Wat Tham Erawan: Thailand’s Best Cave Temple
Located on the border of Loei and Nong Bua Lamphu provinces, Wat Tham Erawan is an off-the-beaten-path temple nestled high up in a karst mountain.
As a large cave chamber that’s punctuated with a golden Buddha statue, Tham Erawan is a sanctuary of tranquility that’s only surrounded by the silence of rural rice fields, Above all, it’s a peaceful day trip away from the chaos of Thailand’s bustling cities – a worthy day trip from Loei.
Wat Tham Erawan is accessed from the lower temple grounds via a winding staircase of 600 steps. The stairs start at the bottom of the hill (known locally as Pha Tham Chang) and wind their way up to the mouth of the cave where you’ll find a large Buddha statue in front of the chamber.
The ascent takes ~15-25 minutes to scale and the stairs aren’t too steep (unlike Wat Phu Tok). There are also several rest stops along the way, in the form of shaded gazebos. Thankfully, each rest stop has its own view of the beautiful valley below.
Wat Tham Erawan consists of a main chamber that’s divided into smaller rooms that are adorned with multicolored stalactites and stalagmites. The path through the cave is ~300 meters long and must be backtracked on the way out. During our trip, the cave was pitch black and required a flashlight to explore (don’t worry, your phone’s light will suffice).
According to local legend, this is where the Isaan-Lao folktale of Nang Phom Hom or the Fragrant Hair Lady(นางผมหอม) took place. For a quick synopsis, it’s a legend about the daughter of the King of Elephants and her life as she’s turned into a monkey by a vengeful ghost.
Where To Stay: We recommend staying in Mueang Loei (about 90 minutes away by car) as there’s not many hotels nearby Wat Tham Erawan. Staying here will also give you more options, in terms of activities and food. Check out Indiego Space for a nice and wallet-friendly hotel.
When To Visit: Wat Tham Erawan is worth visiting year-round, but the best experience will be during Isaan’s cold season (November – February). The cave is open 7 days a week, from 8:00am to 5:00pm. It’s also worth noting that you don’t need a guide and there’s no entrance fee – however, donations to the temple grounds are always welcomed.
Tip #1: There are no drinks or snacks for sale at the cave. It’s best to take something with you or to buy some items from the shops on the temple grounds (no guarantee they’ll be open).
Tip #2: When visiting the temple grounds as well as the cave, please behave and dress appropriately – refrain from making loud noises and wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants.