Hiking and Hua Hin: beaches, jungles and temples in caves
November 27, 2019
The first thing you should know about this article is that we aren’t going to cover Hua Hin in great depth at all. The level of depth you’ll be getting on Hua Hin itself is as follows:
It seems nice
There’s a good weekend market
The beach is rich in both horses and giant, washed up jellyfish
That’s pretty much it for the Hua Hin part. This is no slight on Hua Hin itself; whilst it’s a nice place, it’s surrounded by fantastic places full of gorgeous natural sights, and those were very much the object of our weekend trip. Specifically, these were the surrounding national parks of Kaeng Krachan and Khao Sam Roi Yot – delightfully non-touristy spots just a couple of hours’down the coast from Bangkok.
Another early clarification I should make here is my use of the word ‘our’. This makes it sounds like we were somehow involved in any aspect of planning this, which would be a Trump-esque distortion of reality. We contributed to this weekend in the same way a dog contributes to a trip to the park:
waited obediently by the front door to be collected
ran around excitedly upon arrival
fell asleep as soon as we got back in the car
remained wholly reliant on the grown ups for food, transport and activities throughout
So a big thankyou to the aforementioned grown ups for a great weekend, and for your unsettlingly perfect recall of Lizzo’s career, back story and lyrics.
So with all that said, here’s how you can squeeze in a quick-fire, nature-laden weekend trip out of Bangkok.
NB: you’ll need a car or driver for this trip!
Day 1: Kaeng Krachan National Park and Hua Hin
Hua Hin is a popular weekend getaway for Thai people, so it’s best to get out of town early. We were on the road before 7am on Saturday morning to beat the traffic heading south, and the journey was absolutely fine. Kaeng Krachan National Park is on the way to Hua Hin and with a fair wind you can make it in a shade over 2 hours, including a multi-leveled attempt to get fuel from the approximately 8 million petrol stations en route.
“No, we only sell LPG, try next one”
“No, we only sell diesel, try next one”
“No, we only sell coal, try next one”…etc
Kaeng Krachan is a gigantic park in Phetchaburi province, around 100 miles from Bangkok. It stretches all the way to the border with Myanmar, and is bursting with wildlife and unspoilt jungle.
Despite this, Kaeng Krachan remains relatively unknown vs parks like Khao Yai. When we visited, it felt like we barely saw another car or group all day.
There’s a visitor centre at the entrance to the park on the shore of a gigantic lake dotted with islets. Here you can buy tickets (300 baht for us farangs) and take a lakeside snap, or even take a cruise around the lake.
Instead we headed for the hills, driving out to Ban Krang camp in the heart of the park. We were a little late to catch much wildlife aside from the occasional group of monkeys, but we did see these leaves. I defy you to find a bigger leaf.
There are a couple of handy shops on the way to Ban Krang camp where you can pick up food and supplies.
At the camp, we hired a guide for the princely sum of 500 baht for 5 people, and headed off into the jungle. It’s well worthwhile to get a guide, we would still be in the forest without one. He didn’t speak much English beyond, for some reason, the word ‘spider’, but he did a solid range of impressions to tell you which animal slept here, which rubbed their tusks on this tree, etc.
A pro tip in Kaeng Krachan is to wear waterproof shoes, as you will be crossing a number of streams and the stepping stones are tricky unless you are a professional gymnast. You should probably have a waterproof camera case too to avoid having to do this maneuver:
We managed a fairly gentle 8km hike, spotting snakes, monkeys and generally having a nice time. I came within a few inches of treading on a small viper which could have been interesting.
The guide then proceeded to capture said viper in a small bottle because he’d never seen one before and wanted to identify just how dangerous it was, which was highly reassuring…
There’s a road in Kaeng Krachan which leads to the ‘roof’ of the park. It’s currently closed for 2 years while they pave it, but you can still walk some of the way. Here you’ll find a real highlight (or if you are like my sister, your personal nightmare): hundreds of butterflies swarming around a mineral pool. This video does very little justice, but trust me it’s incredible.
After a solid hike in Kaeng Krachan, followed by some bang average food at the campsite restaurant (in fairness it was 35 baht), we headed for Hua Hin.
I can’t tell you much about the place itself, we were barely there. We stayed in a very pleasant hotel called Ruen Kanok, which was just a few metres from Hua Hin beach and served a glorious green curry roti for breakfast. It was a peaceful and relaxing sanctuary for the evening, although we were mainly concerned with food and sleep after a long day in the jungle!
The beach at Hua Hin made for a lovely evening stroll as the sun went down, and the beach patrol is done on horseback which is a sight to see.
For dinner, we headed to the Cicada market which only opens at weekends. This market has a nice selection of foods to suit any palate, and for a Thai market it is remarkably well-structured and orderly. If you’re after arts, crafts, souvenirs and live bands covering the Eagles one song and Adele the next, this might just be the place for you.
Day 2: Khao Sam Roi Yot and Phraya Nakhon Cave
Up the next day at the crack of 8, we were soon departing Hua Hin and heading further south, towards the Khao Sam Roi Yot national park. This translates to ‘three hundred peaks, which is some generous rounding up, but it’s a picturesque area with huge limestone hills backing right onto the sea.
You can park in a designated spot near Wat Bang Pu, and there are a cluster of shops and restaurants around for vital supplies like crisps. Walking towards the beach and a rather steep cliff, you’ll come across a national park ticket booth, where you can pay your obligatory 300 baht to enter. If you’re there to hike, take the path up the cliff – it’s not too challenging despite the signs and faintly apocalyptic speech the man will give you. Beware that the trail is made of polished rock with the same gripping properties as Teflon in places though.
If that sounds dreadful to you, fear not – there are regular longtail boats waiting to zip you round the headland and place you gently on the beach the other side.
After a steep hike up and down the hill, or a relaxing boat ride, you’ll emerge into an attraction in its own right – Laem Sala beach.
For what should be getting into high season, the beach was nearly empty, and all the more breathtaking for it. Backed by shady evergreen trees and looking out onto clear water and islands, the beach is a thing of beauty. Monkeys sit around squabbling with each other a few metres away, while back from the beach a small restaurant serves up some of the worst chicken cashew nut you could hope to eat. They also serve french fries, so have those.
If you can drag yourself away from the beach, follow the trail inland towards Phraya Nakhon Cave. If you can’t you’re missing out on something truly magical – your loss.
Another short but sharp hike awaits – again don’t be put off by the signs, there were actual toddlers on the walk – but it’s worth it.
At the top, you’ll descend into a vast cave system. In the first cave, there’s a natural bridge running over the open space. Dusky langurs – monkeys which straddle the line between cute and evil perfectly – mill about.
Carry on into the cave though, and you”ll be greeted by this:
This is the stunning main event at Phraya Nakhon cave. This pagoda is built into a gigantic cave, where a hole in the roof lets sunlight beam in at the right time of day. We timed this purely by accident, but arrived at around 10.30am and the light was utterly perfect. Phraya Nakhon cave is a proper, awe-inspiring, double-take place. When we went, at times we were completely alone in the cave. Phraya Nakhon cave has to be one of my favourite sights in Thailand so far – and even the group of semi-rowdy teens who rocked up shortly after we arrived couldn’t dampen it.
It is magnificent.
In short – and in case I hadn’t made this clear – I highly recommend Phraya Nakhon Cave and Khao Sam Roi Yot in general. The slightly more off-track location and mild physical exertion to get there seems to mean you avoid the crowds, and the place is truly unique.
Definitely go early to beat crowds, heat and to catch the sun as it passes over the cave. This also gave us a couple of hours of relaxation on the beach afterwards, before heading back to Bangkok. From Khao Sam Roi Yot it’s 3-4 hours depending on traffic, but given I wasn’t driving I have no qualms with that whatsoever.
So if you’re looking for a weekend trip from Bangkok, with a blend of nature, activity, beaches and jaw-dropping sights, consider getting down the coast to Kaeng Krachan, Hua Hin and Phraya Nakhon.