In the Prachuap Khiri Khan province, not far from the tourist city Hua Hin, you will find a hidden fairy-tale world in the Tham Phraya Nakhon cave. If you are in the area, the cave is worth a visit. You can buy a day or half-day trip to the cave from Hua Hin or from Prachuap Khiri Khan, the capital in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province.
Tham Phraya Nakhon is a multi-chambered cave where the ceiling has crashed in the two of the chambers, allowing light and fresh air to enter. The result is a small, enclosed fairy-tale world with flora and fauna. In addition, you will find a royal pavilion in the main cave. When the sunlight enters through the collapsed ceiling and hits the pavilion at the right angle, it gets a magical glow.
King Rama V built the pavilion, known as both The Tetrahedron Pavilion and as Khuha Kharuehat Pavilion, in 1890. The pavilion was hand-built in Bangkok as a set, and then sent to Tham Phraya Nakhon and assembled in the cave. Today, the Prachuap Khiri Khan provincial seal has a depiction of the pavilion.
Tham Phraya Nakhon has a long tradition of royal visits; three kings have visited the cave, which is quite impressive. Generally, kings are known to be comfortable; however, there is nothing comfortable about visiting the cave. Although it may not require blood, sweat, and tears to visit the cave, at least one does not avoid sweat and some tired leg muscles. You can read more about that farther down the page.
Rama V visited the cave on June 20 in 1890, Rama VII visited the cave on June 20 in 1926, and Thailand's previous king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, visited the cave with Queen Sirikit on June 22 in 1958 and again May 31 in 1981. Rama V and Rama VII have entered their monograms on the cave wall as evidence of their visit.
Not for the Weak
As the cave is in Sam Roi Yot National Park, there is an entry fee of 200 baht. At the entrance, you will see a sign saying there is 1 kilometre (0.6 miles) to the cave, and you will see an innocent-looking staircase. Don't let that fool you!
The staircase is made of stone, held together with concrete. At least in the beginning. However, after a litte while, the stairs become more difficult to climb. I will recommend solid footwear instead of flip-flops.
The staircase goes up the side of the mountain and around it, and then down again. Along the way, you can enjoy the view on one of your breaks. Once you come down from the mountain, you pass through a small forest next to the shore and a beach. It is possible to cheat and take a long tail boat around the mountain instead of walking. However, the staircase around the mountain is not the worst part of the way to the cave.
The trip through the forest is a few hundred meters, and then you find yourself at the foot of another staircase with a sign telling you, that you have another 430 meters (0.3 miles) to the cave.
The second staircase is of a poorer condition than the first staircase; in addition, it is longer, and it goes further up. Thus, even if you cheat and take a long tail boat around the mountain, you do not avoid getting sweaty. And very soon, you realize that you should not take the "stair" in "staircase" literally.
After a long haul with plenty of pauses, you are finally at the entrance to the cave. Here, you will find even more stairs, although these go down. Here, you also get the first glimpse of the green fairy-tale world in the cave.
In one chamber in the cave, there are two holes in the cave ceiling:
You will find several interesting natural phenomena in the caves, among other things a rimstone and an associated flowstone, where lime separation from the rock wall has created a twinkling "waterfall".
You will also find stalactites and stalagmites that have met each other, creating natural pillars in the cave.
And then there is the man-made, magical pavilion. I visited Tham Prayah Nakhon at the wrong time of the year; thus, I didn't see the sun directly on the pavilion; however, the pavilion looks magically anyway, surrounded by rocky walls and green plants in the cave:
From the backside:
How to Get to the Cave
You will find Tham Phraya Nakhon just over 50 kilometres (31 miles) south of Hua Hin, and about 65 kilometres (40 miles) north of the capital Prachuap Khiri Khan in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province. You can find offers for a visit to Tham Phraya Nakhon including transport at the tour sellers.
If you drive yourself, here are the GPS coordinates to Tham Phraya Nakhon: 12.205556, 100.010000.
Be sure to bring plenty of drinking water, as the trip back and forth to the cave is long and demanding in the heat. The humidity is extremely high inside the cave; you will sweat - a lot. Near the parking lot, you will find eateries and stalls where you can buy water, souvenirs etc.
As mentioned above, I did not get to see the sun directly on the pavilion even though I was there at 10:30, which should be the optimal time of the day. It also depends on the time of the year you visit the cave; between October and early March should be the best time to visit the cave; I visited early April. Nonetheless, Tham Phraya Nakhon is certainly worth a visit even if you cannot visit between October and March.