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Published: December 2nd 2007
Coffins in Coffin caveKate
these wooden coffins were apparently about 2000-3000 years old. They were discovered with all kinds of objects buried with them.
Why I won't miss motorbike taxis
From Mae Hong Son we took another local bus through more mountains and sunflower surrounded roads to the small town of Soppong. Confusingly, while the guidebook and info we had called the town Soppong, all the signs advertised Pang Manpha, which apparently is the area, but also used as an alternative name for the town. Because traveling in a country where you can't read most of the the signs isn't confusing enough!. From Soppong we found two motorbike taxis to take us and our luggage to Cave Lodge, about 9km into the forest. Now you may be aware that I don't like motorbike taxis at all. I find them very scary. Im sure if I had more an adventurous "now I want to bungy jump and then throw myself out of an aeroplane" mentality then I would find journeys on motorbike taxis thrilling. But m just a coward. So I find them scary. I mean, there I am, hanging onto the back of a motorbike with no helmet or anything, behind some complete stranger who is also carrying my rucksack on the front of his bike, driving up and
down hills through a forest. Sound safe to you? No it doesn't. But unfortunatly, quite often in Thailand, in fact in South-East Asia, there isn't an alternative for getting from A-B. It's how everyone gets around. School girls come out of their school gates in their small skirts and hop onto the back of motorbike taxis side-saddle, sometimes 2 or more of them on the same one. Whole families drive past you on the back of a bike, with the baby sat on the petrol tank, a small child between mum and dad and the dog hanging off the back. We have seen people carrying several bags of coconuts on a bike, and someone on the way to Cambodia with a basket on the back with two live pigs in it. Crazy. OK, so nobody goes very fast...but still.
Safe and Sound at Cave Lodge
Anyway, we arrived at Cave Lodge safe and sound. The lodge is on the edge of a cliff overlooking a river and the mountains beyond and is surrounded by forest. There are lots of bungalows going down the cliff and a restaurant/common area at the top, all decked out in wood
with a big open fireplace and a swing! It has some lovely views. We got a bungalow with a shared bathroom, although we weren't actually sharing the bathroom with anyone, it just meant we had to go outside in the night to use the toilet and risk being eaten by a tiger. One side of the bungalow was a huge window looking onto the forest where we could see the dawn breaking if we woke up early enough (which we didn't) or see that tiger peering in waiting for one of us to go out to the toilet in the night (which also didn't happen).
Cave Lodge is close to Tham Lod cave, apparently one of the best caves in Northern Thailand. It's a good example of eco-tourism, as 70 people from the local village have trained as guides to take people through the cave. You pay 150 baht per group for the guide, and most of the money goes to the guide. A river runs through the cave so you then take a bamboo raft through the cave with your guide. The rafts are controlled by local village men, so again some of your tourist baht goes into
the pockets of the local people and not just to foreign businesses or the Thai tourist board. You get onto your bamboo raft and float downstream into the cave, where you are plunged into darkness. Luckily the guide has a lamp. They stop the raft at various points in the cave where you get off the boat and climb up into different caverns for a look around. There are three main caverns to visit. The first one, Column cave, has lots of columns running from ceiling to floor, where stalactites and stalagmites have joined together. As my Mum taught me, Stalactites hold tight to the ceiling, whilst stalagmites might reach the ceiling if they grow tall enough. As we went through the cave our guide, Nur, pointed out limestone formations that looked like animals and various other objects e.g. "look like turtle", "look like crocodile". The second cave was Doll cave, because there are some amazing cave formations that do look like lots of little dolls in a group. The final cave is known as Coffin Cave. This is so named because they found ancient coffins in the cave, estimated at abuot 2000 years old. They were about 5 metres
The bird show at Tham Lot
thousands and thousands of swifts swarming round and then swooping into the cave. It was manic and lasted ages.
long with the centre carved out. When they were found they contained lots of objects like carved pots and tools. While the coffins have been left in place many of the objects have been removed to a museum. There was also a cave painting of a deer in the cave, I don't know how well the picture will come out because it was pretty faint. Many years of being touched by curious hands.
At the end of the cave at dusk there is a "bird show". Thousands and thousands of swifts flood into the cave to roost for the night. We went down to watch and it was amazing. The first thing you notice is the noise, the cries of hundreds of birds. Then as you approach the cave and look up, you can see birds circling round and round. Then they start to swoop in the cave and they keep on coming, meanwhile more and more birds are circling overhead outside and the noise is getting louder and louder. Every so often you can see bats, larger than the birds, fly out of the cave for the night. We imagined it to be
a bit like shifts, swifts on the day shift and bats on the night.
Going to visit Karen
While at Cave Lodge we decided to go on a walk to a local hill tribe village. You can do these sort of treks all over the North of Thailand, from Chiang Mai, Pai, Mae Hong Son.....They often take 2-3 days and you can stay in the villages. However, these tend to be group treks, and after our Halong Bay experience we were abit turned off group activities. However, Cave Lodge is near a lot of hill tribe villages and they helpfully provide a map and directions for you to trek to them yourself. So we put our walking boots on and set off. The trek took us along a road over a high ridge next to the guesthouse. We climbed up and up and up, sometimes it was nearly vertical! Just as I was complaining and Kris was saying for the 3rd time that we were at the top, we were actually at the top, looking over the ridge at the surrounding mountains. And then we went down, down, down.....to the valley below where there was a
Karen village. We walked into the village past some wallowing buffalo. The village is famous for its weaving. The Karen weave really beautiful scarves, blankets and other stuff in lovely pale colours. We passed some women weaving as we headed for a drink and a sit down at the local shop. When we got there, four women appeared carrying bags of products which they laid out for us to look at. There wasnt any hard sell or anything, they simply showed us what they had. We bought a blue scarf, but couldn't fit any of the great blankets in our rucksacs so had to leave it at that. We had a wander around the village and then set off back. The map and the women in the village had told us that you could go back beside the river. Less up, up ups and down down downs. There was definatly a path on the map, with 3 river crossing indicated. Looked ok so off we set. There wasnt a path. Down most of the river you just had to walk right down the middle because there were steep cliffs either side. And there were at least 20 river crossings! We
were very wet. But it was fun. Up to the point where we didn't know where we were on the map and it was about an hour from getting dark. We were one side of the river, and it looked too deep and fast to cross. We were pretty sure we needed to be at the other side. Yes, some workmen appeared and shouted that we needed to be at the other side. How to get across? Hum....Luckily with lots of shouts and arm waving the workmen showed us that there was actually an invisible sandbank going diagnally across the river. So we got across and found ourselves next to Cave Lodge with very sore feet. Fun though.
Cave lodge was cool, in a great location and had some cool outdoor activities to do. You can kayak down the river and visit lots more local caves and villages if you have lots of time. At the communal area is great for chilling out in the evenings. Everyone congregates in the same place and we met some really fun and interesting people. One rather odd point though. John, the Aussie guy who runs it has
written a book about his experiences living there. There are copies around the lodge for you to preview. I recommend that you dont until you leave. I read it on the first night. Its a book about murders, drug overdoses, rape, forced abortions, battles and sickness. Its rather disturbing to read what has happened at the lodge in the past. It is in the Golden Triangle, famous for its opium and all that brings, but I didn't need to know about it before I went to bed in our cabin with a door that didnt shut properly!!
So Cave Lodge, great, just dont read the book!
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