I often describe caves as stunning, awe-inspiring, beautiful, and adventurous. Today I'm going to make an exception and describe the Phra Nang Cave in Thailand as scandalous.... and phallic.
You don't have to take a very close look at this photo to see why:
Yes, it is a cave full of penises. That in itself is enough to make most people giggle. What's even more scandalous is a very large portion of the cave has the sex toy version of a penis which is illegal contraband in Thailand.
As I looked around online (I'm sure much to Google's amusement of my search queries) the possession of a sex toy is prohibited but, if you are caught with one, it appears to be a rather lax law where it will be confiscated by customs and maybe a small fee. So why would someone risk violating the law or take the time to carve a large, elaborately decorated, and rather realistic wooden penis to leave in this cave?
For a princess Goddess, of course. According to Atlas Obscura "Phra Nang was an Indian princess who was killed in a shipwreck. In another tale, Phra Nang was the wife of a fisherman who was lost at sea. She lived out the rest of her days in the cave, awaiting her husband’s return. Today, local fisherman and boatmen leave offerings in Phra Nang cave to ensure safe travel on the sea."
More than just a safe journey, the cave became associated to fertility. Thaizer, the Thailand Travel Guide, says "Phallic symbols or lingams are associated with fertility and virility. In Thailand, Hindu and animist beliefs are incorporated alongside Buddhism... Local folklore says that if somebody carves a wooden lingam and releases it at high tide anywhere along the Krabi coast, it will eventually end up in Phra Nang cave."
Each time I walked past the cave, there were certainly a lot of people curiously looking in, but I never saw anyone make an offering. If the wooden sculptures wash up on shore, this explains the volume of them in the cave. However, this doesn't explain the sculptures of the rubber or latex variety, or how some of the massive wooden sculptures came to be there. I would think that in the middle of the night is a more popular time for those types of visits.
If you are ever in southern Thailand, the cave is definitely worth a visit and a look inside. Culture, history, lore, and anatomy all in one small cave is tough to come by. And if you are hoping for some fertility in your life by making an offering, avoid any customs issues and bring a wooden version.