Hidden deep inside in a cave near the seaside resort of Hua Hin in rural southern Thailand, there is an amazing sight. The magnificent gold and green Kukha Karuhas pavilion, the smallest temple in Thailand, is a religious landmark found in the Phraya Nakhon Cave, one of Thailand’s most beautiful and most photographed caves. A popular tourist attraction, the giant limestone cave has trees reaching for its rooftop openings. However, its remote location makes it challenging to get to and limits the number of visitors who are able to catch a glimpse of this stunning sight.
Consisting of two chambers, each with a rooftop opening that allows the sun to shine through, the cave’s atmosphere is tranquil and serene. The in-flowing sunlight contrasts with the cave’s darkness to create a mystical sensation. A forest growing within the cave makes it a bright and colourful natural attraction.
Getting to the Phraya Nakhon Cave
The Phraya Nakhon Cave is located in the depths of the Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park in Thailand’s Prachuap Khiri Khan province. To get there, prepare yourself for a long, hot trek. You will begin by taking a 45-minute drive from Hua Hin to the small village of Bang Pu located by the beach. Along the way, you will be treated to magnificent views of beaches, mountains, and forests.
From there, you travel either by boat around the cape to the Laem Sala Beach or hike for 30 minutes across the hill. The boat ride costs 150 to 200 baht per person round trip and can be combined with a visit to Monkey Island, while the hike consists of tracks and stairs with viewing platforms along the way. At the beaches of Bang Pu village and Laem Sala, you will find restaurants and small shops to visit.
From the beach, you still have a challenging 430-meter hike of uneven and steep steps through the forest to contend with. The climb is steep enough to require the use of hand-rope and takes roughly 30 minutes. There are rest stops where you can catch views of the beach, sea, and small islands nearby. Be sure to take your time, wear solid shoes, drink enough water, and wear insect repellent. As you approach the top of the hill, the path gets easier as it starts descending into first cave.
Phraya Nakhon Cave
When you finally arrive, you will find a large rustic restaurant, be assigned a guide, and pay a National Park fee of 200 baht. There is no admission fee for the cave. An information board with a map will show you the layout of chambers and attractions. In the first chamber, there is a dry waterfall and stalactites and stalagmites formed hundreds of years ago. Holes in the ceiling caused by earthquakes long ago let in rays of light.
A short wooden path called crocodile back path, because it looks like the back of a crocodile, leads from the first to the second cave. King Chulalonkorn the Great (Rama V), who fell in love with the area’s beauty, built the second chamber in 1890. Its centrepiece, the Kuha Kharuhas (Kharuehat) royal pavilion, is illuminated by the sunlight falling from a circular hole in the saddled ceiling. Sparkling finials surround a statue of Phraya Nakhon, and bushes and trees grow inside. The temple stands on a hill surrounded by trees and vegetation.
King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) visited the cave in 1925, and King Mongkut stayed in Khao Sam Roi Yot to see the total solar eclipse with European guests in 1968. Both of these kings inscribed their names on the cave’s walls. The recent king of Thailand, King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), also visited the cave but did not write his name on the wall.
Behind the hill with the pavilion is a rock that looks like a crocodile. Phaya Nakhon Cave Royal Pavilion is the symbol of Prachuap Khiri Khan province. Langurs, a type of monkey that inhabits forests, can be seen playing and jumping around the cave, but inside the cave, serenity and tranquillity pervade.
The best time to visit the caves is in the early morning when sunlight enters and illuminates the hilltop altar draped with a pink cloth over it. After you have finished your climb and cave visit, a stop by the restaurant for some refreshments is a great way to end your adventure.
Tips and Practical Information
If you would like to stay in the area, you can rent family bungalows on Laem Sala Beach or camp in tents, or a boutique resort in Hua Hin. Visiting during the week is a great way to avoid the crowds and to have a more tranquil experience, as the weekends and holidays can be quite busy. If you are short on time or energy, catch a ride to the cave in a minivan. Finally, hiring a guide who knows the area will help you make the most of your visit.
Two hundred years ago, a Thai man named Chao Praya Nakhon Sri Thammarat sought cover from the rain and discovered a cave. Named after this man, the Praya Nakhon cave is home to Thailand’s smallest temple. The Praya Nakhon Cave and its royal pavilion are magical and magnificent landmarks. Although the climb to them is steep and difficult, seeing them is well worth the effort.