, Ratchaburi. I would make the journey via Phetchaburi so I could finally see the Tham Khao Luang site and also indulge in some food at Hat Chao Samran. My stomach is also close at heart when travel decisions are being made.
Tham Khao Luang
Tham (cave) Khao Luang is located at about 4 kilometers from Phetchaburi inside of Khao Luang hill. The cave is resplendent with colorful stalagmite and stalactite formations that are interspersed with religious shrines and iconography. The center of the cave is open to the sky as the cave roof collapsed, may moons ago, and a beautiful sun beam shines through the opening at most times of day. The statuary is impressive and these historical objects built by pilgrims of great faith include one 6 meter reclining image of Buddha and a large image in the posture of subduing mara.
There are several other caves on Khao Luang and the whole area is cool and shaded. One of these is another collapsed chamber on the top of of the hill that is occupied by a 200 year old Bodhi Tree - Ficus religiosa. The yard is lively with vendors selling fruits to visitors to feed monkeys that live on the hill, I warn you be careful of the monkies and to pay the 10 baht to have your car watched over - they have a habit of pulling parts off!.
Then it was off to Ratchaburi, fast becoming probably my favorite location in Thailand. It is a province that begs exploration, it has history and is little visited by outsiders yet it is extremely culturally rich and diverse.
Tham Ruesi Khao Ngu
This famous attraction of Ratchaburi is 8 kilometres from the town along the road to Amphoe Chom Bueng (Route No. 3078). The cave houses a bas-relief Buddha image, called Phra Phutthachai Tham Rusi Khao Ngu. This is a stone cut Buddha image in the attitude of giving the first preaching sermon which is the oldest among the four built in the Dvaravati period. It is seven kilometers from the provincial township along the Ratchaburi-Suan Phung Road and cannot be missed as its white limestone karsts are one of the standout features of Ratchaburi that can almost always been seen in the distance. Of note also at this site is to park your car EXACTLY where you are told to and to take the locals advice. I parked mine just 4 feet from the advised spot and those blasted macaques ripped off the roof trim off my car.
Khao Chong Phran
Khao Chong Phran is a hill is located in Tambon Tao Pun, Amphoe Photharam, having a cave housing more than one hundred Buddha images. The important one among them is the large Reclining Buddha which is more than nine meters long and one meter high. To be honest I grabbed a look after reaching the back of the cave, which extends about 40 meters in to the hill. Why would I only "grab a look"? I was too busy dancing around trying to hold a camera and tripod in one hand, covering my mouth and nose with the other because of the over powering stench of ammonia from the bat droppings and perpetually dancing to avoid the thousands of cockroaches scurrying around the cave floor. I have to admit this was my worst nightmare come true and having made it to the back I was much faster making it back to the cave entrance!
Wat Khao Pin Thon Cave
This is a small cave is in a small karst that sees very few visitors, indeed we had to visit the local monk to have someone unlock the gates. Once inside the cave was cathedral like in size and stature rising 50 or 60 meters up to a covered opening. The floor had been tiled and the cave was obviously a place of serenity for local monks rather than a tourist attraction that contained around 10 buddhas, the main image being seated and standing about 4 meters. It is heartening to a jaded tourist such as myself to see such places that are being used for the specific purpose of meditation, worship and the continuing traditions of Thailand, to know that they are not created for tourism and are genuine depictions of Thai life.
The highlight of the trip! This 200 year old ethnic Mon temple is at Tambon Khlong Ta Khot, Amphoe Phontharam, some 22 kms. from Ratchaburi. The fine mural paintings about Lord Buddha's life in the main shrine hall are full of detail making them seem real. Completed in the early Bangkok period, they are very rare and worth studying and each panel reveals something new. Of particular note is the occurrance of foreigners in a number of the murals. They are shown taking part in society as well as wars and some a little less that honorable activities also. The temple also houses a Thonburi Thai style building entirely made of teak with intricate carved designs that is home to a museum. This is definitely worth another future trip to attempt to photograph the external of the temple which is also decorated in fine paintings.
Tham Khao Bin
This is the a most beautiful cave. It is located 20 kms. from the town along the route to Amphoe Chom Bung and 2 kms. along an access road.The cave extends 300 meters from the mouth and offers truly amazing scenes of plentiful stalactite and stalagmite formations. It has been very well setup for tourists and the cave is lit throughout. One of the surprising things about the feature is the temperature - caves are usually places of chills and dankness - the cave is like a sauna. Be warned if you are using a camera to check your lens for condensation because mine were unusable for over an hour, such was the temp and humidity difference.
All together a very enjoyable weekend.