Little Known Wild Adventure in Thailand
If you read our last post you are aware that we left Thailand last week. This post is about our last week there and one of our favorite experiences from all of Thailand.
A few days in Pai
The mini-bus left Saturday morning direct to Pai. Our friend in Chiang Mai warned us that the roads were insanely curvy so we both took Dramamine right before we got on the bus. Ten minutes later I was half asleep, waking up every time my head fell to the side on a big curve, trying to not fall asleep with my mouth wide open, but I probably did anyway.
As soon as we arrived we made our way to our guesthouse Family House @ Pai. The owner, Mint, was there to receive us and showed us the way around. Our room was gorgeous as well as the whole place, right next to the river. We dropped our bags and went out to walk and grab a bite.
Pai is a very small town (compared with Chiang Mai or Bangkok) with a very relaxed vibe. The majority of people in the city center are backpackers and Rasta Thais. There are all sorts of organic, coffee and tea shops, western restaurants and spas. It is easy to move around, everything is within walking distance. A five-minute motor bike ride will take you to the more traditional Thai town and markets. I am glad we stopped to check it out, it was well worth it.
Then we headed north.
We had been cruising on the motorbike for about twenty minutes when we found ourselves between beautiful foothills, surrounded by magnificent views, with clean fresh air hitting our faces. An hour in all brought us to the Cave Lodge, only a few kilometers short of Burma. Soon after we knew it was our kind of place.
The area around the lodge is only known for a gigantic cave nearby named Lod Cave, famous for a display of bats and birds at sunset. People tour here and back from Pai but only a few stay. Actually, I didn’t see any other accommodations except Cave Lodge. I am sure there are others but the point is that it’s remote and unnoticeable.
What many people don’t know is that aside from Lod Cave there are tons of other wild caves that were recently discovered and only known by locals! The area is primarily limestone karst and filled with an underground cave system.
John, the owner of the lodge, came over from Australia 30 years ago and has discovered and explored many caves over the years. He is a wonderful character. John wrote a book about his experiences on the border of Thailand and Burma and has several publications about the Opium trade and other interesting stuff from the region, not to mention he is an outstanding photographer.
His place is cozy, in the middle of the jungle, with a big fire pit in the center of the lounge area, all wood and cushions. His wife runs the kitchen. She cooks hill tribe recipes and some western food, all delicious! John and his family really make the place a lot of fun and interesting.
Exploring rarely visited caves
On the second day we went to explore three of the caves with some hiking in between. The tour we took was called “Wilderness Caving suited for the adventurist” – according to John’s handmade sign on the wall of the common area (one of many). John gave us a ride deeper into nowhere and dropped us off near a field with our guide, Wat. I couldn’t tell his age, Thais don’t age very much, but my guess was that he is over 50 maybe even 60 years old.
Wat starts walking, we obediently follow. After 15 minutes into the fields he suddenly stops still, listening carefully, to who knows what. I am thinking he must be very wise like a Thai Gandalf, picking up on some sort of jungle cues that we aren’t aware of. There is no real path, we continue walking though fields, jungle, and grass taller than us. Wat does his best to cut some of the brush in front of us to make it easier. The views are stunning and we love the feel of being out in the bush of southeast Asia. Continuing up and down steep hills, we do our best not to fall on the rain-soaked red clay.
I am holding Adam’s hand all the way, it’s insanely slippery, wondering how Wat is prancing down the hill while wearing an old pair of wingtip dress shoes!
Adam and I start chit-chatting, and in the first instant of distraction, my feet slide out from under me and I hit the ground; and then it happens again, and again… Adam also fell his fair share. Later I would promise myself to never complain about my butt. My butt saved my butt!
We finally arrive at our first stop: Fossil Cave. After shedding our packs we are crawling and climbing our way on muddy rocks for what seemed like forever, deeper into the earth. We see bats, amazing cave formations, and 280 million year old shell fossils. It’s incredible to look at something and realize how far into the past you are seeing. At least an hour later we emerge, completely caked in mud, but it just adds to the experience.
The second cave was very close but hidden; we only find it thanks to our trusted guide. Named Waterfall Cave, and for good reason… About 50 feet inside, Wat stops, and in his quiet fashion, starts to strip off his clothes without a word. We follow suit, assuming we’re about to get wet. A few minutes later we are passing through a small hole half filled with water. Good thing we are not claustrophobic!
This was more physically challenging than the first cave. Lots of army crawling, duck walking, and constant crouching, not to mention we’re thigh deep in water the entire time. Wat is always leading us with the energy of a 10-year-old. As we make our way deeper into the cave it seems like the water is getting louder and louder until we can’t hear ourselves very well.
Turns out the stream we were dragging ourselves through ends at a 90 foot underground waterfall!!! We crawl up to the edge of it, fortunately John had wedged a log across the top, and peer out into the black hole that the water was thundering down into. A breathtaking feeling that I won’t forget.
My only regret is that my camera isn’t waterproof and there was no way for me to drag it along with me. We do our best to burn this scene into our memory for a few minutes while resting our tired legs. Coming back out I am literally dragging myself, foot by foot, through the water in the tiniest of tunnels with the little energy I have left.
Once out of the cave we stop to eat the lunch of fried rice John had packed for us in the morning. The sun was shining, it was hot, and we were wet and steamy.
The final destination was Christmas Cave and is a solid, one hour hike through the jungle. It was the shortest and biggest of all the caves. The rock formations were huge and very impressive! Stalactites and stalagmites reaching from floor to ceiling.
Finally time to hike it back to Cave Lodge. Along the way we stop to have a slice of a sort of pumpkin with some locals outside of the village at a lonely vegetable stand in a field. Wat shows us coffee plants, sesame seed plants, corn fields, pumpkin fields and all sorts of edible things like basil and lemon grass.
He randomly stops in the jungle to pick some wild mushrooms and stuff them into his pack for what I assume will be part of dinner for the family tonight. We arrive back at 6pm completely exhausted! Handing Wat a most deserved tip, he leaves us with a smile.
We loved everything about this experience! It was definitely one of our favorite days in Thailand. If you ever find yourself in Pai, make sure to take a trip up to cave lodge, you won’t regret it!