Guide to Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park, Thailand

Famous mainly for its magnificent cave temple – Phraya Nakhon Cave, Khao Sam Roy Yot National Park is much more than one sight. Named for its mountain peaks (Khao Sam Roi Yot means a mountain of 300 peaks), it is a naturally stunning landscape and an excellent place for spotting Thailand’s wildlife. In fact, it is the best national park in Thailand for seeing the adorable Dusky langurs up close.

Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park panorama

How to get to Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park

Khao Sam Roi Yot is located 59 km south of Hua Hin (about an hour’s drive). It’s not as easy to reach independently as the more popular Khao Yai or Erawan National Parks. The best way to explore Khao Sam Roi Yot is with your own set of wheels. You can either rent a car or a schooner in Hua Hin.

If you don’t want to drive, you can take a day tour from Hua Hin. The typical full day tour includes a visit to Phraya Nakhon Cave and the Khlong Khao Daeng Mangrove boat ride.

And if you are not as interested in the cave, but would like to spend a day in beautiful nature, take the Pranburi Forest Park and Khao Daeng tour that combines Khao Sam Roi Yot with Pranburi Forest Park.

We visited the park as part of our wildlife watching road trip in Thailand, and for us, travelling as a group of four, renting a car was the best way to explore Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. Plus, we wanted to spend a night in the park, camping on the beach.

Dusky langur khao sam roi yot national park

Here is our guide to things to see and do in Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. The perk of spending the night in the park is that you can visit Phraya Nakon Cave early in the morning and catch the iconic sight of the sunlight entering the cave through its collapsed roof and illuminating the delicate pavilion inside. 

Primates along the Mangrove Walkway

Wildlife-watching adventures in Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park start right at the park’s headquarters. An elevated walkway behind the park’s office takes you on a short walk through a patch of mangroves teaming with life.

Crab-eating macaques

Long-tailed macaque in Khao sam roi yot

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Right by the headquarters, we came across a group of Crab-eating macaques, also known as Long-tailed macaques.

Just like their Pig-tailed cousins in Khao Yai, these are bold animals that can be quite aggressive towards humans, especially when there is food involved.

long-tailed macaques in khao sam roi yot national park
Soaked Crab-eating macaque with her young

As we watched them, one of the females, with a young clinging to her body, was being harassed by a couple of juveniles. She lashed out to chase them off but lost her grip and plunged into the water off the walkway. When she emerged moments later, she looked rather cross, and her frightened young seemed to be holding on to her body for dear life.

Dusky langurs 

Dusky langurs of Khao Sam Roy Yot - Dusky or Spectacled langur
Dusky or Spectacled langur

However, we were keen to see a different primate –  the famous Dusky langurs of Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. Also known as Spectacled langurs, these handsome primates are quite easy to see in the park.

We spotted a family about halfway through the walk. We first saw them up on the cliffs, some distance away and then watched them come all the way to the edge of the mangroves next to the boardwalk. They came surprisingly close, settled on the branches just above our line of sight and watched us with their huge, spectacled eyes.

Hat Sam Phraya beach

We camped at Hat Sam Phraya beach, sharing the beach with only one other family who camped on the other side of the beach. There were more birds than people at Hat Sam Phraya. And while we are not twitchers, we were chuffed to spot a couple of species of plover (Kentis and Mongolian sand plover).

Chinese pond heron in breeding plumage
Chinese pond heron in breeding plumage

Apart from birds and butterflies, nothing much disturbed the tranquillity of Hat Sam Praya. And the best thing about camping here is that just behind the beach, there is a good restaurant that serves pretty good coffee too.

Ban Khao Daeng

Khao Daeng Village (Ban) is just a 4-km drive from Hat Sam Praya, and there are quite a few things to see and do here. The viewpoint, the mangrove boat tour, a gorgeous temple set against towering limestone cliffs, and even an excellent seafood restaurant.

Khlong Khao Daeng Mangrove tour

Klong Khao Daeng is a winding canal bookended by towering cliffs and fringed by mangroves. If you have enough time in Khao Sam Roi Yot, the boat tour along the canal is an absolute must.

Khlong Khao Daeng mangrove tour in Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park

It is a wonderfully tranquil experience to be gliding along the canal’s calm waters, spotting giant water monitors and bright birds as you cruise along towards the Gulf of Thailand. Especially if you take the ride late afternoon when the heat subsides, and the light turns golden.

The most striking birds of Khlong Khao Daeng are undoubtedly the kingfishers. There are at least four different kingfisher species here. And even if you are not a birder, you’ll appreciate their good looks.

The boat tour takes approximately 1 hour and travels 4-5 km. The cost of boat hire is 500 baht for the whole boat, which comfortably seats 4-6 people.

Khao Daeng Temple

Right by the pier, Khao Daeng temple (Wat Khao Daeng) is one of the prettiest forest temples I have seen in all my five years living in Thailand. It looks like a scene from a fairytale, set against the background of towering cliffs and framed by coconut palms.

Wat Khao Daeng

Long-tailed macaques squabbling in the trees were the only other visitors – the temple was closed for the day, and the area was incredibly peaceful.

If you visit earlier in the day, you can enter the temple. I would be tempted to make a wish and light a few incense sticks. It’s that kind of place.

Khao Daeng Viewpoint

Another must-do at Khao Daeng (if you are reasonably fit) is the hike to Khao Daeng Viewpoint. The hike is hard work, and you’ll need to carry plenty of water, but the views from the top that stretch over the nearby shrimp farms and rising mountain peaks are absolutely worth it. Think of it as a rehearsal for tomorrow’s climb to Phraya Nakhon Cave.

Khao Daeng viewpoint in  Khao sam roi yot national park

If you are reasonably fit, the 157-meter climb will take 40-45 minutes. The summit is marked by a wooden sign, so you’ll know you are in the right spot for the best views. If you stay long enough, you will likely spot some birds of prey riding the currents.

Laemthong Seafood Restaurant

After all the effort of climbing to the Khao Daeng viewpoint, you’ll be ready for some food. And there is an excellent option right next door – Laemthong Seafood restaurant. It’s on the main road, so it’s hard to miss.

Green bee-eater
Green bee-eater

Grab a table overlooking the water and enjoy a mouthwatering Thai seafood buffet (make sure to try crab curry). The prices are very reasonable, and it doesn’t get crowded.

Visiting Phraya Nakhon Cave

The Phraya Nakhon cave is one of the most incredible caves in Thailand and the most famous attraction in Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. It is so vast that there are patches of forest growing inside it. Even though the climb to the cave was utterly exhausting, it was well worth it in the end.

What makes Phraya Nakhon Cave the most photographed cave in Thailand is the intricate Phra Thinang Khuaha Kharuhat pavilion built inside the cave in 1890 in honour of King Chulalongkorn the Great (Rama V). The pavilion is the smallest temple in Thailand.

Royal Pavilion in Phraya Nakhon cave

Things to know about the hike to Phraya Nakhon Cave

  • The trail requires a reasonable level of fitness. The climb to the cave is quite steep over uneven ground.
  • Make sure to bring plenty of drinking water with you. You can buy some at the restaurant in Bang Pu.
  • Wear sturdy shoes. Don’t be deceived by the locals climbing to the cave in flip-flops unless you’ve been hiking mountain trails in flip-flops all your life.
  • Start the hike early in the morning to avoid the heat and the crowds. Aim to arrive at Phraya Nakhon Cave by 10 am to catch the sight of sunlight streaming in from the opening in the cave and lighting up the pavilion.

How to get to Phraya Nakhon Cave

Despite its fame, Phraya Nakhon Cave is reasonably remote. To get to it, you first need to travel to Bang Pu beach (a 12km drive from Hat Sam Phraya beach), where you can park, use the facilities, and pay your National Park entrance fee (200 Baht).

Bang Pu to Laem Sala beach

From Bang Pu beach, you have two options:

  1. Start your hike from here. The first part of the hike takes you to Laem Sala beach. The trail goes up over the hill and down the other side, with the last few hundred meters running flat along the beach. The entire hike from Bang Pu to Phraya Nakhon Cave will take a reasonably fit person just over an hour each way.
  2. At low tide, you can take a boat from Bang Pu to Hat Laem Sala for around 400 baht. This will save you about 30 min of hiking time.

The walk from Bang Pu to Laem Sala beach is quite lovely, especially early in the morning, and the views of the coastline and the islands along the way are superb.

It is also an excellent chance to spot some local wildlife, especially the langurs and the macaques. We also came across a Grey-bellied squirrel and a Butterfly lizard basking in the sun in the middle of the path.

From Hat Laem Sala beach, it’s a steep climb up the side of the mountain towards the cave opening.

Laem Sala to Phraya Nakhon Cave

This section of the hike is the main event – a 430m fairly steep uphill climb over rough stone steps. For a seasoned hiker, the climb is not that challenging, but the heat and the humidity can be. That’s why an early morning start is recommended.

The climb should take about 40 minutes each way. However, the time will also depend on how crowded the trail is. If you are climbing at a busy time, say, on one of Thailand’s numerous Buddhist holidays, you’ll go as fast as the slowest group of hikers on the trail. Some parts of the trail are wide enough to overtake the slow meanderers, but some of the climb is quite narrow.

Butterfly lizzard in khao sam roi yot
Butterfly lizard

The roughly hewn trail follows a series of stone steps, and in parts, it’s steep enough to need a handrail. The steps themselves are pretty big and often uneven. It’s a typical mountain stairway-type trail.

To take your mind off your burning legs as you climb, keep your eyes peeled for dusky langurs and pigtailed macaques in the surrounding forest. You’d be unlucky not to see them.

About halfway along, there is a very scenic rest stop with gorgeous views of the Gulf of Thailand.

Inside Phraya Nakhon Cave

When you finally reach the mouth of the cave and step inside, you first discover just how enormous and light the cave is. There are two chambers in Phraya Nakhon Cave, and both their roofs have partially collapsed, leaving large openings above that let in plenty of sunlight.

Phraya Nakhon cave in Khao sam roi yot national park

In fact, there is enough light in the cave for some hardy trees to grow right inside the chambers. Some of these trees are up to 40 meters high, but they barely reach halfway to the roof. It is the most unusual sight to encounter a patch of tropical forest inside a cave.

If you time it right, when you enter the second chamber, the rays of the sun will be falling right on the delicate and colourful xxx pavilion. This angle of the sun can be observed between 10 and 11:00 a.m.

As stunning as the pavilion is, the caverns themselves are no less incredible. Standing among those tall lush trees, looking at the sky above while encircled by the cave’s walls, is the most unusual feeling. We spotted some langurs in the trees above the cave roof, and it felt like we were looking at a familiar world from some alien subterranean vantage point.

Kaeo Cave

For something wilder, on your way back from Phraya Nakhon cave, you can visit an absolutely non-tourist cave (if you don’t mind being confined in small places). Kaeo Cave is a typical cave like many others found all over Thailand. There are half a dozen of caves like this around my house in rural Kanchanaburi.

Filled with stalactites and stalagmites, the cave has two entrances, and it takes 20-25 minutes to walk from one entrance to the other. It’s a tight squeeze, and in some sections, you’ll have to drop down to all four.

From the road, you arrive at the small counter where you’ll show your park entry ticket and then climb a steep trail up to the cave. Along the way, you’ll come across someone offering you to hire a headlamp. It’s a good idea to get one. The cave is pitch black, and you’ll want your hands to be free to balance yourself on the slippery stones in the cave.

To enter the cave, you’ll climb backwards down a wooden ladder and then follow arrow signs through the cave.

Don’t be alarmed by the bats and the moths– they are harmless (if you don’t try to handle them), and they are more afraid of you than you are of them.

Thung Sam Roi Yot Freshwater Marsh

On top of beaches, mountains, caves, canals, viewpoints, and temples, Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park is also home to Thailand’s largest freshwater marsh – Thung Sam Roi Yot.

Thung Sam Roi Yot

The marsh is an important wetland protected by Ramsar Convention. It supports many species of water birds, frogs and aquatic organisms.

Although most people come here for the views. The wetland lies next to the dramatic mountains that are even more impressive here than in the east part of the park.

There is a restaurant and a small campsite near the visitor centre. The entrance is 200 Baht. If you visit Thung Sam Roi Yot on the same day as Phraya Nakhon Cave, you’ll only pay for the park entrance one. Just make sure to keep your ticket.

Bueng Bua Boardwalk

The most interesting thing to do at Thung Sam Roi Yot is the Bueng Bua Boardwalk – a kilometre-long boardwalk over the marsh. It’s a good way to see some of the birds that live among the thick marsh vegetation.

You used to be able to walk quite deep into the marsh along the boardwalk, but much of it has fallen apart in the last four years and is now closed off.

But you can still walk part of the way on the renovated section and see the views and some birds, like Purple moorhen and Bronze-winged jacana.

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