The legend of Tham Phra Nang - Railay Beach

The cliff–bound headland of Phra Nang Cape

The cliff–bound headland of Phra Nang Cape

By Jan Schauseil

The Andaman Sea, which hems in the western coast of Thailand’s isthmus, is unquestionably one of the aquatic highlights of this country’s idyllic islands and beaches. The surreal limestone karsts jutting out of the sea just off the shoreline around Krabi attract all kinds of visitors, and provide a backdrop that graces countless postcards and travel articles. It’s easy to understand why a mythical sea princess would want to live here.

Geographically speaking, one of the coolest spots around Krabi is the cliff–bound headland of Phra Nang Cape. The only way to get to this spectacular little pitch of white sand poking out into the sea is by boat, since massive limestone cliffs block any possibility of making a road. Longtail boats run regularly from Krabi Town on a 15–minute jaunt to the beach. Of course, Railay Beach is no secret. Not only is it the home of Thailand’s best rock climbing, an uber–trendy party scene and simply stunning beaches and water, it’s also the ancient home of a mythical sea princess enshrined in a nearby cave. “But mostly, it’s about the hot climbers,” several women suggested.

Tham Phra Nang, or Princess Cave as it’s called, has long played an important role in local fishermens’ lives, though the true origins of the sea princess have been lost to history. Dedicated to an ancient fertility goddess, the large limestone cave contains an impressive number of phallic images adorned with garlands and incense offerings in the hope of increased sexual potency, prosperity and good fortune. Although the discovery and development of Railay Beach has turned Princess Cave into a tourist attraction, some local fishermen still pay homage at the shrine, especially during local festivals.

The Princess Cave is located at the outermost point of the headland, backed by soaring limestone cliffs and powdery white sand in the front. Although the cave itself doesn’t take much time to explore, and is probably only worth a single visit, the beach which fronts it is an excellent spot to hang out since it’s removed from the more populated beaches of Railay East and Railay West.

Starting from the bungalow-strapped stretch of Railay Beach East, walk a mere 10 minutes along a jungle path until you emerge from the foliage into a postcard-perfect strip of sand with relatively few tourists. The Princess Cave is actually two caves: the Outer Cave and Inner Cave. Inside the Inner Cave is a trail leading deeper into the limestone mountain to a small hidden pool.

Phra Nang - a birds-eye view

Phra Nang - a birds-eye view

The Outer Cave is adjacent to the beach and can be explored without much trouble as the height is sufficient to walk around and it’s not very deep. There aren’t any stalactites or stalagmites since no air and light gets in, so don’t expect some wondrous scene from Journey to the Center of the Earth. But be prepared to get mud, which has all the properties of paint, on your clothes. “The stuff just won’t wash out,” one visitor who wore a favourite shirt into the cave, complained.

The Inner Cave, which was only recently discovered, requires a bit more effort to explore, but is worth it if you really want to experience the innards of a limestone cave. This is also where you’ll find the pool of water where you can rinse the ubiquitous and tenacious jungle mud off of your skin. Forget about your clothes.

Late in the morning, longtail sandwich boats start to pull onto shore, providing cold drinks or light snacks for sunbathers in need of sustenance. These longtail–driving women make a decent living whipping up cheap baguette sandwiches, fresh fruit and cold bevvies, always with a smile. To ease the guilt of doing little more than rolling over on your beach towel, you can take a swim around the karsts in the placid bath that passes for the Andaman Sea or snorkel your way into the smattering of colourful fish that still live off the headland. Serious exercise can be found by climbing a trail from the cave that leads straight up to the top of the cliff. It goes without saying that the views will blow your mind, and are well worth the arduous climb. “I felt like my lungs were going to explode,” a young man reported, “but the photos I scored from the peak made the trip.”

The best time to visit Tham Phra Nang and the beaches of Railay is during the (relatively) cool dry season from November to April. The rains are less frequent and the sea is blissfully calm. Of course, this is also when hoards of tourists, rock climbers, sea kayakers and other escapees converge on Railay, so plan accordingly. If you don’t mind a bit of rain, the off–season from June to November can offer a more intimate and quiet experience. You won’t be able to truly enjoy water activities like snorkelling and diving due to the choppy sea conditions, but Princess Cave will be all yours.

Note! To secure a guaranteed room and find the best rates, we suggest you look online at Agoda.com. They seem to be the most competitively priced of the hotels sites.

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