Wat Ban Tham: Kanchanaburi

Yesterday the leafy ceiling of the forest overshadowing the Erawan Falls had kept me deliciously cool. The trundling river slipping by had assisted a soothing breeze of fresh, moist air.

Now my foot lunged to the next ledge—springing up with the explosive effort of an athlete attempting to clear the lofty pole in an Olympic high-jump event.

bloody stairs

Rather than tidy steps requiring my knees to rise-to and fall-from a steady less-than-90-degree angle I was met with steps that lunged my knees to my chest. It wasn’t the steps that took my breath away though (the vigorous climb from yesterday had been just as awkward).

The heat was sucking away my strength like an elemental vampire. Heat to this Canadian is like kryptonite to Superman—not ever totally overpowering but definitely disarming at the worst of times.

I was struggling to catch up to the members of my group who had easily sprung ahead while I took slow photos as steady unconscious excuses for frequent breaks.

Cheerful yellow flags wove up the mountain path. They seemed to beckon me on with silent encouragement. I breathed an equally silent thanks to their cheerful presence.

Far below me a dragon snaked down the mountain. Only moments ago I had traversed its belly and emerged from its tail into a cave.

dragon mouthstairs!

The dragon’s den had been dark and guarded by a golden Buddha statue with words I could not read.

into the cavein the cave

Continuing my climb to the heavens I spiralled up a staircase and emerged from the darkness into light.

climb ups stairwell

The climb wasn’t over however. A stone path led on into the trees.

Many steps later I stumbled into an open space. It served two purposes I could see instantly. With a roof overhead the open area sheltered five large statues and offered a panoramic view of the town of Kanchanaburi far below.

statues 2

And what a view these statues had been afforded for eternity.

kanchanaburi-view

I admired the town that I would soon be leaving. I felt like I could distinguish our lodging and the night market. Far off in the distance I seemed to be able to sense the serene seven waterfalls of Erawan National Park.

Glancing about for a moment more I turned away and anxiously began to climb once again. The two boats that had agreed to take us to this temple had stipulated that they would wait only 40 minutes. Only two hours before my fellow travelers and I had stepped off the Death Railway in search of another activity. I was among some stragglers who stepped into a temple beside the tracks.

temple

Its silent halls were welcoming so I ventured a peek.

pillar at temple

Leaving my shoes at the door—because it seemed the proper thing to do—I timidly walked in. A large golden, jovial Chinese/Japanese/Vietnamese Budai greeted me at the door. I laughed and felt instantly at ease. He’s my favourite Asian deity. Remember him from an old post?

buddhas 3

Behind him three golden Buddhas gazed serenely downward. The Buddhist symbol for the sun, eternity and continuance blazed from their chests.

buddhas

In a way these symbols reminded me of the Death Railway.The symbol, known as a swastika had also been recycled—but in the reverse direction. Constructed to be a beacon of good, the swastika was burned with a negative connotation by Hitler and the Nazi Party when his actions under the symbol shocked the world.

Glancing down with regret I moved on from the Buddhas and sought the rest of the group. I found them conversing in a gazebo at the edge of the temple’s wide yard. The group decided to seek out a ride down the river in a pair of boats. They haggled the price to 100 baht per person for a ride from the Death Railway to Wat Ban Tham (The Temple of Caves Village).

fast boats Kanchanaburi

Gazing up from the boat as it raced along the riverbank I noticed a building clamped to the mountainside. A wandering trail of yellow flags connected this building to the base of the mountain. I took one look at that building and decided I wanted to admire the world from its perspective.

temple in the mountain

The trail of flags beckoned in the slight breeze. The trees concealed the trail itself. Who could know that once I reached the top I’d focus on what I experienced on the ground. I guess that’s how life is. When we reach our goal or heightened awareness we think about everything we did before. Leaping head-first into a cliché here—because it’s a cliché for a reason—hopefully we all realize that everything is not only about the highest point, but also the climb and the base that fostered the strength for it.  

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