Phraya Nakhon Cave – The SMALLEST TEMPLE in Thailand

Phraya Nakhon Cave is the number one visited place in Thailand, and for good reason: it’s utterly unique and magnificent. I went there on a day trip to see it for myself and make up my own mind, and I’m really glad I did. This post will tell you what I saw, how I got there and what you can expect. There’s a quick guide at the end of this post.

Where is Phraya Nakhon Cave?

The cave and temple are located in the Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park in eastern Thailand, it’s the largest wetland national park in the country. It’s about 250km south of Bangkok, but most people who visit it just stay in one of the many hotels in the area.

There are many things you can see in the national park, and they’re all close enough that you could do three or even four things in a day. There’s plenty of other caves to explore, plus you can see the marshlands and do river boat tours. Or you could just drive around checking out how beautiful the whole area is.

Beach near Phraya Nakhon Cave
The flat beach near the entrance to the path of the cave

Brief history of Phraya Nakhon Cave

The cave is named after a former ruler who discovered it about 200 years ago when he was taking shelter from a storm. It’s made of limestone and has three caverns, two of them have skylights. These skylights are actually sink holes, and when the hole was created seeds got into the cave and trees and vegetation started to grow. The small pavilion was built at the request of King Rama V in B.E. 2433 (1890).

How to get to the cave

There’s a lot of road signs to the entrance of the park that are displayed on every possible road heading towards the park. It’ll cost you 200B ($6.50USD) to enter.

Remember to keep your ticket as that’ll allow you to enter any part of the park for the whole day, just show your ticket and you won’t have to pay at the next place.

Once you’re in the national park you have two options: You can walk over the headland to the next beach, then from that beach walk to the cave. Or you can take a boat from the park which ferries you around the headland to the next beach, and you walk from there. Taking the boat essentially eliminates the first walk. I walked as I was in money-saving mode. It had great views but was very hot.

Entering the park

When I entered the national park there were tons of cars, coaches and shops with refreshments. I highly recommend you stock up on water before you start walking, there’s not a lot of shade and it’s all uphill.

Once you’ve walked up and down the headland you reach the beach that you get dropped off at if you decide to take the boat. The headland walk is quite steep and tiring, but the views are quite nice as you’re very high up. It took me about 30 minutes.

Steps to Phraya Nakhon Cave
One of the sets of steps across the headland. You can see how dry and hot it is from the brown plants
Dan of the World
I turned my shawl into a hat at the top of the headland as the sun was punishing

Once I reached the beach I immediately made the decision to get a boat back after I’d seen the cave. I didn’t want to do it again in the heat of the day. At the end of the headland walk there was also a sign that said “your health is still strong”. I thought that was a nice touch.

The walk to the cave from this beach is also a bit of a trek up a very rocky path. Everyone was huffing and puffing as they walked up, literally everyone! Young and old, fit and unfit, people also stopped halfway up to rest.

Tiring path to Phraya Nakhon Cave
People resting halfway up the rocky path that leads from the beach

Inside Phraya Nakhon Cave

When you enter the first cavern it’s very big, stretching up at least 100 meters. There’s a massive dry waterfall which was made over thousands of years by deposits of limestone carried by ground water. It looks like a waterfall but it’s all limestone. I was already very impressed and this wasn’t even the ‘good bit’ yet. To help you understand the size of it – a person was about the same height as one of the ledges.

Phraya Nakhon Cave dry waterfall
A dry waterfall formed over thousands of years from limestone

As you enter further into the cave you start to walk down a lot more steps, and it’s here it starts to look very Indiana Jones. There’s light coming from the hole at the top lighting up everything in a very filmic way. The staircase eventually winds down further and further to a small opening that takes you to the main cavern.

Phraya Nakhon Cave cavern 1
The first cavern with lots of plants growing

The grand entrance of the smallest temple in Thailand

As you walk into the next cavern you’re greeted by wide and magnificent beams of sunlight that aluminates the temple and floor of the cave. This cavern is massive, at least 200 meters high and 100 meters across. It was truly a sight to see and I said out loud “Wow!”. There’s a luscious green collection of trees and plants in this otherwise desolate cave, it was like nothing I’ve ever seen.

Phraya Nakhon Cave temple
A spotlight of sunbeams
Phraya Nakhon Cave temple
The smallest temple in Thailand

Exploring the cave

Once I’d spent a bit of time just standing there and taking it all in, I decided to walk around the entire cave to see what else I could see. The only part of this cave that’s off limits is an area around the pagoda, otherwise it’s open season.

I started walking and quickly found myself alone, that’s right: the cave which is Thailand’s number one tourist attraction is so big you can quickly get away from the crowds. I walked right up to the limestone walls and was quite taken back by the sheer size of them. They went up hundreds of meters, sometimes you’d see big gouges out of them and a big pile of rocks on the floor where gravity had eventually won out and forced the rock back to earth. It’d be a sight to behold to see such quantities of rock falling.

There’s lots of nooks and crannies you can see, but beware, it’s still very uneven ground and the mud is bone dry, so slipping up will happen if you’re not careful. At one section I had to crouch down and ski on my shoes down the small slope.

After following the cave wall all the way around I headed back to the pagoda and discovered something else I thought was equally cool: the stalagmites and stalactites.

Phraya Nakhon Cave temple
You can see the size of the cave in this photo, it shows only a small part of the side of the cave
Phraya Nakhon Cave
The back of the cave, the top left you can see the tiny info post in the ground

The impressive stalagmites and stalactites of Phraya Nakhon Cave

These huge columns of rock are made from limestone that’s carried in by groundwater and drips to the floor, as the water evaporates a tiny bit of limestone is left on the roof and the floor. They take forever to form, they grow at a very slow rate, about 0.005-0.7mm a year. That’s about 5cm in a human lifetime. Look at how big some of these things are! It’d take thousands of years of water dripping to make something of this scale, nature is very patient.

Phraya Nakhon Cave stalactites
Imagine how long it would take to form this huge pillar

There were some baby ones on the ground and ceiling above them, in a few thousand years they’ll join together to form a pillar of equal stature. I found this very impressive: the big ones have probably been growing since the dawn of civilization, alone and undiscovered until very recently.

Phraya Nakhon Cave stalactites
A baby stalagmite, probably about 90 years old

The boat ride back

Once I’d finished in the cave I made the walk back to the beach and immediately got an iced orange juice, it was just the ticket for such a hot day. I went to the beach and asked about a boat, they cost 200B ($6.50USD) per boat but I was lucky enough to go with three Russians, so it only cost me 50B ($1.60USD).

The trip back was pleasant and nice to see everything from a different vantage point. I put my arms over the side of the boat on the way back and let my hand run in the ocean. The trip took about 20 minutes and I highly recommend you take a boat either there, or back, or both.

Once we were near the shore line the boat hit the sandy bottom about 10 meters from the dry sand, so we all jumped into the water and headed ashore. It wasn’t deep, it nearly came up to my knees.

Phraya Nakhon Cave boat ride back
Walking to the boat with the three Russian people I’d just met

Quick guide

Location of Phraya Nakhon Cave
Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park

How to get to Phraya Nakhon Cave? There’s lots of signage on the roads. Once you’ve entered the park you can walk across the headland or take a boat which drops you off near the cave. It’s 200B ($6.50USD) for a boat in each direction.

Park entrance cost: 200B ($6.50USD) – remember you only need one ticket for all park entrances.

What to bring? Water, sunscreen, a hat and food if you don’t want to buy food there.

Food/drinks there? There are plenty of places to get water, food, refreshments and souvenirs at the park entrance or near the cave entrance.

Difficulty? It’s a bit of a trek, even if you take the boat. It’s up and down many steep and rocky steps. There’s no path for prams etc.

Best time to go? I’d say from around 10am-2pm is good, that’s when the sun shines most through the hole at the top of the cave.

If you liked this post you can discover a lot more about Thailand by looking at my Thailand page.

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