Hua Hin is best known for its beaches and seafood restaurants, but a short drive south brings visitors to the beautiful scenery and diverse nature of Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. One of the highlights in the park is a cave known in Thai as Tham Phraya Nakhon. It takes a bit of legwork to reach the cave and you’ll work up a sweat on the way, but your reward at the end is stunning.
Khuha Karuehat pavilion and the royal connection
Visitors to Phraya Nakhon Cave are following in the footsteps of one of Thailand’s most loved monarchs, King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), who visited here in 1890. To commemorate the royal visit, a sala (pavilion) was constructed. The work was carried out by craftsmen in Bangkok and the pavilion, known in Thai as ‘Khuha Karuehat‘, was then transported and assembled inside the cave in 1896. Apparently, King Rama V never got to see the pavilion in its current home, but two other Thai monarchs have. They are King Rama VII and the current monarch, King Rama IX. The signatures of King Chulalongkorn and his son, Rama VII, can be seen on the cave wall to the right of the pavilion.
According to one popular story, around 200 years ago a local ruler named Nakhon Srithammaraja was travelling by ship when an oncoming storm forced him ashore in search of shelter and he discovered the cave. However, some local historians believe the cave may have been named after a different nobleman, also called Nakhon, who lived in the 1600s.
Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park
Khao Sam Roi Yot translates as the ‘Mountain With Three Hundred Peaks’ and the area plays host to a wide variety of flora and fauna. If you’re lucky you may see dusky langurs in the treetops as you make the trek to the cave. There are numerous caves in the park, but Tham Phraya Nakhon is the most famous. The cave is formed of three 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 and greenery on one side and stalactites and stalagmites on the other.
Hua Hin and Khao Sam Roi Yot are both located within Prachuap Khiri Khan province. The Khuha Karuehat pavilion is held in such high esteem that it features on the official provincial seal of Prachuap Khiri Khan.
A sign at the back of Laem Sala Beach points the way to the 430 metre long trail that leads to the cave. Much of the trail is uphill so be prepared for some exercise and allow at least 30 minutes for the walk up. There are steps along the pathway, but they are uneven and rocky and care needs to be taken when climbing up or down. I did the walk without any problems wearing flip-flops, but it was a dry day and if I did it again I would probably wear trainers (sneakers).
Whilst you don’t need to be super-fit to undertake the trek, it does involve some effort and lots of sweating! Make sure you have plenty of water and take your time. You may also wish to use insect repellant. Around the halfway point of the walk, there is a viewpoint and seating area allowing visitors the chance to have a breather and a drink.
If you are lucky with the weather, the sunlight streaming down on the pavilion is said to be at its most striking in the morning from approximately 10am to midday.
How to get there
If you haven’t got your own transport, the easiest way to visit Phraya Nakhon Cave is by arranging a tour. Private tours or group tours to the cave and National Park can easily be arranged in Hua Hin, Cha Am and other towns in Prachuap Khiri Khan province. The price normally includes transport, the National Park entrance fee (200 Baht for non-Thais), an English-speaking guide and lunch. If you decide to travel independently, ask your hotel or guest house for the best driving route. For those that enjoy the exercise, Hua Hin Bike Tours also arrange trips to Khao Sam Roi Yot and the cave.
Alternatively, there are a number of accommodation options close to the park. Phraya Nakhon Cave is accessed via Laem Sala Beach. To get to the beach, visitors need to go to the small fishing village of Ban Pu, 45-minutes drive south of Hua Hin.
From Ban Pu, you can either walk along the elevated hiking route (approximately 30 minutes) or take a boat (approximately 20 minutes and 150 Baht per person each way) to Hat Laem Sala and the start of the trail that leads to the cave. On arrival at the beach you will see a restaurant and toilets, with the pathway that leads to the cave just beyond that.
Please note that if you do take the boat from Ban Pu to Laem Sala Beach, you may need to wade out at low tide through thick mud so be prepared! You can clean your feet at wash-rooms on Laem Sala and at Ban Pu.