Wildlife, walking trails, caves, and more to explore – but even without the strenuous activities, Khao Sam Roi Yot is always well worth a visit.
Story and Photos by Dave Stamboulis.
While Thailand is filled with an array of beautiful natural attractions, one of the easiest to get to from Bangkok for a short weekend break is the magical Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. Located off the coast of Pranburi, just south of Hua Hin, the park feels far more isolated and secluded than one would expect from an outdoor escape so close to both Bangkok and Hua Hin and offers a range of natural wonders, from white sand beaches, excellent mountain hiking trails, phenomenal bird life, and even a surreal throne room set inside a natural cave inside of a mountain!
Khao Sam Roi Yot means “300 peaks,” which aptly describes the hundreds of rugged karst limestone pinnacles that rise up like small pyramids above the Gulf of Thailand. Legend has it that a Chinese junk sunk here, with 300 sailors each clinging to a small island, which later morphed into individual mountains. While many of the jungle clad peaks can only be admired from the ground, there are trails up some of them, such as the climb up Khao Daeng mountain, where a stunning viewpoint gives fabulous panoramas of the surrounding terrain, both peaks and the shimmering sea.
Wildlife is a big draw here, especially birds. 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 Yot. There is a fantastic wetlands area of the park known as Thung Sam Roi Yot, where wooden walkways meander around marshlands, where one can spot purple herons, colorful kingfishers, and plenty of other birdlife.
Other wildlife can also be spotted in the park. There is serow (a type of goat-antelope) up on the limestone crags, and plenty of dusky langurs and long-tailed macaques that roam about in the forest and around the park headquarters and campsites. Additionally, Irrawaddy dolphins can occasionally be seen off the coast.
There are also several caves to explore throughout the national park but the Phraya Nakhon Cave is the most special, one of the major reasons for coming here, and probably the most photographed cave in Thailand. Getting to the cave involves a 20-=minute climb up 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 and creates a dramatic and surreal effect on the surroundings. The cave was named for 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.
Even without all the strenuous activity, Khao Sam Roi Yot is well worth a visit. There are a couple of pleasant white sand beaches in the park, Sam Phraya and Laem Sala, the latter of which can only be reached via a short longtail-boat ride or else a quick 20-minutes walk over a small headland. The National Park runs bungalow and tent operations here, along with a small restaurant, making it an excellent spot to escape the crowds, spend the night, and be up early to check out the cave. For those intent on hanging out on the beach, local fishermen wander through the surf with their fishing nets each morning, and the views on the trail just above the beach are fabulous, looking out to sea and taking in one of this area of Thailand’s most pristine stretches of ocean and coast.
Khao Sam Roi Yot is easily accessed by vehicle from Pranburi, which is about 25km to the northwest. While the roads into the park are excellent, there is minimal public transportation in the park itself other than hiring a private taxi or motorcycle, so it’s best to have your own vehicle. Additionally, the park is divided between its coastal and inland sections so if you want to cover them all, you’ll need your own wheels.
For those who don’t want to camp or stay at the National Park bungalows, there are some nice seaside lodges just 10-15 minutes 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 having a few indoor options in bungalows just off the beach, and there is one restaurant here to ensure nobody goes hungry. For more details, check with the park (www.dnp.go.th/parkreserve/nationalpark.asp?lg=2).