A few years ago, I was engaged in a long term somewhat ill-defined relationship with a Thai woman who insisted I was her “husband”, a role I had not consciously assumed. Still, in the course of this liaison, which grew predictably murky and unpleasant over time and which I will not go into further, we made many pleasant trips to the countryside to see really cool stuff. Khmer temple ruins in the northeast, a magic rock in Laos, fortune tellers, a kitschy Chinese Pagoda in Pattaya. We carried baskets of goodies to monks and had water splashed on our hands; I learned more about amulets than I thought it would ever be possible to know.
But the hands-down coolest place I was ever taken during my sojourn through the wonderland of a Thai relationship was Phra Thi Nang Khuha Kharuhat, a gabled Thai pavilion inside a cave inside a park. Reached by a short boat ride from a beachside cluster of eateries, the cave, Tham Phraya Nakhon, is a heart-pounding (at least for those of us who do not run the MacLehose Trail Race in Hong Kong or other such nonsense) kilometer or so up a steep flight of steps carved into the side of a mountain inside Sam Roi Yot National Park, 63 kms. south of the beach town of Hua Hin along the Gulf of Thailand.
Once at the top, drenched in sweat and wishing I had at least kept up the treadmill routine, I followed my lady friend, who never seemed to perspire, down a narrow path into the cave. It was then I saw the shafts of light. The roof of the cave long ago fell in due to soil erosion and the gaping hole allows sunlight and jungle into the opening. Far below, sitting in the sunlight, is the pavilion, a place of considerable reverence.
Around us, a few small groups of Thais were marveling at the pavilion, which was built in 1890 during the reign of King Chulalongkorn, then dismantled and moved to the cave where it was reconstructed. Since then, other kings, including the current King Bhumibol, have also visited this cave. Around its edges are repositories for the ashes of famous monks, my lady friend told me as she made her way about the cave, pausing to wai and pray at various places where candles were flickering in several alcoves.
“This is a very powerful place, a very good place,” she explained as I rested myself on a rock. I believed her. The odd bird twittered around us and the light filtered through the foliage high above, catching motes of dust on its way to the floor of the cave.
I have been back a few times to the cave, even after the end of my relationship, and I am happy to report that it was not all a fairy tale, which is better than you could say for the now-concluded romance.