Are you sitting comfortably? Good, because we’re going to tell you a story. It all happened long, long ago, in the mystical Kingdom of Rappata Nakhon, on the shores of the Khong Long Lake.
Prince Fahoong was tall, strong and handsome. Every man in the kingdom was proud to call him friend, and the girls all loved his dazzling smile and the twinkle in his deep blue eyes. But, like most princes in these stories, Fahoong was lonely. He had all the riches in the world – everything money could buy – but he couldn’t find his true love. What good were riches, when he had no-one to share them with?
One day, as the Prince was walking aimlessly through the woods along the shores of the Khong Long Lake, he heard a girl singing way off in the distance. He’d never heard the song before, but her voice was so sweet – and the words were so sad and melancholy – that he instantly fell in love with her. He ran in the direction of the voice and looked high and low, but the singing had stopped and the girl was nowhere to be seen.
He was about to turn around and go back home when he heard the sound of a girl softly crying. He knew, deep in his heart, that it had to be the same girl who was singing so beautifully, just moments before. Suddenly, he saw a flash of a red and green cape, just behind a great tree, and ran towards it. Once more the girl was gone, but at his feet he saw that a snake had shed its skin. He picked the skin up and turned it around in his hands. He’d seen snakeskin before, but never with this strange pattern: for one half was coloured a brilliant red, while the other half was as green as the leaves on the great tree…
Where is Naka Cave, Thailand?
Naka Cave (or Nāga Cave) is located in Phu Langka National Park which is in the Bueng Khong Long District of Bueng Kan Province, Thailand. Naka means ‘snake’ in the Thai language, and the cave took its name from the texture of some stones in the area, which resembles the scaled skin of a snake.
In recent months, videos and images have appeared which were taken from the surrounding area. One is supposedly a picture of the head of a mummified giant snake, but in actual fact this is a picture of a totally different rock formation found in Laos, in a wilderness area 10km from Ratchaburi.
Here’s one of the many photos of that snakehead which we’ve downloaded from a ‘fake news’ website, and under that are the ‘keywords’ that they’ve included with the video, in an attempt to boost the number of hits they get to their page. As you can see, there’s no mention of the word ‘Laos’.
In Buddhist lore, nāgas are half-human, half-serpent beings that live in the netherworld and occasionally take human form. They are considered to be guardians of the water, and often live in damp caves by the water’s edge.
According to a popular legend, the Mekong River in northeastern Thailand and Laos was said to be created by two nāga kings slithering through the area, thus creating the Mekong and the nearby Nan River. Today, this area is part of the Phu Langka National Park.
The Phu Langka National Park
The National Park includes layers of three mountains, spread along the Mekong River. A popular tourist trail leads to the top of Pha Ngoi, a favourite lookout point which gives stunning views of the Bhan Phaeng district and the Mekong River.
Naka Cave is actually two kilometers under this lookout point. Visitors to the site – including locals – rarely ventured below the hill, and so the cave was a hidden gem, only ever visited by a handful of people.
How to get to Naka Cave
To access the cave, you start at the Chai Mong Kon temple. From the grounds of the temple, you must first ascend a stone staircase, protected by gaudily decorated nakas on either side. The top of the staircase gives way to some rudimentary steel steps and eventually a dirt path, which takes you to the cave entrance.
The trek to the cave entrance is over one kilometre, all uphill, and not for the faint-hearted. So let’s rest for a while, and catch up with our friend Prince Fahoong…..
The Prince looked again at the snakeskin in his hand. What could it mean? Confused, he walked back to the palace. He would ask his grandfather, King Ue-Lue, about the strange girl that he’s only half-seen, and about her beautiful singing voice. He was a wise man – some say he was the wisest man that had ever lived. Surely he would know.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the great Khong Long Lake, a beautiful girl sat crying. Her name was Nakkarintrani, and she was crying because she was so sad about her life – it was so unfair. She had just been walking in the woods and had seen the most handsome man, with such a dazzling smile and the deepest of deep blue eyes. She was totally in love with him, but she was sad because she knew they could never be together.
Because Nakkarintrani had a secret. She was a nāgi – a serpent that could take human form. Her family came from the enchanted underworld of Patala Loka, a place filled with gold and silver and rubies that were bigger than a man’s hand. Her father was Lord of the Naka, and the gods had tasked him with looking after all these riches, left behind by the souls of men who had died too early in battle.
Over many centuries, the Naka people had built a splendid city above the ground, and they lived in palaces and houses just like humans. But they all knew the law – a Naka must never marry a human, or the gods would grow angry and take away all the gold and jewellery. Without these riches, the city would quickly become poor and the Naka people would starve and fade away to nothingness.
But Nakkarintrani had a plan. She would go to the woods and find this boy again. She would reveal her secret and tell him she was in love with him. If he felt the same about her, then they would run away to a distant kingdom where nobody knew who she was – where nobody would care that she was a nāgi. ‘Yes’, she thought to herself, ‘this is a good plan’. She rushed back to her room to pack up her possessions, a look of determination on her beautiful face…
The story we’re telling has its roots in very ancient Buddhist mythology. Many early civilisations believed that snakes were creatures sent by the gods as guardians to spiritual gateways. They saw the snake as a symbol of power and strength, and most temples have carvings or statues of great serpents to serve as protection. Buddha is often portrayed as sitting on the coils of Muchalinda, a great cobra, with the snake’s giant hood protecting Buddha from the elements.
Inside The Naka Cave
Due to the current world epidemic and the need to maintain social distancing, the cave is currently not open for visitors. However, friends of ours that publish a travel blog specialising in Thailand – called Maggie’s Journey – have given us permission to publish these photos, taken inside the cave before it was closed to the public.
The first image is an area near the entrance to the cave, which has been decorated with Buddhist icons and statues. The Buddhists regard this a sacred place, and visitors often leave behind a token showing their devotion to Buddha.
This shows the entrance to the cave. As you can see, it’s extremely tight and cramped – and this is deliberate. The National Park have decided not to make any efforts to turn it into a major tourist attraction, instead choosing to keep it in its original state.
Once you’ve negotiated the cramped entrance, a set of wooden stairs lead to the floor of the cave. At the foot of this staircase, natural light diminishes to the point of almost total darkness, so a torch is needed to explore any further.
The cave has many rock formations that seem to suggest the mouth and teeth of a large serpent-like creature. Could these be just a natural occurrence, or are they really the mummified remains of an ancient beast trapped in the cave many centuries ago?
On the cave walls are many paintings and decorations, which have yet to be dated. This one shows a thai monk in traditional ceremonial robe, standing back to let a tiger past him. The tiger seems to be leaping, so is probably just about to attack another animal.
The folds of crystallised rock hanging from the ceiling are very organic in appearance. They do look remarkably like the folded skin of an animal – possibly a snake?
We can’t help but wonder if Hans Ruedi Giger visited this cave; perhaps he was inspired by these strange formations when he designed the creatures in the film Alien….
The last photo shows a texture found on the floor of the cave. It’s resemblance to the scaly skin of a snake is uncanny! It’s not difficult to understand why ancient Buddhist monks, using this cave for shelter, would decide that it must have been home to a giant serpent. But who could that serpent be? Let’s return to our story…
Nakkarintrani was so excited. Her plan had worked out better than she could have ever dreamed! She’d gone back to the forest and after just a short wait, she’d met the boy again. He was even more handsome than she remembered, and he wasn’t just an ordinary man – no, he was a Prince! Of course she was scared of telling him about her secret – that she was a nāgi – but he’d told her that his love was steadfast and true, and he couldn’t help but be in love with her for the rest of his life.
After telling her this, they had shared their first kiss. Whilst they kissed, a tiger had crept up behind them and it had suddenly leapt up at her – it’s teeth just inches from her throat! In a heartbeat, Prince Fahoong had unleashed his sword and struck at the tiger’s foot. The tiger had run off into the woods, howling in pain. Nakkarintrani had asked the Prince “why did you not slay the beast, but only injure it’s leg?” He replied that he couldn’t bear to harm another living creature, no matter how dangerous it might appear.
Once she’d heard this she knew that her instincts had been right: he was a good man. The very next moment Prince Fahoong had taken her by the hand, gazed at her with his deep blue eyes and asked if she would be his wife. She threw her arms around him and kissed him again – she was so overcome with joy that she’d almost forgotten to say “yes”!
A few days later, Price Fahoong was pacing nervously outside the doors to his grandfather’s private room, in the heart of the Royal Palace at Rappata Nakhon. Yesterday, he had told the old King that he’d met the love of his life and proposed marriage, but that she was the daughter of the Lord of Naka, and that she was a nāgi. King Ue-Lue had dispatched a rider to the Naka Kingdom, to request that Lord Naka travel to the Royal Palace for a very important matter. Right now they were both inside the room, discussing his future behind closed doors.
Just when he thought he could bear it no longer, he heard his name called by one of the guards. “Prince Fahoong, the King Ue-Lue requests your presence. You may enter!” With that the doors were flung open and Fahoong entered the room, his heart beating so hard he thought he must surely die.
Inside the room, his grandfather and the Naka Lord were sitting at a table, sharing a glass of Cha Yen, spiced with herbs from the Royal Palace gardens. “Well, Fahoong my boy,” his grandfather started, “the Lord Naka and I have had a long discussion. He and I are agreed. You and your darling Nakkarintrani have our blessing to marry, but with one condition. You may live here at the palace, but should anyone ever discover her terrible secret I will be forced to disown you, and banish the two of you from my kingdom.”
Fahoong was overjoyed to hear this, and hugged his old grandfather so hard it seemed his ribs night shatter. “Oh, thank you thank you thank you!” he exclaimed, laughing and twirling his grandfather round and round in the air. “You’ve no idea how happy I am, you’ve really no idea!” And with that, he kissed the old man on both cheeks, and made for the door.
But before he could step outside, Lord Naka called after him. “PRINCE FAROONG! Do not be in such a hurry! I have something that I must say.” Faroong walked towards the Lord, aware for the first time how frightening he looked. “Hear me now,” Lord Naka said, a threatening finger pointing towards the Prince. “I was NOT in favour of this marriage. Our laws forbid a nāga to marry a human, especially when that human is my one and only beloved daughter. But she is young and she is in love, and she knows I will not stand in the way of her happiness. But should anyone EVER find out who she really is, WHAT she really is, then I have vowed to seek a terrible retribution on your grandfather’s kingdom. Now go be married, but disregard my words at your peril!”.
Faroong’s smile left his lips in an instant and, with suitable deference, he turned and left the room, worrisome thoughts filling his troubled head. But he wouldn’t let the Naka Lord’s words trouble him for long. He was marrying the most beautiful girl in the world, and he had the blessing of both his grandfather and the Lord Naka. Surely nothing could destroy his happiness….
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The Largest Snake That Ever Lived!
Many people have suggested that the strange formations inside the cave – and the patterns of the rocks outside – are indeed the fossilised remains of a giant snake. Not necessarily a nāga from Buddhist mythology, but instead the remains of the largest snake that ever roamed the earth – the titanoboa.
Titanaboa lived in the Paleocene era, a period that lasted from about 66 to 56 million years ago. It was first discovered when a PhD student, Edwin Cadena at Universidad del Rosario, Columbia, correctly identified some fossilised remains that were previously thought to belong to a crocodile. The snake, related to today’s boa constrictor, was up to 42 feet long, and weighed over 1,130 tons.
Whereas the snake was indeed massive, it only grew to just over 2 feet wide, which is a far cry from the rock formations found outside the Naka Cave. Meaning, of course, that the rocks cannot be the fossilised remains of Titanoboa. Of course it’s logical that rock which covered a dead snake would form a shell thicker than the snake itself, but it would never retain the scaly pattern, as found on the Naka rocks.
So – Giant Snakes, Mythical Serpents, or Just Rocks?
We’re not geologists, paleontologists or students of ancient myths and legends, so we can’t speak with any real certainty. But, in our opinion it’s most likely that some of the rock carvings inside the cave are human – a sort of homage to the patterns that were already there. However, it remains very unlikely that the rocks outside the cave are any sort of fossilised remains. The probable conclusion is that the scaly pattern on the rocks are just that – patterns.
But what about the snakehead rock? Well, we can report that it was found, on 9th June, just a few steps away from the base of the mountain. To some it’s just a rock, but to others it confirms the ancient legends. The truth is, we’ll never really know…
The wedding was a splendid affair and, by royal decree, the celebrations lasted for seven days. Workers had toiled day and night to build a bridge over the Khong Long Lake and the people of Rattapa Nakhon and Nakarat travelled between the two cities; singing, dancing and filling their bellies with exotic food sent from kingdoms across the world. Everybody was happy for the married couple; well, almost everybody.
A girl called Khulan, one of the chambermaids who worked at the Royal Palace, was very upset. She’d secretly been in love with Prince Fahoong for many years, but there was little chance that she could ever win his heart – he was a Prince and she was just a lowly servant. But she had kept on hoping that maybe, somehow, someday… But now all hope was gone. She was upset and angry, and most of all she hated Fahoong’s new wife.
Three years passed, and all was not well. Nakkarintrani had not produced a royal baby, and the people of Rattapa Nakhon grew displeased with her. They had no idea that she was a nāga – for her secret had been well kept – and so they didn’t understand that she could never have a child. The ladies who worked at the palace called her ‘Khwām pĕn h̄mạn’, which means barren or sterile, and they laughed at her every time she passed. Poor Nakkarintrani became pale and withdrawn, and spent most of her days in her bedroom, refusing to eat. She became so sick that she started to lose her ability to remain in human form, and would often turn back to a snake when she knew she was alone.
One morning, Khulan, the chambermaid, was sent to collect food from Nakkarintrani’s bedroom, which remained uneaten from the night before. Khulan disliked this duty, for she still hated the Prince’s wife with a passion. Khulan knocked on the door and, hearing no answer, she stepped into the bedroom. But she did not see Nakkarintrani in the bed – she saw a giant snake!
Khulan screamed, and tried to run, but then she heard a strange voice coming from the bed – a horrible, hissing sound. “Pleassss don’t be sssscared, Khulan. It’sssss me, Nakkarintrani, your Princesssssss.” No!, thought Khulan, it couldn’t be! Fahoong’s wife was a snake! She had to tell the Prince. He would have to annul the marriage, and he would be free to marry someone else. Perhaps that someone would be her, Khulan.
She ran out of the room, screaming “Where’s the Prince? His wife is a snake! Where’s the Prince? His wife is a snake!” She ran through all the rooms of the royal palace, and soon everybody had heard her. They all started to repeat her words – His wife is a snake! Nakkarintrani’s a snake!” – until at last the news reached the ear of the King. But not only the King. Because today was the King’s birthday, and he had invited Lord Naka to his birthday celebrations. The Lord Naka was furious! He jumped to his feet, and pointed a shaking finger at the King. “ I told you!”, he screamed. “I warned you what would happen! I should never have allowed that blasted wedding!” And with that he stormed out of the palace.
Later that night, the Lord returned, along with all the soldiers of the Naka Kingdom. They arrived in all their fearsome splendour, all 20 foot high and baring their venomous fangs, for they were all nāga – all of them serpents. The people of Rattapa Nakhon never stood a chance, and watched in horror as their homes were burned and their palace came crashing down. Many of the people ran towards the bridge, hoping to escape the horror all around them. But, as soon as they were half-way across, the Naka Lord ordered his soldiers to burn down the bridge, and the poor Rattapians fell to their death in the swirling waters below.
Within the space of a few hours, Ratttapa was no more. The city was burned to the ground, the people were either dead or had fled for their lives, and the Royal Palace had been reduced to a pile of rubble. King Ue-Lue took one last look around the Kingdom that he had once loved so much, and walked slowly and solemnly towards Lake Khong Long. He raised his eyes to the heavens and shouted, so that all the gods could hear him: “As Buddha is my witness, I vow never to set foot again on dry land until my beautiful kingdom is restored.” And with that, he took one step forward and sank under the dark waters of the lake.
Long, long ago, in the mystical Kingdom of Rappata Nakhon, on the shores of the Khong Long Lake, the great king Ue-Lue disappeared without a trace. Did he drown on that terrible night, or was he cursed by the enchanted gods of Patala Loka; forever fated to live under the waters of the Lake, until the day when his Kingdom rises from the ashes of its terrible destruction?
And what of Prince Fahoong, and his nāgi wife Nakkarintrani? Some say that they found a way across the lake that night and went to hide in a small cave, eventually dying of grief and hunger, but holding hands until the end – as much in love as the day they first met. And the locals – those that survived that terrible night – gave a name to that cave. They called it Naka.
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