Pranburi: Thailand’s hidden treasure

We’d been in Bangkok for a few days when my partner Nikki and I decided on a quick adventure before we caught our plane home from Thailand … we’re both into jetting off on last-minute, spontaneous getaways. We’d been hopping Thailand beaches for the previous two weeks, so we opted for inland greenery and discovered Pranburi* on our online research. *pronounced “prawn boo-ree”

The main attraction of Pranburi is its national park Khao Sam Roi Yot.* Online photos showed spectacular caves that we could hardly believe were real. Nikki said she’d believe it only if she saw it. The challenge was on. *pronounced “cow sam roy yacht”

We had our hotel organize a van to take us on the 3.5 hour trip south and book us a room on the Pranburi’s Phu Noi* Beach. We arrived in the evening, ate a nice Thai meal, and then snuggled up in bed, excited for our adventure the next morning. The concierge recommended renting bicycles for the trip, and had set them up for us. *pronounced “poo noy”

Biking was one of the best decisions we made on this trip. The park entrance was only ten minutes from our beach, so we grabbed a map and went on our merry way. The ride to the park and within it was absolutely breathtaking: curvaceous hillsides, ocean vistas and green hues as far as the eye could see.

Among the many spectacular caves, the Phraya Nakhon* Cave took the cake. *pronounced “prah-yah nah-con”

Before I go on, some advice: WEAR TRAINERS OR HIKING BOOTS. I, stupidly, wore my flip-flops thinking that we’d find only short, easy walks, and that we could bike most of the way. Unfortunately for my feet (and Nikki’s sanity), I couldn’t be more wrong.

At the trailhead for Phraya Nakhon Cave was a parking lot surrounded by restaurants and shops. We chained up our bikes and started off on what became an hour-long hike up a very steep hillside, along which I flipped and flopped into some nice swollen blisters.

I knew I could only blame myself, but I still wanted some comforting. Nik was very accommodating until I even began to annoy myself with the “poor me” whining. It was time to woman up, at which point I really noticed the scenery. We met viewpoint after viewpoint of tropical vistas, and explored caves, one of which must have been Phraya Nakhon, although none of them looked like the online photos.

The hike ended back down at a beach called Laem Sala* … or so we thought. After about 500 meters, we stood before another steep, rocky hillside, and we followed the trail as it rose into jungle. The forests were enchanting and kept the air somewhat cool. *pronounced “lehm sah-lah” (sort of, close enough)

And then we reached the opening to Phraya Nakhon Cave. All remaining thoughts of my battered feet were immediately replaced with absolute awe. It is one of the most stunning sights I’ve ever seen.

Cascading limestone walls surrounded us. Strangely, as we went deeper down, there were more and more trees and vegetation. This is due to an opening in the roof where shafts of sunrays stream into the dark cavern in golden bands. The sunrays touch a golden shrine dedicated to King Chulalongkorn, which glows in a halo of soft light.

“Now you see it, do you believe it?” I asked Nik.

She shook her head no. “This can’t be real.”

It was magical, and experiences like this are the reason we love impromptu travel.

Sunset hues lit our ride through the valley back to Phu Noi beach, which was simply the kind of romance you can’t plan. After dinner, we decided a bottle of wine on the beach would cap the evening.

Pranburi is a sleepy little town, so we had the beach and night sky to ourselves. We grabbed our bottle of red, strolled to the deserted sands and cuddled up on our sarongs, sipping wine under the stars.

Nikki and I will definitely be returning here when we have more time. There’s so much more to Khao Sam Roi Yot that we want to explore.

Until next time, Pranburi.