12.05.2009 - 15.05.2009 25 °C
Cave Lodge - adventure capital of Pang Mapha District, Mae Hong Son province. It was so cool I felt very sad about leaving.
Our first day we visited the market in Soppong. Many people come from the surrounding countryside to sell goods or catch up on gossip. It was interesting to see people walking about town in hill tribe attire. Soppong is a small town and Ban Tham Lod is an even smaller village, 9km north of the town. That's where we were staying. It is a Shan village. But all the villages are different - Red Lahu next to Lisu next to Karen next to Shan next to Black Lahu etc. After an afternoon reading and sleeping in the hammock Katherine and I set off to visit Tham Lod (Lod Cave) in the late afternoon. The choice of time is so we could see the thousands of pacific and fork-tailed swifts that enter the cave at dusk.
The trip starts with hiring a guide with kerosene lantern at the park entrance (compulsory). We arranged for a bamboo raft to take us one-way through the cave and to visit all three chambers. The guide was an elderly local woman. Each household in the village contributes a guide or raftsman and they take it in turns so they all benefit. Eco-tourism in practice. We walked to the first chamber and up steep steps to see columns, stalactites and stalagmites. We crossed the river that runs through the cave by a bamboo bridge to visit chamber two. This is a less-frequented cavern but I wanted to see everything. The raftsman took us along the river to the third cavern at the exit of the cave. This one contains three wooden coffins (still there). Many of the coffins are 1600 years old. In some caves they estimate them to be up to 3000 years old. This last cavern was stinky with bat and bird guano. My t-shirt definitely needed a clean after this activity! The trip ended with a nice walk back through the forest. We were actually a bit early to see thousands of swifts but we got the idea.
On my second day at Cave Lodge I arranged to do a walk to the Big Knob. This is a nearby limestone karst outcrop which is hollow and contains a small wooden coffin. Pat, from the kitchen was my guide. She is very talented as she was able to tell me about the plants (eg this is the ticklish tree because it moves when you tickle it), work in the kitchen, guide me through the cave and perform traditional Thai massage. We walked up through the forest then clambered up the back of the Big Knob. The views from the top were great - we could see the nearby Karen village and the dirt road this way <points> and the dirt road to Pai this way <points in other direction>. We squeezed through a small hole to enter the cave which opened out into a larger cavern and after looking around we squeezed out another small hole further down the side of the Knob. I so enjoyed this experience. I enjoyed it this much <waves hands around enthusiastically>.
The third day at breakfast we watched the university students get ready for a trek over to the Karen village. This was also my plan for the day and I watched them enviously before deciding at the last minute to join them. They are like babes at walking - inexperienced, complainy, slow - but good fun nevertheless. The walk over to the fish weir took three hours. Pat explained about the plants again and with a large group the going was slow. We lunched and set off for Tham Yong Leow (another cave). Immediately it started raining. My tropical rain jacket and binoculars are two useful things sitting in my wardrobe back home. So I got soaked. And the boy from the village that I was following took the long way to the cave. Our party ended up split in two and it took half an hour of standing in tropical downpour rain before we were reunited. Tham Yong Leow also had a small entrance but opened out to a large long cavern. It took maybe 40 minutes to walk through it to a point where a small stream runs through it, and back to the entrance. I liked the millipedes and flowstone. Because the group was so slow at walking I became a little frustrated and when we finally arrived at the Karen village at 4pm in the afternoon I piked on the rest of the walk and hitched back to Cave Lodge on the back of a truck. Very interesting road (up and down) and great scenery.
Today (Friday) was our last day at Cave Lodge. It's been raining a lot since we arrived and the river level rose overnight. This was a glorious opportunity to sample the kayaking. We chose the 'deluxe' option that included visiting two wild caves along the way. The meditation cave is normally one of those caves but would be awkward to enter so a rarely visited chamber of Tham Lod was substituted. The kayak trip began on the lodge's back doorstep and went through Tham Lod, so we needed head torches. At the exit we saw many swifts flying in circles. They break off from the ciicle to exit the cave. The second wild cave we visited was Hair cave, a short walk from the exit to Tham Lod. Again, this entailed squeezing through a small gap to enter/exit. By the time we had finished looking around Katherine was covered in mud from head to toe. She looked like a native Thai. The kayaking became more exciting after that with a few interesting rapids. A couple of times we had to duck to avoid being decapitated by overhanging branches or jutting out bamboo poles. We even went over a small weir. We made it down to the second dam which is impressive as that is the wet season put out point and the wet season has only just begun.
Katherine and I had debated whether to stay at Cave Lodge longer or move on to Pai. In the end we decided to move on. The cold weather (low 20s), constant rain and cold showers were a factor in our decision. And I was curious about Pai. It is a tourist mecca town. I wanted to see why people come. Now I am here I miss the natural environments of Cave Lodge. I'm not really into these hippy tourist places. I much rather prefer the quiet garden or forest places. Still, I am one up on Katherine on the shopping front (an achievement, to be sure).
Postscipt: When I was a child my favourite womble was Wellington. At seven years old I already knew I was going to be a geek. Isn't it interesting that Katherine's favourite womble was Orinoco?