Located 26km north of Kuantan, the limestone karst containing Gua Charas towers high above the surrounding palm plantations. The caves owe their fame to a Thai Buddhist monk who came to meditate here about 50 years ago. It’s a steep climb up a stairway to the caves’ entrance.
The colossal and very deep Sleeping Buddha Cave is decorated with small altars to Guanyin, Puxian and other Bodhisattvas leading to the sleeping Buddha, a rather modest cement effort at the rear.
To many visitors, the cave is more mesmerising for its vast sense of scale than for its Buddhist statuary. Back at the entrance, continue up the steps to the cave above, which is an entirely different affair, open at both ends and so illuminated with sunlight, caressed with a refreshing breeze and looking out onto views of the surrounding land.
It's best to drive here if you have a car (parking is RM3), or take the Sungai Lembing-bound bus 500 (RM4, one hour, every 20 to 30 minutes) from the local bus station and disembark at the small village of Panching, just past the sign reading ‘Gua Charas 4km’. From the bus stop in Panching it’s a hot 4km walk each way, but you may be able to get someone in Panching to give you a lift on the back of a motorcycle.
Whether driving or coming by bus, consider carrying on to Sungai Lembing to explore its tin mining sights (you can also spend the night there and get a bite to eat).