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Tham Lod cave

THAILAND | Sunday, 23 November 2014 | Views [865]

Dina in Column Cave at Tham Lod cave

Dina in Column Cave at Tham Lod cave

Yesterday, I woke up extremely sore from our three cave adventure the day before. Thankful I am not actually injured, but it's still pretty difficult to get out of bed, descend stairs, or navigate a toilet. As much as I'd love a day of rest, recuperation, and reading by the river, that is of course not what we are going to do. Being that it is our last full day at Cave Lodge, we at least have to see the world-famous local cave: Tham Lod.  It is a twenty-minute walk along the river to the cave entrance and visitor center.  We make our arrangements to enter the cave, which involves hiring a local guide with a kerosene lantern and flat bamboo raft. We are also told there are a lot of fish in the river and are encouraged to buy three bags of fish food that smell suspiciously like dog kibble. I am quite concerned about doing any more caving after the adventures of the previous day, and try to ask if the walking into the caves is difficult or involves any climbing. They assure me that it does not.

We follow our guide to the cave entrance, which is already pretty impressive. The opening of the cave was about 50 feet tall, with some stalactites visible and the Lang River flowing into the cave. This is the same river that flows in front of our lodge. We walk to our raft which is about two feet wide with very low stools, no more than eight inches high along the 15-foot long raft. Our guide sat in front with the kerosene lantern, and a driver was in back, propelling the raft with a long bamboo pole into the darkness of the cave. Unlike other tourist-destination caves I have visited in the US, there is no lighting in the cave, except for that of the guides' lanterns, and the occasional visitor's flashlight (sure wish we had had one!).  
Once inside, the cave interior grew to amazing heights, and we could not really even see the very ceiling of the cave. We could see formations descending from the top, but in the low light, unless directly illuminated, it looked like the night sky at the very end of twilight. There was the sensation almost of being outside, looking up at the sky, into vaguely distinguishable clouds in the low light of early night. We could hear the soft watery noises of the raft being pushed slowly forward, with a slight echoey feel of being enclosed in the cave. 
The river passage through the main body of the cave was amazing, but there are three "rooms" that you can also visit. This involves getting gingerly off the raft and onto the shore of the river and climbing stairs up into these side areas, each with their own group of incredible formations. I was very thankful for actual stairs today, as this made it easier to get around with my stiff legs. The stairs were quite steep however, and often very narrow, which required me to place my feet sideways on each step. Some steps had some buildup from the dripping from the cave ceiling, so still some worries about slipping at times. 
The first cave was called Column Cave, having a stalactite and stalagmite that had joined to create a thick 50-foot tall column. There was one that looked like a tooth, one was an amazing full Buddha, one a frog, a crocodile, and an anaconda descending from above. 
The second cave was Doll Cave. No specific dolls that I remember, but again very interesting formations; from different types of crystalline groups that looked like a futuristic city, to one that looked like an udder. 
We then saw a couple of foot-long carp-type fish come right up to the boat, which seemed like our cue to break out the fish food. Throwing a handful into the water, we were rewarded with a show of several hungry fish swarming the area with their heads practically out of the water to get at the kibble. So I dumped in the whole bag. We had to laugh at the noisy, splashing feeding frenzy we got out of that one. You could actually hear their mouths slurping. 
Going further into the cave, we began to hear a lot of squeaking/chirping noises which we assumed were a whole lot of bats flying around overhead. We saw a couple here and there clinging to the walls as we passed by. Finally we start to smell them as well. Bat guano. Not a smell I will soon forget. 
The last cave is Coffin Cave, so named for prehistoric coffins found here that are thought to be at least 2,000 years old. There are other caves in this area that also hold these coffins, some that amazingly still contain human remains. These coffins are made from logs, hollowed out and refitted together, some being over 12 feet long. There are over 200 caves in this region, many having archeological evidence of human activity from far before the Thais inhabited Thailand. There have been iron tools found and wooden vessels constructed on primitive lathes. There are one or two caves here that have a species of blind fish that is found nowhere else in the world and was featured on BBC's Wild Earth. The folks from Cave Lodge took them to the cave.  
After walking back to the Lodge from seeing the caves today, we decided we had one last must-see thing on our list to do before leaving Pang Mapha. We returned to the exit of Tham Lod cave, arriving about 4:30.  We wanted to make sure we arrived early enough to be there when it started to become twilight. We were joined shortly afterward by three other people from the lodge. Around 5:10, we started to see the first few birds: the black-tailed swifts!! And at 5:15, the show really started. Birds started to gather overhead and swirl around and dart into the mouth of the cave; coming home to roost for the night. More and more birds gathered, chirping so loudly all together that it seemed almost like a swarm of insects. Still they kept on coming, swirling and dashing into the cave. It was amazing how they didn't collide. How could there possibly be room enough for all of them!!?  Impossible to even try to count them. Over the course of about the next 50 minutes, we witnessed a steady solid stream of bird frenetic energy flowing into the upper reaches of the rocky crevices. We agreed there must have been almost a half-million birds. Amazing!! Apparently later there is also an outpouring of a similar number of bats, but it was fast approaching nightfall, and we still had two rickety bamboo footbridges to cross over the river to get back. 
Back at the lodge later, we had a great dinner.  Aaron had Thai crocodile in curry paste and Dina ordered the Shan special, which is what the local staff eat (from the Shan villages in the area): vegetarian, spicy, soy-fermented deliciousness with rice. We also had a great time chatting with our new friends (who said we didn't miss anything with the bats: it was much too dark to see). I spoke with Rich who has been living in Thailand for three years and has a girlfriend in Cambodia. He gave me lots of tips for our travels there when we go in a couple of days!! He also told me some great stories about staying with his girlfriend's family in a very poor village there. One story involved the time he was trying to step outside late at night for a pee, without his glasses. Starting down the stairs, he didn't see the black dog lying at the top. He fell headlong down the stairs, knocking himself unconscious. When he awoke, he was in bed slathered in toothpaste. Apparently the custom is to use toothpaste to help heal scrapes and bruises. Kind of like Windex in the movie "My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding."
Today we caught the van back to Pai, to spend the night there before returning to Chiang Mai to catch the train to Bangkok to catch a plane to Cambodia. Lots of travelling coming up!! Got to get some rest!!

Tags: cave lodge, thailand, tham lod cave

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