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Chiang Rai’s Secret Cave Temples

3Buddha Images Cave

Your next destination is the small mountain standing on its own two and a half kilometres further along. Right by the edge of the beautiful Mae Kok River, this mountain is in an idyllic spot and is home to Wat Tham Pra or Buddha Images Cave. The road initially follows the edges of Tham Tupu which again has a cluster of simple wooden and bamboo houseshuddled between the road and the towering cliffs, before striking out towards the the next outcrop.

The road between Tham TuPu and Tham Pra.
The delightful road between Tham Tupu and Tham Pra

The road winds through fields of corn and rice, skirts the steep thick wood and bamboo covered slopes of the karst before reaching the entrance to the temple. An underground stream exits here and forms a beautiful lily pool in the rainy season. Just recently a garden has been planted between the entrance and the river and a path has been built between the river and the mountain.

Walking along you can catch glimpses of mysterious holes high in the rock, half covered with thick prickly vegetation. The other side of the river is lined with huts and is a popular spot with locals looking for a lazy day out. You’ll be coming back this way. During the hot-dry weeks up to Songkram, the water festival in April, the river is reduced to a shallow stream with wide sand bars. Simple bamboo shelters are built on these bars and the youth of Chiang Rai flock here in the evenings to play in the water, carouse and picnic.

The entrance to Wat Tham-Pra is up a short flight of steps and consists of two large caves and some smaller deeper caves that are closed off. There are several dozen Buddha images around the walls and on the alters and if it wasn’t for the noise of the boats, worse in the early mornings, it would be very restful here. You are expected to remove your shoes, even though the floor can be running in condensation. Monks live in this temple so try not to visit during prayer times, particularly in the evening just before sunset.

The Miracle of The Lost Girl

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The local villagers tell a story about this mountain, Doi Tham Pra. Some years ago a local woman and her young daughter were collecting wild herbs on the mountain. The daughter wandered away from her mother as children will. She saw the entrance to cave and went inside, following the passages deeper and deeper until she was so confused by the turnings that couldn’t find her way out.

Entrance to Wat Tham-Pra, Chiang Rai
The main entrance to Wat Tham-Pra.

Meanwhile the mother had started looking for her daughter, eventually she hurried back to her village and came back with a search party but they too had no luck. Even though they went into all the caves they could find, no trace was found of the girl and eventually she was given up for dead and prayers were said for her soul.

Now, around three months later the girl suddenly reappeared, alive and well though very pale from her time away from the sun. Of her time in the caves she wouldn’t speak to any one except her mother, and to her she said that while in the caves she had been fed by a beautiful woman who had looked after her. Some people say this woman was Gwan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, others say it was a spirit that lives in the mountain. Not very surprisingly, the girl was strangely altered from that experience and from that time on the she has rarely spoken, and then only to her mother A few months after her ordeal she asked her mother to let her live in a temple and take the white robes of a nun. Today she is said to still be living as a recluse in a local temple, rarely coming out. It is considered great good fortune to catch sight of her.

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