Naka Cave, Thailand, is one of those curious and off-the-beaten-track sites that you probably didn’t even know existed in the Land of Smiles. It was only discovered very recently and quickly became a site of attraction for more intrepid travelers and dark tourists, not to mention superstitious locals!
But what is the Naka Cave? How do you get there? What’s the legend and myth behind it all? That’s what we’re here to answer. This guide to Naka Cave, Thailand, will run through all the ins and outs of the curious spot, and offer a few hints about the nature of the site and what visitors can expect.
You should prep yourself for enthralling tales of snake kings from ages long gone, more practical tips on where you can stay for seeing the Naka Cave, and even some help on getting there in the first place (clue: it’s not the easiest journey to make from Bangkok!).
Naka Cave, Thailand – a quick summary
Here are the key takeaway points in this guide to the Naka Cave, Thailand.
- The Naka Cave is located in the Phu Langka National Park on the Mekong River, right on the border between Thailand and Laos.
- Naka Cave is home to a number of enthralling folklore stories involving evil serpents and local princes.
- The cave is home to rock formations that some say resemble petrified snakes.
- The surrounding region isn’t often visited by travelers, but is a real gem, offering hiking and vistas of the Mekong basin.
Where is Naka Cave, Thailand?
The Naka Cave is just about as far east as it’s possible to go in Thailand without crossing the border into Laos. It lies amid the mountains and the jungles of the Bueng Kan region, a part of the Land of Smiles that’s very rarely visited by tourists. The nearest major town is the border post of Bueng Kan itself, while the city of Sakon Nakhon is about two hours’ drive to the south and west.
Getting to this far-flung corner of the country isn’t the easiest task. It’s about 10 hours in the car from the big city of Bangkok. You might be better off coming in from the Laotian capital of Vientiane, which is only about four hours away by road, first skirting the Mekong River and then crossing the middle of the eastern part of the Isan region.
More specifically, the Naka Cave lies within the boundaries of the beautiful Phu Langka National Park. That’s a protected reserve that spreads along the Mekong River and the Thailand-Laos border, home to a series of soaring lookout points and forest trails. The walk from the entrance of the park to the cave itself is around two hours, and you’ll need to look hard because it’s well concealed!
What is there to see at Naka Cave, Thailand?
Naka Cave has been catapulted into the limelight because of one thing: Its curious geology. Basically, the rocks here look like the scales of a HUGE snake, which has inspired local folks to relate it to the nāgi serpent beings of Buddhist mythology (more on them later). But, whether this is the frozen remains of an ancient snake spirit or just a unique cavern, there’s no denying that it’s pretty interesting stuff.
The highlights of a visit to Naka Cave are:
- The exterior “snake scales” – A narrow cleft in the rock before the entrance to the cave looks unquestionably like a curled-up snake with scales. It’s so big that you can even walk between the body of the snake!
- Snake head rock – A scaly stone that resembles the head of a snake can been seen in the forest outside. This part of the site has been the subject of some fake news, as recent YouTube videos took photos of a snake-like rock in Laos and attributed it to the Naka Cave, Thailand.
- Interior cavern walls – The inside of the Naka Cave has white-glimmering walls covered in minerals and a pattern that closely resembles snake scales.
- Serpent teeth formation – There’s one particularly haunting rock formation to be found inside the cave. It resembles the petrified teeth of a snake-like creature. Or it could just be another sort of fossil or the product of natural mineral build-up. We’ll leave you be the judge.
The Nakee Cave is another cave that sits on the far side of the mountain range that carves through the middle of the Phu Langka National Park from the Naka Cave. It’s very similar to its better-known compadre in that it’s dotted with a series of about seven or eight scaled rock formations. They look just like the twisted body of a colossal snake frozen in time and are strewn with long jungle vines that cascade down from the forest canopy overhead.
The Nakee Cave is nowhere near as popular as its brother. Most visitors will get the place 100% to themselves. There’s no need to make advance reservations to get access, either. That said, the hike up is a little harder than the one to the Naka Cave proper. It takes about 3-4 hours in all and involves some very steep sections on the return leg. The path is marked but not that well – we’d recommend hiring a guide to take you here.
The legend of Naka Cave
Put your feet up and grab a Chang beer, folks, because we’ve got a story to tell. This is the myth and the legend that surrounds the Naka Cave of Thailand; a tale that takes place in times long gone, in the Kingdom of Rappata Nakhon…
Our hero is Prince Fahoong. He’s a good-looking customer and just about the most eligible bachelor in the kingdom, invested with great riches and power. One thing he can’t find, though, is true love. That is, until one morning…
Upon taking a stroll along the banks of Khong Long Lake, a sloshing body of water that’s just west of Naka Cave today, he happens upon a woman in the woods. Her voice enchants him. He’s enamored in an instant. There’s a twist, though: The woman isn’t human. She’s a nāgi, a serpent that can take human form.
What Fahoong doesn’t know is that the serpent has seen him too. Her name is Nakkarintrani and she’s also fallen in love. But a meeting is not to be. Not yet. Fahoong returns to his palace to consult his father, the eminent King Ue-Lee, about the woman he has seen. Nakkarintrani returns to her cave, the lair of the snake king Lord Naka.
The wise parents decipher what has happened and explain that unions of nāgi and humans are forbidden by the gods. However, both can see that their children are in love. So, a plan is hatched: Lord Naka will consent to the marriage so long as no one ever finds out about the true identity of his daughter.
The wedding goes ahead. It’s a glorious affair with all the pomp that the Kingdom of Rappata Nakhon can muster. The couple are happy, and they move into the royal palace together. Things go well for some years, but Nakkarintrani fails to bear children, for she’s a serpent and the prince is a man. The people start talking and Nakkarintrani falls ill, causing her to revert into her snake form by night.
Then, one fateful evening, Nakkarintrani is spotted by a maid of the castle slithering as a snake on the floor of her chambers. The maid shrieks and alerts the people. When Lord Naka hears what’s happened, he’s blind with rage. Instantly raising an army to march on Rappata Nakhon, he destroys the city and kills its inhabitants.
The final punishment is reserved for King Ue-Lee. He’s sentenced to live the rest of his life as a giant serpent set in stone; a petrified snake that will stand as a reminder of the enmity between the nāgi and the humans. Some say that’s what the Naka Cave is – AKA the frozen-in-time effigy of King Ue-Lee himself…
The Phu Langka National Park – a bonus of the Naka Cave
The Naka Cave isn’t the only thing that should draw you to this corner of Thailand. There’s also the greater reserve of the Phu Langka National Park. That unfolds along the borderlands in a medley of karst mountains, dense forests, high hills, and ridgeline lookouts from where you can see the legendary Mekong River.
Be sure to bring the walking boots along. After you’re done chasing ancient serpent kings, you can get stuck into this area to see some stunning things, including:
- Tat Kham Waterfall – A multi-tiered waterfall with walking trails that skirt through the forests right beside it.
- Tat Kham Forest Park – A heavily forested part of the reserve with some mystical forests, sometimes edging just a stone’s throw from the Mekong.
Phu Wua Wildlife Sanctuary – another bonus of Naka Cave, Thailand
The Phu Wua Wildlife Sanctuary is a little to the north of Naka Cave. It’s a larger protected area with its own waterfalls and hiking trails. You can head here to see:
- Chet Si Waterfall – one of the biggest waterfalls in the park, this one crashes over brownstone ridges into a wide valley bottom.
- Tham Phra Waterfall – A more serene waterfall with few visitors, Tham Phra trickles over huge boulders into a reflective riverway.
- Wat Tham Phra – An intriguing Buddhist temple where you can go to see golden Buddha statues set in the rocks by the side of a river.
Where to stay to visit Naka Cave?
We’ve already seen how getting to the Naka Cave, Thailand, takes you all the way over to the far eastern half of the country. But what about where to stay? Thankfully, there are some pretty good hotels in the region for those who want to witness the snake-like rocks and caverns for themselves. Our recommendations would include:
- Thai Guest House ($$) – A charming, locally-owned guesthouse with functional, modern rooms and a lush garden. This is the closest accommodation on offer near Naka Cave, Thailand.
- Idee Hotel and Resort ($$) – Simple rooms are on offer at this clean and cheerful stay on the outskirts of nearby Seka.
- Morinaka Craftfe & Poshtel ($-$$) – A self-proclaimed poshtel, with fancy backpacker rooms and a complimentary Asian breakfast. The only downside is that it’s still quite far from the cave – about two hours’ driving at least, in fact.
Is the Naka Cave open?
The Naka Cave was shut for much of 2020-21. In fact, the whole Phu Langka National Park that surrounds the site was closed during that period. That was mainly down to local restrictions in light of the COVID pandemic, but also because there had been reports of people scratching off parts of the cave in search of lucky lottery numbers.
Thankfully, it looks as those restrictions are now finally coming to an end, though. Recent reports are that up to 500 people are now being let into the reserve and the site itself, though special permits are required. Visitors might also need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination. The new cap on 500 visitors a day looks permanent, set in order to avoid overcrowding in the caverns and on the descent.
Entry fee for the Naka Cave
You’re likely to have to pay two separate entry charges to get your fill of the Naka Cave. One will be your pass into the Phu Langka National Park that contains the natural wonder. The other will be your entry to the cave itself, which also attracts an extra charge for compulsory insurance.
The rates for the park entry are 200 THB ($5.20) for an adult and 100 THB ($2.60) for a child. To enter the cave itself, you’ll need to fork out a further 200 THB ($5.20) and then 40 THB (just over $1) for insurance. Charges are much less for access to the cave if you’re a Thai resident or a citizen and there are half-price entries on offer for children.
All reservations for the Naka Cave, Thailand, need to be made online in advance – at least 15 days, in fact.
Naka Cave, Thailand – a conclusion
The Naka Cave of Thailand is an intriguing site that’s not really like anything else in the Land of Smiles. A cavern that looks like the scaly exterior of a big snake from the outside and has some strange snake-like relics on the inside, it’s hardly a surprise that it’s inspired local myths and legends. They tell the story of ancient serpent kings and lost love, and really help bring the spot to life.
The one downside to all this is that the Naka Cave lies in a remote and not-often-visited corner of Thailand. It’s about 10 hours from Bangkok and closer to Laos than the famous islands of the Thai Gulf. That said, there are other reasons to stray here, not least of all the stunning Phu Langka National Park, which contains mountaintops and deep valleys scored by waterfalls.