Those looking for some solitude and natural beauty should head down the coast another hour from Hua Hin to one of Thailand’s best-kept secrets: Khao Sam Roi Yod National Parkby Dave Stamboulis
Bangkokians escape the bustle of the capital for Hua Hin. But for some, even the seaside town is a bit too frantic on the weekends, and so those in-the-know who are looking for some solitude and the beauty of nature should head down the coast for another hour – to one of Thailand’s best-kept secrets: Khao Sam Roi Yod National Park.
it just off the Gulf of Thailand, and is home to a variety of attractions from sandy beaches to mountain trails, abundant birdlife, and perhaps the most fascinating cave in Thailand.
The park is famed among ornithologists, due to its position on an East Asian-Australian flyway for migrating birds. Between November and March, over 300 species of birds, many of them migrating from Siberia and Europe, stopover in the mudflats and marshes of Sam Roi Yod. Other wildlife can also be spotted in the park. There are serow (a type of goat-like antelopes) up on the limestone crags, plenty of dusky langurs, and long-tailed macaques, which roam about in the forest and around the park headquarters and campsites. Additionally, Irrawaddy dolphins can occasionally be seen off the coast.
Several caves can be explored throughout the national park, but the Phraya Nakhon Cave — probably the most photographed cave in Thailand — is the most unique. Getting to the cave involves a 20-minute climb over a mountain, from where one descends into a huge cavern. The cave is actually composed of two large sinkholes whose roofs have collapsed and, in the early morning, light filters in from the openings that creates a dramatic and surreal effect on the surroundings. The cave was named after its discoverer; a lord from Nakhon Sri Thammarat named Phraya Nakhon who wandered into it some 200 years ago, after being shipwrecked in a violent storm.
What makes the cave so interesting is that there is a giant throne pavilion with a four-gabled roof sitting in the middle of it, which is also illuminated by the fantastic light. The pavilion was constructed for the visit of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) in 1890, and has since been visited by numerous dignitaries, including twice by King Bhumibol.
In addition to the caves and hiking trails, the park has two white sandy beaches namely Sam Phraya and Laem Sala. Laem Sala has bungalows and tents for camping along with a restaurant. Due to its location around a rocky headland, the only way the beach can be reached is via a longtail boat or a 20-minute climb over a rocky trail. Other than day trippers coming to visit the Phraya Nakhon Cave or a few local fishermen who come out with their nets early in the morning, you are likely to have the place to yourself.
For those who don’t want to camp or stay in the National Park bungalows, there are some nice seaside lodges just a 10-15 minute drive from the park’s northern end, but it’s far more atmospheric to camp along the beach itself. The park service rents out tents, as well as offers a few indoor options with some bungalows just off the beach, and there is one restaurant to ensure nobody goes hungry.
For more details, check with the park (www.dnp.go.th/parkreserve/nationalpark.asp?lg=2)