sign in a cave in Laos

10 November 2007

Caves & temples Phatthalung | Brunei Times
Cave temples in Phatthalung in south Thailand

Caves, temples and charms of Thai south

Saturday, April 14, 2007
PHATTHALUNG, an ancient city in southern Thailand, lies nestled among mountains with an inland sea on one side. Just north of Hatyai, the main town in the south's major rice growing area has prospered but still maintains a quiet atmosphere and easy charm.

Phatthalung is famous for the original nang thalung or shadow play (wayang kulit), an art form still practised to this day.

The area is also renown for its cave temples. One is Wat Khuhasawan, at the edge of town, with the main chamber housing a reclining Buddha and numerous smaller seated ones.

There are steps leading down into the bowels of the cave and up to the top of the mountain, where there is an excellent view over the town, the surrounding plains and the nearby Punctured Chest Mountain.

Across the inland sea, Thaleh Noi, is the jutting out bit of Lam Pam, well known for its fresh seafood. But on this Saturday morning, the stalls were deserted and we could not avail ourselves of the renown roast squid.

Finding the ferry no longer in service, probably due to the prosperity of the residents who now own cars and just drive between the mainland and peninsula, my friend and I had a pleasant walk along the river to Wat Wang, Phatthalung's oldest temple that dates back some 100 years. It holds a historical spot in the province as the temple, built in the reign of King Rama III, was once the place where government officials performed allegiance pledges in the early Rattanakosin period.

Inside the convocation hall are murals of dusted paint in the time of King Rama IV about the biography of Buddha and about angels. The main plaster Buddha image is from the same period while a total of 108 images line the balcony around the building.

That bit of history behind us, we then went back into town for more spelunking.

Phatthalung town lies between two picturesque limestone hills, which in English are called Punctured Chest Mountain and Broken Head Mountain.

Punctured Chest Mountain has a cave tunnel which passes all the way through its upper peak, and a not-to-be-missed photo opportunity. The best view was from the middle of someone's allotment and the owner was more than happy for us to plough through the vegetable and banana plants to get our snaps.

We then trekked down the road following the signs to Tham Malai, or Malai cave.

Despite the blazing heat, this was a very scenic walk, as the road ran alongside the canal and railway line, and on the other side brilliant green paddy fields stretched to the foot of the hill.

White egrets contrasted with the bright green of the paddy, the darker green of the forested slopes and the blue sky.

When we reached Tham Malai, we found a lot of construction work in progress, with a new road being built up the hill and flights of steps being laid in the main cave.

I managed to explore four caves in this small hill, which is actually a small outcrop at the end of the main range. Some of the caves are archaeological sites, where votive tablets from the eighth to 15th centuries have been found.

Having exhausted ourselves walking and climbing so many steps in the hot sun, we ambled back into town and spent the rest of the day enjoying the local foods in the market.

First item on the menu was a fresh fruit juice which cost less than a ringgit. Then I sampled the khao yam, which is dry rice mixed with coconut, peanuts, lime leaves and shrimps. Delicious. This was later followed by snacks from different stalls.

One, which I can highly recommend, is a coconut omelette. Although this sounds odd, the slightly salty tang of the fresh coconut really compliments the egg.

Good views, nice people and great food. We went home sated with the delights of southern Thailand's charms. The Brunei Times

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