Thailand’s Khao Ok Thalu

This rugged limestone outcrop, fringed by forest and tamed by a steep, concrete staircase of some 1000 steps, adds some serious ‘Wow factor’ to the otherwise sleepy town of Phattalung in Southern Thailand. Plenty of limestone spires pierce the horizon around Phattalung, but Khao Ok Thalu turns the most heads.

It’s named for a gaping hole near the mountain’s 250-metre-high summit that frames a view of town and its steamy summit climb is truly breathtaking (check out the ‘Madame Tussaud’ monks that reside over the summit – spookily life-like!).

A second, less taxing stairway winds across the range, leading pilgrims to a Buddhist mediation hall you’ll be surprised to discover hidden in a forested saddle. Higher still, a stunning golden Buddha seated in the Subduing Mara posture keeps watch, guarding the entrance to a tranquil sanctuary for Buddhist nuns.

This special haven, shaded by flowering trees and dotted with fish ponds is sheer paradise for the happiest nuns I’m sure I’ll ever meet. After being offered icy drinks and a tour of their home, we were led deep inside the limestone to descend to a tiny, underground cave devoted to prayer.

Khao Ok Thalu’s steamy climb harks of another, more famous ascent to Krabi’s Tiger Temple (Wat Tham Seua), but there are no crowds here. If you do happen to meet anyone, it’s likely to be one of those gorgeously beaming nuns who’ll most likely invite you to join them for breakfast.

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