caving in tham lot
22.03.2011 39 °C
we left chiang mai on the road to mae hong son to catch another bus to tham lot. on the journey we passed a sign that said 'coffin cave' the exact reason for heading to tham lot. confused we asked the driver and he said we needed to get off at the last town (soppong) and charter a truck out to tham lot. oh boy we missed our stop. the driver stopped in the middle of the road and let us off (this is where i left my elephant carving). bewildered and certainly out of place 2 little gingers stood on the side of the road about to attempt the walk back to the last village with all their backpacks over 10 klicks away. about 50 meters into this we decided to wave down a truck and do our first hitchhike in thailand. a farming family in traditional garb stopped and gave us a ride to soppong as they were on their way through. we jumped into the back of the truck to be squished in with the already 12 locals, and their goods. it was cozy to say the least. we thanked them as they dropped us off at soppong and wondered what to do next. we seen a group of 4 other backpackers and found out they were on their way to thamlot as well and we shared a truck with them to cave lodge.
cave lodge was amazing. we enjoyed our stay there quite a bit, our 6 person dorm with floor mats and mosquito nets with a open concept window became one of my favorite places very soon. we had many blankets and for the first time in a couple nights we werent cold! at supper we met what would soon be known as "team north america", a usa couple graham and natalie who had been teaching english in thailand, a set of friends tirzah and soloman who just finished their work in antartica and were taking a small break in thailand before heading back to the states, and a middle aged couple fred and his wife from america. we all soon found out we arrived to the small caving town for a festival to raise money for a new temple, and all guides would not be available to hire for the caves. distraught we decided to tackle the caves the next day as a team.
after a hearty breakfast with homecooked brown bread (delicious) we headed out in search of caves, totalling about 10 kilometers in the scorching heat. the first cave on the list was a coffin cave, we cut across a dried out rice feild and started the climb up a steep knob. only about 15 feet from the entrance we were forced to stop as it would require actual rock climbing to reach the entrance and we had no equipment nor knew what layed on the other side. discouraged we headed back to the road in search of another. we stumbled across green corner cave after a bit of searching with the help of our peter pan style hand drawn treasure map. it was the first cave we were able to explore and enter and we were excstatic!
back on the road and further north yet we tried to decidede if christmas cave was on this turn or the one above. fred, energetic as always hopped up and ran in search of the cave. a while later we heard him yelling cave and all followed blindly. about 1-1.5 clicks into a corn field, up the side of a steep knob and into the mouth of a wide cave. we had to scramble down 2 sets of wooden ladders, missing broken steps down into the depths of the cave. from here we clambered down some unsteady rock footings about 80 ft down. we had found christmas cave! it was awesome and large. we spent about 45 mins exploring, taking pictures, examining the stagmites and stagtites before surfacing above ground again. we walked halfway back to the lodge before being picked up by a truck that dropped us off near a vendor to eat lunch.
after lunch we headed towards tham lot cave. this being the most famous cave had a few guides who would ferry people through the cave and floating bamboo rafts. we stopped not far from the entrance and got off the raft to explore the first cave section, column cave. it was really neat and full of fascinating mineral formations. we hiked back down the narrow and steep staircase only to walk up another not to far away to head into the subcave doll cave. this one was dark and very private, inside was a small formation that resemebled a breast which is why we're guessing its called doll cave. we boarded our raft once more to find foot long fish swimming beside us and jumping up for the cat food that the guides were throwing in for them. our guide took us to the end of the cave to explore the last sub cave yet again on our own. this is when we entered coffin cave. called this for if you explore alittle deeper into the cave there are coffins left from an ancient civilization that once inhabited this space dated over 1000 years old. they are pretty neat.
at sunset from this end of the cave we watched as thousands of swifts made their way into the cave and bats made their way out for night time. its a magical sight until you see them collide the birds breaking their neck landing twitching in the stream below as the fish begin to pluck at them. on the way back we ran into the guys who had given us a ride back to town from christmas cave who invited us to join in celebration with them at their festival. we hurried home to shower and eat and head to the festival.
it was really neat to see a festival for temple funds in a town much smaller then turtleford. the people greated us happily and made us feel very welcome.
the next day Team America headed out in search of hair cave, we found it fairly quickly. a neat cave, that once you climb a little out of the way (on your hands and knees army style) you reach an opening full of small silk strands hanging from the ceiling, hence the name hair cave. after this i headed back to the lodge to relax and read while we waited for the truck to pick us up.
the truck dropped us off in soppong but the bus that was to pick us up was over 2 hours late but eventually did come.