A cooler day yesterday and a massage appointment that was postponed for two hours had us heading the 40 km down highway 210 towards the town of Loei and Wat Erawan, a cave set in limestone cliffs with wonderful views over the surrounding countryside. I had read about the 600 plus steps to get to the cave itself, which was why the cooler weather played a part in the decision to visit.

The 210 West of Nong Bua Lamphu is one of Thailand’s more uninteresting roads. It is single lane for a lot of it, usually busy and has largely ugly development each side. It isn’t a trip that will add much to your Thailand photo library. However turn off either side and you are into some lovely rural land and small villages, which makes the drive worthwhile.

Erawan is one such diversion. The place is well signposted and you will see the right hand turn easily, which takes you onto a small rural road that winds its way through fields that are being being readied for rice or planted up with sugar.

This view is far more likely to get a photo moment.

This view is far more likely to get a photo moment.

A short distance after you make the turn you will see a rocky outcrop on your left and it is worth a short stop to visit the cave wat, or temple, that sits inside.

The entrance.

The entrance.

Inside.

Inside.

A very old monk listening to the radio with his dogs.

A very old monk listening to the radio with his dogs.

The sacks you see at the back are full of bat droppings and can be bought for 100 THB if you want to take home something different from Thailand 🙂

The smell inside corresponds to the droppings! Outside the air was cleaner and the scene very rural.

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Keeping on this road Erawan is a couple of km further on and can’t be missed. Inside you will find lots of parking under trees, which is always a bonus in such a constantly hot climate, and of course places to eat and buy things.

The markets at the base of the hill.

The markets at the base of the hill.

All natural remedies.  Not sure I would be game to try them but you often see these stalls associated with temple sites.

All natural remedies. Not sure I would be game to try them but you sometimes see these stalls associated with temple sites.

Getting fitted for a new cooler hat. Maybe not the most flattering photo but the hat is good for purpose.

Getting fitted for a new cooler hat to replace the Thai cowboy one in my hand. Maybe not the most flattering photo but the hat is good for purpose.

I am often amazed by the Thai’s take on Buddhism, which seems to include just about everything. I thought I had seen it all but this was a new one for me!

Watch the video to see this in action.

Watch the video to see this in action.

The entrance to the cave is just beyond the markets. Warning – do buy or bring water and a face cloth. The climb to the cave is hard work unless you are pretty fit, which I’m not. The lady at the base of the steps will sell you a bottle of cold water for 10 THB. You can also buy a little offering here to give to the Buddha statue at the top. a candle, incense sticks and a small bundle of flowers, if that’s your thing.

The hill you are about to climb.

The hill you are about to climb. The steps are behind the three headed elephant statue.

Up close.

Up close.

The entrance to the steps is guarded by a partly submerged tiger.

Grounded.

Grounded. Why don’t tigers eat clowns? Because they taste funny! After this low point the post does get better and higher I promise.

Despite being relatively cooler, and we are still talking low 30’s, this is still a challenging climb that will get the average unfit farang wishing for a rest stop. I was passed by elderly women and small children – only joking maybe.

Despite

You get an idea of the climb by the view opening up behind me.

Luckily the Thais have allowed for us old folk and built several sala rest stops along the way. I confess to using a couple of them.

A breakpoint with a view.

A breakpoint with a view.

Once up those 600 steps you find yourself at the entrance to the cave and meet the big Buddha that checks out the visitors.

You can get an idea of the size from Gaun who is to the left of the statue.

You can get an idea of the size from Gaun who is to the left of the statue.

Many stacks of small stones like this built for good luck.

Many stacks of small stones like this built for good luck.

Here you can leave your offering if you brought one with you and then head into the cave complex.

Doing my Buddhist thing. For me it is a sign of respect and a sharing thing with Gaun who is more serious about the ritual.

Doing my Buddhist thing. For me it is a sign of respect and a sharing thing with Gaun who is more serious about the ritual. Her handbag not mine!

Before you do I am sure you will be taking in the view, which is worth the climb even before the cave experience. It is also worth spending a moment thinking about the work required to build all those steps and construct this huge Buddha, plus the paths and steps you’ll find inside the cave. I had enough trouble just getting me up the hill let alone carrying concrete and everything else needed for this construction.

Brilliant Thai scenery. Note the steps bottom left.

Brilliant Thai scenery. Note the steps bottom left.

A closer view.

We are still in the dry season, heading into wet, so still plenty of browns where rice will be planted next month. This view in a few weeks time will be wall to wall green.

A small village looking the other way. Keep that lake in mind because we visit it later.

A small village can be seen in the distance looking the other way. Keep that lake on the right in mind because we visit it later.

I have to say that the cave itself is nothing special if you are expecting the spectacular display of stalactites and stalagmites that you find in some caves. Even the caves of Chiang Dao close to Chiang Mai, which I wrote about HERE, are more photogenic. This is a large space inside the hill and it is novel as a result but beyond that I don’t think it offers a lot. You definitely know that bats are in residence too. Lovely and cool though which is a bonus.

Looking back at the entrance.

Looking back at the entrance.

The main path is lit but if you want to explore some of the side paths a torch would be useful as some of the bulbs are broken.

The main path is lit but if you want to explore some of the side paths a torch would be useful as some of the bulbs are broken.

For me the most impressive part of the cave visit is to walk right the way through and climb the stairs at the other end to see the view on the other side of the hill.

The steps at the other side.

The steps at the other side. Lots more good luck piles of stones.

Climbing out.

Climbing out. It is steeper than it looks from the previous photo.

You are rewarded with this view.

You are rewarded with these views.

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Clinging to life on the side of the rock face.

Clinging to life on the edge of the rock face.

Not surprisingly the climb back down is easier and you can nod your sympathies to those on the way up.

The last few steps are easy.

The last few steps are easy.

As you come past the three headed elephant turn right and check out the excellent tourist map you’ll find there.

In both Thai and English.

In both Thai and English.

You can see Si Bun Ruang, our home town.

You can see Si Bun Ruang, our home town, just above the number 10, bottom left. Erawan is marked on the 210 just as you head into the pink.

Lots more to see one day.

Lots more to see one day.

I wanted to check out that lake we saw from the top of the hill so we headed down the road in that direction. Sometimes these lakes have salas, small covered huts, on them such as this one in Nong Bua Lamphu that I will write about in my next post – “Visitors in Isaan”.

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A hidden gem on the outskirts of Nong Bua Lamphu.

This one didn’t but it was worth the trip to look back to Erawan. As we left the wat I took this photo of the countryside, which captured the best of this part of Thailand.

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Much of Thailand is ugly but scenes like this provide the balance.

The view of Erawan from the other side of that lake. Storm clouds building.

The view of Erawan from the other side of that lake. Storm clouds building. We went through a huge tropical storm on the way home. The wet season building momentum.

More caves.

More caves.

A glimpse of the Erawan cave opening on the way back to the 210 had me taking the final photos for the day to capture where we had been earlier.

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You can just see the Buddha statue.

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A return to Nong Bua Lamphu and a wonderful massage to finish a great day out.

I can recommend this massage place, despite the name 🙂 in the unlikely event you find yourself in Nong Bua wanting a massage!

All is not what it seems.

All is not what it seems.

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This is a legitimate massage shop. Clean rooms, a double air conditioned room at the back away from the street if you want a massage with your partner. Ask for Ba. I have had a LOT of massages in Thailand and she rates up there with the best. 150 THB or A$6.00 for a hour of Thai or 300 THB or A$12.00 for oil.

UPDATE: 26 June 2015

The two excellent massage ladies at this shop have moved to Bangkok 🙁 I tried their replacement this week and was very disappointed. No longer recommended. There is a new place that has opened opposite Tesco Lotus but a few hundred meters down the 210 heading into Nong Bua, next to the Sport’s Bar. Nothing fancy but clean and friendly. Ask for Or. An alternative is the massage shop just before Tesco Lotus, which I covered HERE. I haven’t been there for a while so can’t update you on its current status.

UPDATE: 15 July 2015

Good news on massage. An old employee has returned to this massage place called Nuan and she is excellent. I had an oil massage and Gaun told her to be strong and she certainly was. Knew what she was doing and found lots of tender points. Recommended.

Thanks for reading.