Wat Tham Pla – Tambon Pong Ngam, Thailand - Atlas Obscura

Wat Tham Pla

A Buddhist shrine in a cave protected by macaques next to dark passages lined with creepy paintings.  


Wat Tham Pla (Cave Fish Temple) is a deceptively small Buddhist complex consisting of several incongruous elements. A limestone cliff rises abruptly next to a clearing, where you’ll find a cave of fish, crocodile pond, ancient monument, Buddhist Hell statues, and many many monkeys. 

At the cave, Tham Pla, a stream of fresh water forms a pond that extends outside the cavern. As the name suggests, it has plenty of fish swimming in it. Not far from there, an artificial enclosed pond is home to some crocodiles. (Unfortunately a sad sight as the enclosure is obviously too small.) But neither the fish nor the crocodiles dominate the scene. Macaques do. A troop of irascible macaques wields supreme power over the whole compound—so much so that this location is sometimes referred to as the “Monkey Temple.”     

Street vendors offer snacks and drinks on the main clearing, from which the ordination hall can be seen. The backdrop of the hall is an ancient monument with graceful decorations—the line of canaries is particularly beautiful. Adjacent to the ordination hall are some cartoonish statues portraying scenes from Buddhist Hell.

A weathered stairway adorned with two nagas (mythological snakes) leads to a shrine inside the cave. Go beyond the shrine and you’ll find narrow, slippery passages with bats fluttering around your head, and the smell of guano filling your lungs. Follow these passageways to get to recesses with creepy paintings lurking in the dark. If the objective of these paintings was to evoke dread, they exceed expectations.

Know Before You Go

Wat Tham Pla is located in Ban Huai Poo Kaeng, a village about 12.5 miles (20 km) before Highway 1149 reaches the Thai-Myanmar border. Be extra careful around macaques, especially if you have anything in your hands. A stick is sometimes given to visitors to fend them off. Hiking boots are recommended for entering the cave. At times, you can find a monk sitting near the entrance lending lanterns to visitors, but to be on the safe side, you should bring your own torch.

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May 17, 2019

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