We took the public bus from Pai up to Soppong where we met a group of people going the same way. 3 from Belgium, 1 from Holland, 1 from France. The public bus was an hour late, then sat at the Pai bus stop for another 20 minutes or so. The bus ride is only supposed to be 90 minutes so we theoretically should be in Soppong in 10 minutes. I don’t know why we don’t take more public busses. The minivans may be quicker but they are still cost more. You pay 150B for a minivan to get there in an hour or you pay 45B to take the public bus, windows down, wind in your face and you get to enjoy the scenery. We arrived in Soppong around 2pm rather than noon-thirty (as a friend likes to call it).
Soppong is known mostly for one specific cave, Nam Lod Cave or Tham(cave) Nam Lod. The only thing is, it’s 10km from Soppong. But there is a lodge nearby called Cave Lodge, run by an Aussie who has lived here for 30 years and his Thai wife. It’s a 5 minute walk to the cave so we decided this is where we want to stay. On the website, it says you can call or email to reserve a room but that’s only necessary from November to April so we decided to just show up. They state that if you are not picky, there will always be a bed for walk in guests.
From the bus station, you can take your pick of transportation. If you are in a group of 4 or less, it’s cheaper to take motorcycle taxis for 70B each. Any more than that, get a pick up truck for 300B. As a group of 7, we jumped in a pick up and were on our way.
When we arrived, we walked up seeing a sign for a marathon. I wonder when it is…. oh. It’s today. I came here with the hopes of some relaxation… but there are 43 people running a 79km marathon here. Also, they only have 1 private room left and it’s quite expensive at 700B. They have private rooms for 300-500B but they are all full. The dorms are mostly full too. They did have a double bed in the dorm for Kristi and I which sort of had its own room for 300B. We took that at least for the first night.
Kristi and I decided to head straight to Tham Nam Lod so we could catch the sunset and watch the birds come in and the bats leave. A short walk through the village had us at the National Park entrance. To go into the park is free but if you want to go in the cave, you have to pay. The prices are extremely reasonable as you pay as a group of 1-3 people. 150B for entrance and the guide. Then 300B to take the bamboo raft through the cave one way. 400B to have the raft bring you back to the entrance. We took the one-way route as you can just walk easily around the cave back to the front and it’s at the exit that all of the birds come in.
So 450B total and it would have been the same if we had 1 more person with us.
Our guide is an old lady armed with a lantern. Like as old as my grandma old. She seemingly speaks English at first. Turns out she’s just memorized some words and uses them. Her best spoken phrase is “I don’t know” which she uses any time you ask a question. Oh well, she has a kind face and her intentions are good. As we enter the cave, it’s pretty amazing.
You walk in and get onto a long bamboo raft and they push you across the water to for first stop about 20m away. You then walk up a big flight of stairs where lantern g-ma points out different formations using the handful of words she knows in English: “Waterfall”.. “Eagle”… “Elephant”… “Turtle”
There are little information boards in the cave translated to English but they all seem to have exactly the same content, telling us about how stalagmites are formed. If you don’t know it’s from water dripping consistently in the same place for hundreds and thousands of years which modifies the formation of the rock. It was interesting the first time I read it, not the fourth. I suddenly understand how people feel when I repeat stories to them.
Back down the stairs and back onto the raft to the 2nd part of the cave. Another flight of stairs. These ones are quite steep. They go up long enough that grandma needs a rest. It’s okay. It’s hot and stuffy in this cave. It smells like lantern fuel and bird/bat shit. At the top, grandma shows us a painting on the rock that is believed to be 2000 years old.
It has faded over the years because of natural causes as well as people touching it. I tried to touch it but grandma smacked my hand and gave me a stern “No!” They say the picture is of a deer… looks like a pretty crappy drawing to me. They clearly weren’t very good with Photoshop 2k years ago.
As we walk around, grandma points out more things to us including a boob. She said something and I didn’t understand what she said. Then she laughed. Then we realized it was a cave titty. Walking around this ancient cave, just to see rock formations that look like boobs. Not sets. Just individual boobs. Kristi suggests we point out all of the rocks that look like dicks. It’s like 80% of the formations. We’ll be here all night. As we head out, gradma says, “look! Spider!” OMG KILL IT WITH FIRE. The thing is bigger than my fist. Grandma laughs. We tell her we need to go. Now. She laughs some more. No pictures. As we walk down the stairs, I don’t want to use the railings.
We hop onto the raft again and head to the 3rd and final section of the cave. The exit of the cave is just a cool sight. The first real light we’ve seen in 45 minutes.
From here we reach the 3rd and final cave. Here, the smell of shit is awful. This is where all the fork-tailed swifts come in to sleep and shit. I think they might hold all of their shit in during the day so they can cover everything in shit in here and make it hell for the tourists going up the shit covered stairs and not wanting to touch the railing.
This cave section is by far the coolest. It has a bunch of sectioned off areas featuring… Coffins! This cave in particular is know as a Spirit Cave or Coffin cave. They have been found from here to Bangkok to Borneo but the largest amount of coffin caves is in this condensed area here. Some are open to the public, many are not as the government is still conducting research on them. The coffins seem to range from 1000-2400 years of age. Though they are broken apart and just long pieces of wood now, there are a lot of questions surrounding them.
Trying to get a good picture of the coffins using a lantern for lighting and a shitty point and shoot camera is hard so here’s a shitty picture to give you an idea.
At the end, we were super early for the birds to come in so we walked with grandma back to the entrance and thanked her. We sat down and had a quick meal before going back. Picture thousands of tiny birds flying around into the cave as the bats start to wake up and head out. It was really cool to see.
Every spec you see in that picture is a bird.
The next day was spent relaxing near the river and chatting with some of the marathon runners. Here’s some cool information that I got.
They started with 43 runners that day, 2 of which were female. The track was 79km long with 4.7km of climbing. 22 of the 43 finished. Both females finished. The guy who came in first is also the oldest competitor at 52 years old. He completed the track in 9 hours and 51 minutes. I think the final person came in around 18 hours. They stared running at 6am and some were still going near midnight. These guys (and girls) are amazing! The amount of work and dedication that they put in is unbelievable.
Craziest part: The next morning, one of the guys who completed the marathon, road his bike back to Chiang Mai! The bus takes 5-6 hours through windy hills in the mountains. That guy is insane!
On our last day, we decided to go in search of the “Sacred Well.” The owner, John, told us most people don’t find it but if we follow his map religiously then we stand a chance. Either way, he said we will enjoy the walk. Having joined forces with a cool Aussie girl and an older German guy that we met at the lodge, we headed off.
Through corn fields and farmer’s lands we hiked for well over an hour following the map and checking off the points as we reached them. Unfortunately, we made one wrong decision because we were supposed to leave the path and we didn’t so we missed it. Eventually coming across some workers who instead of pointing us in the direction of where we wanted to go, pointed us back out to the main road. I guess they didn’t want to give us poor directions and find out we died. So we did what any rational person would do in 35 degree weather: We hitch hiked the 5km back to the lodge. It was a lot of fun and we were quite close but I’m still convinced there is no sacred well and that you have to find the sacred well deep inside yourself… Or maybe there is a sacred well and I’m just a shitty navigator.
Regardless, we had a great time with some great company.
I need to give a special thanks. A guy we met at the Cave Lodge was taking some very nice photos and he was kind enough to share them with me including that beautiful sunrise picture that I was way too lazy to wake up and take myself. He asked me to give credit to :: YELEDDAB :: He is focusing on his photography on a 6 month trip. His website is under construction right now but his photos are fantastic. Once his site is ready, I will happily share it and recommend people check it out. I captioned all photos that belong to him but basically any picture in the cave that turned out nice, belong to him. Though I will take credit for the lighting on this cool pic:
We have been very fortunate to meet some great people on this trip. The hardest part is always saying goodbye. When you meet someone great, you just want to follow them wherever they go. Luckily, every time we leave one great person, we seemingly meet 2 more great people. We’re back to Chiang Mai for a couple days then headed to Sukhothai next as we make our way South to Bangkok for November 1st. Hopefully some fun stories will come up.