With visitors in tow, we visited what is said to be one of Thailand’s most beautiful and certainly most photographed caves. First impressions when we finally entered the enormous main chamber and saw the Kuha Karuhas (Royal) pavilion bathed in sunlight in the middle of Phraya Nakhon Cave – well worth the effort!
Our adventure started in Sam Roi Yot National Park, about a 45 minutes drive South of Hua Hin. We’d read that it’s best to be actually inside the cave around 10:00am as the pavilion and central chamber is swathed in sunlight from approximately 10:30 to 11:30am creating a magical view – so we’d set off early.
Arriving at Bang Pu village, the friendly National Park staff pointed to the beginning of the track telling us it’s only 2km to the cave. What they omitted to mention was that we actually had to make the steep climb up and down Tian Mountain to reach the very appealing Laem Sala beach. And having crossed the beach the track follows another rather steep and rocky path up for another 430 meters to the cave entrance. This second leg up to the cave entrance takes around 30 minutes. About half way up the hill is a viewpoint where you can take a break and enjoy great views of Laem Sala beach, and a number of small nearby islands.
Although there are several caves in the Sam Roi Yot National Park, Phraya Nakhon Cave is the most famous thanks to the presence of Kuha Karuhas (Royal) pavilion. And to honour its importance, the provincial government of Prachuap Khiri Khan, where this park resides, has taken the image of the Royal pavilion as its symbol.
The cave is formed of two caverns with natural erosion of the limestone providing a dramatic result. Light streams down through large openings in the cavern roof to illuminate the darkness and encourage plant life. It’s a beguiling sight as you descend from the climb with the royal pavilion bathed in light and framed by trees on one side and stalactites and stalagmites on the other.
The atmosphere inside the cave is tranquil and serene, especially as we were there early and the visitor numbers were still low.
On entering the cave’s first chamber an information board shows the layout of the chambers and the attractions. The first feature we came across was a dry waterfall in the first chamber and other stalagmites and stalactites were evident. As the roof of the two chambers are open, rain and sunlight come in creating a forest within a cave!
At the centre of the main cavern sits the small but striking Khuha Kharuehat (Royal) pavilion with its saddled roof, sparkling upturning finials and statue of Phraya Nakhon. This one-time local ruler is said to have stumbled upon the cave after his ship was forced ashore in bad weather some 200 years ago. Phraya Nakhon’s dramatic discovery has since been recognised by visits from a few Thai kings, including visits by recently deceased King Bhumibol. The Khuha Kharuehat pavilion was added in 1890 to mark the first royal visit from King Rama V hence the ‘Royal’ pavilion term. It’s precise positioning ensured sunlight shower over it mid-morning when the sun is out.
Ceiling height of the cavern is estimated around 50 metres, with various side caves occupied by spooky shrines, and another area occupied by Pagoda Stone cairns giving a sense of an ancient graveyard. Very easy to spend an hour or three here slowly taking in the amazing visual aspects and overall atmosphere.
We even spotted Dusky Langur (Dusky Leaf Monkeys) in the tree branches high in the cavern ceiling close to the roof openings! And as we slowly (and quietly) descended back to Laem Sala beach we spotted small families of Macaque (monkeys) scampering around in the tree canopies above.
Our advice – wear sensible walking shoes, carry lots of water, and plan to be entering the cave around 10am so you are in time for the arrival of the sun into the main cavern. There is a Thai restaurant at Laem Sala beach where we stopped to have some lunch and enjoyed immensely after all our activity. It’s open air and captures the sea breeze which is also refreshing.
We understand that there is usually a boat service that ferries people from Bang Pu village around to Laem Sala beach saving the first 30 minute walk in (and out) but it was not operating on the day due to strong onshore weather. There is a small cost but unsure exactly what it is
Phraya Nakhon Cave – Well worth the effort!