Deep in the green hills of Thailand’s Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park there is a mystical cave filled with light. The cave is Phraya Nakhon, and it’s been a kings’ destination for more than 200 years.
Inside this tranquil cavern are two chambers, both illuminated by light that pours in through large openings in their ceilings. In the second of the two chambers is the ornate Kuha Karuhas pavilion built for King Chulalongkorn the Great in the late 1800s.
It’s an amazing scene — but you need a bit of fortitude and a good pair of hiking shoes to get there.
The long trail to Phraya Nakhon
The trail to Phraya Nakhon takes you through the remarkable terrain of Khao Sam Roi Yot, Thailand’s first coastal national park. The journey begins in the town of Bang Pu, close to one of the area’s two gentle beaches. In Bang Pu you’ll have a choice: either make a 30-minute climb to the second beach at Laem Sala, or rent a boat and make your way to the beach by water. (Our recommendation — take the boat.)
From Laem Sala it’s a difficult quarter-mile climb over a rocky paths made slippery by the extremely high humidity. There are no railings here, so be careful! Take your time and enjoy the deep forest, the rare birds and the sound of the cicadas. In a while the trail will angle downward toward the first cave.
Inside the cave
The first cave is quite lovely, with stalactites and stalagmites and a natural stone bridge. And unlike a typical cave, it’s perfectly light inside. The unusual combination of the cave’s natural humidity and the brilliant sunlight that streams inside it have coaxed plant life out of the stone — small trees grow in spots all around Phraya Nakhon Cave.
To the left of the first chamber and also bathed in surreal sunlight is the second chamber, where the real destination lies. There stands the tiny temple, shining green and golden like a fantastic mirage rising out of the depths of the cave.
The nuts and bolts
Most visitors to the area stay about a 45-minute drive from Bang Pu village, in the seaside resort of Hua Hin. It’s not hard to find a willing driver for your trip. There is an entrance fee to the national marine park of 200 Baht per person.
From Bang Pu, boats will make the short run to Laem Sala only if there are enough visitors to fill a boat. A round trip by boat will generally cost around 150 Baht per person, but fees do vary. If you make the trip to Laem Sala on foot, you will be charged a similar fee to access the trail. There is no charge to enter the cave of Phraya Nakhon.
Plan on a strenuous hike to and from the cave. It’s likely the trip will take 2 or 3 hours. Bring plenty of water to drink along the way — and it might not be a bad idea to rub down with a good insect repellent at the start of your hike.
The effort you put into reaching Phraya Nakhon will be richly rewarded. It’s a beautiful, mysterious vision set in an amazing landscape; a serene holy pavilion hidden away in a most unusual setting.