April 5, 2011 4 Comments
We instantly fell in love with Cave Lodge as soon as we arrived. We’d been stuck in a minivan from Chiang Mai to Sappong for 4 hours, heading north through the Thai mountains. From Sappong we jumped on a motorbike taxi for the final 9km leg of our journey – no problem, even with a large backpack. We arrived at Cave Lodge in the tiny village of Tham Lot, a few km from the Burmese border.
We were greeted with an open-plan wooden communal space, decorated with a hammock, cushions galore, a two-person day bed made from rubber tires(!), a table-tennis table, a swing and large fireplace in the centre. Chill out time. On the walls were pictures and information on an array of interesting tours and adventures, written with passion. Looking out from our elevated position we saw a river flowing past, some lush gardens and, dotted around, some bungalows.
Our bamboo hut was small and fairly basic, but it did the job and had wonderful views of a vegetable garden and the river. After tucking into some extremely good grub, we had a look through all the information plastered over the walls and decided the next day we would visit Lod Cave, as it was the nearest cave to the accommodation.
We walked for 10 minutes down the river before finding the main entrance to Lod cave – the river continues through the cave for 1 or 2 km. We had a guide who accompanied us with an oil lantern and climbed aboard a bamboo raft, which was punted downstream.
Inside this massive cave we were led through 3 chambers, with the most notable thing being the many hollowed out teak tree trunks that contained the remains of ancient people. The trunk is split in the middle, forming a base and a lid, with carved handles at the ends. It is easy to understand why it’s known as a spirit cave and why the majestic chambers were chosen as a sacred spot.
We met two Australian ladies who had decided to visit a local village and asked us if we wanted to join them and split the cost of the trip. We piled into a pick-up truck and after a very bumpy 15 min drive we arrived at a village, the only “farangs” around. Not knowing exactly what we were doing, we walked across the playground of the school and the teachers welcomed us, ushering us into a classroom with about 20 children, ranging from 2-4 yrs, playing on the floor.
We said Sawadee! and they each replied, putting their hands together with a little bow. They were very cute and well-behaved. After play time the teacher admonished them to tidy away the toys, walking around and pointing at a misplaced lego brick, stray pencil or whatever, to which they quickly scampered to put away. They then sat in a U shape and revised what they’d learnt (names of body parts seemingly), sang some songs which they delighted in before finally counting to 10 in English! A special experience.
After that we asked for a local guide to take us up to another cave. We took a gentle trek through the woods, past rice fields, across a river, until we came to the entrance to the cave – no more than a small ½ metre wide passage in the rock which we looked at with suspicion.
The guide crawled through on his hands and knees and, after seeing him no more than a couple of metres away on the other side, we all slid through. It was also pleasantly cool inside – a welcome relief to the outside temperature. We were shown through a high, wide chamber with ornate stalagmites and stalactites at every turn before reaching the end where there was a small flow of water where we could mercifully freshen up.
We decided to embark upon climbing up the near-by elevation called Big Knob – yes, really! It’s a huge rock formation on the top of a forested hill.
So off we set at the inappropriate time of 10.30am, with the sun already scorching, and we were soon up against a wall of forest, with Big Knob in the near distance and a few inaccessible-looking paths in our way. We started off up one, feeling it was the best way, but soon the path seemed to come to end, so we headed back. Next we tried a path which seemed to almost go around the mountain, which is what our trusty map advised us to do. On the way, however, we bumped into a local lady coming in the other direction, who pointed us back to the first path we had tried to take.
By this point, we were a bit hot and bothered, already with a few scratches and bites, so we told her we would probably head back to Cave Lodge. She then offered to show us a near-by cave (for 100 baht of course!) and we agreed, thinking we should try to do something productive with the day. However, the cave was only very small so we only spent 5 minutes looking around in and then she offered for us to go back to her house for bananas (!) which we gratefully accepted.
At her house, we met her husband and, whilst chomping on their stock of bananas, we agreed a fee for him to guide us up Big Knob (300 baht). So after our 15 minute break, off we headed again back to the forest – by this point it was almost 12 and really very hot. Our guide had a machete and he soon cut his way through the forest and took us up an arduous hike to the base of Big Knob, from which point onwards was a rock-climb to the summit. This was probably the head-thumpingly hottest we had ever felt!!
We carefully negotiated our hands and feet onto various rocky ledges, avoiding the giant holes covered in spiders’ webs. Finally, after a lot of sweating, we reached the top, where a simple flag sits and a small bench. From there the views of the surrounding area were hazy but rewarding. Next, we were guided a short distance down the other side to where a hollow in the rock exists, right in the heart of the mountain. We went through a small opening on our hands and knees and were in an open-air cave. Then the guide pointed to a foreboding hole in the rock and asked if we wanted to go down it. Immediately, Carly said ‘No’ – as a claustrophobic, the small hands-and-knees-tunnel was enough!
But Ben decided to follow the guide down. It was a 6 foot vertical dangle of the feet to find the first foothold. Dicey. A low, tight, undulating passage eventually led into a large opening. After that and some body swerving, heaving and huffing through tiny tunnels we emerged outside, but on the opposite side of Big Knob. The mountaineering required to climb around the rock felt a piece of cake after the preceding hard work…although one slip or crumbling rock and it’d be a freefall for a few hundred metres.
After we climbed back down the steep rocky part, the guide crafted two walking poles out of bamboo for us, to help us on the way back down the side of the mountain. Even so, we had a couple of slides – the leaves and stones helping us to skid downhill – but luckily no twisted ankles.
It took around 2 sweat-dripping hours in total and the guide very kindly invited us back for more bananas and water, which we accepted. We staggered back to Cave Lodge feeling very happy to have supported the locals – surely the extra 400 baht we had furnished them was a very nice surprise for them that day – and also happy to have achieved what we thought that same morning was completely impossible!
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