National Parks Khao Sam Roi Yot
A mountain range with 300 peaks
Sheltered in one of its several caves up in the hills is a royal pavilion, the main attraction for travelers prepared to go the distance.
Story and pictures by KARNJANA KARNJANATAWE
Tham Phraya Nakhon, a cave high up in the mountains of Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park in the coastal province of Prachuap Khiri Khan is a major attraction for those visiting the park, but the climb uphill is very testing, not meant for the faint-hearted. I was determined to go the distance.
``Are you sure you can make it?'' asked a friend as we gathered on Laem Sala beach before the ascent and I nodded back confidently without quite knowing what lay in store for me.
By the time we were half way, ascending a steep trail, we were panting and short breath. After half an hour there was another steep climb ahead.
Instead of trekking, many visitors opt for a 20-minute boat trip from Baan Bang Pu beach to the cave. Most young travellers prefer climbing instead of taking the 200-baht boat trip.
More than a century ago, King Rama V stopped to rest in this cave after setting sail for the South from Bangkok. A pavilion, duly named ``Paradise on Earth'', was built, from where he presided over his subjects. Today, it sits gracefully inside the cave.
After struggling for a few more steps some visitors, especially the elder ones, gave up and chose to take snapshots of the royal pavilion from afar.
Those who made it to the cave found the pavilion glittering under a column of sunlight filtering in through cracks on top of the cave. Inside, it was hot and humid the thin air almost suffocating.
``Voila! Look how beautiful it is,'' said one visitor, her voice tinged with excitement. Resting on a slope inside the cave, the royal pavilion looked surreal given the crude surroundings and the sun's rays reflecting off it.
The pavilion features prominently on Prachuap Khiri Khan's provincial emblem.
The cave's existence dates back to the reign of King Rama I. According to Forestry Department records, the cave derived its name from the ruler of Nakhon Si Thammarat who accidentally discovered the cave while seeking shelter there from a storm.
In 1868, King Rama IV and his entourage of Thais and Europeans camped in the cave as they set out to observe a solar eclipse which the monarch had predicted, correctly, would occur on August 18 of that year. A replica of the picture of royal visit, a popular souvenir item, is on sale inside the cave.
The best time to visit the cave is around 10 a.m. when the pavilion is lit by soft rays of the sun.
Apart from Tham Phraya Nakhon, the park has other caves such as Sai which features odd limestone formations, stalactites and stalagmite. Another fascinating cave is Tham Kaew, which has formations of calcite crystals. They glow in the presence of light.
If you do not enjoy exploring caves, the park offers other recreational opportunities such as kayaking, boat cruise on Khlong Khao Daeng canal to observe wildlife _ birds, monkeys and monitor lizards. The best time for the hour-long cruise is early morning to late afternoon. And do not miss the evenings when the sun dips below the horizon of green rice fields.
For a good view, climb atop Khao Daeng, a short walk from the park office building. Watching the sun rise over the sea is particularly spectacular.
In addition, the park is home to some 300 bird species of which 180 are migratory. The best months to watch birds are September to November.
The Khao Sam Roi Yot is Thailand's first marine national park and was designated so in 1966. It has an area of 98.08 square kilometres straddling mountains that rise along a long coastline facing the Andaman Sea.
Khao Sam Roi Yot means a mountain with 300 peaks. There are various tales about the origin of its name. According to one, a Chinese argosy was hit by storm and sunk near the park. Only 300 on board survived. In Thai that is said as Sam Roi Rod. No one quite knows why, but some how over the years Sam Roi Rod came to be called Sam Roi Yot.
Also see: Prachuap Khiri Khan