Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tham Lod Cave

We said a reluctant goodbye to Mae Hong Son and set out early with Duke and our driver, Dob, for the trip to the village of Soppong on our way to Pai. The road through the forest is said to be one of Thailand's most scenic. It certainly must be one of the steepest and most winding! Fortunately the forest was so thick that we couldn't see how far down the valley floor was. Dob handled our van with skill, however, and we were able to relax and enjoy the trip.

Not far from Mae Hong Son, we stopped at this roadside market.  

One of the items for sale was a water bucket made from bamboo.  This one has the numbers "1548" carved into the side.  That signifies the number of turns in the road between Mae Hong Son and Chang Mai.

We had finished breakfast only a short time before, so we passed on Thai BBQ. However, we did try some baked sweet potatoes, which were delicious. Duke also insisted we try some sticky rice baked in bamboo. Here he and John show how to peel the bamboo away to expose the yummy, sweet purple rice inside.

Duke said the market was run by the hill tribe known as the Red Karen. This elderly woman was passing her time sewing while her husband played his flute. 
After we contributed some Thai baht to their donation basket, she agreed to pose for us.  She wasn't very enthusiastic about it, though.

We continued down the mountain and at mid-morning stopped at Tham Lod Cave. This cave is part of the largest cave system in Northern Thailand. Set in a parklike valley, the cave is unique in that a subterranean river flows through it.

We boarded a small raft with a guide and were poled down the river into the cave. On either side of the raft, hungry fish broke the water hoping for a handout. The river was very shallow, but the current was swift and the water cool. We were fortunate; sometimes the water is too deep to allow access to the caverns.

Inside the cave, our small party made its way through the various rooms. Some were enormous, as you can see, and our guide's lantern barely lit the dark recesses. (There were no electric lights, so we were very glad the lantern had plenty of fuel!) In some of the photos, you may be able to see slender cords criscrossing the caverns. We were told they were to guide people through the caverns, especially when the water level is high.

Stalagtites, stalagmites, limestone columns, cave bacon and other formations were everywhere. We also saw some prehistoric cave paintings and archeological relics.

The rooms were sometimes connected by very steep stairs. There were also "bridges" like this one. We were glad the guide's lantern didn't reach the bottom....it was a long way down!

After touring for an hour or so, we made our way back to the rafts and back out into the sunlight. The current was too strong for the boatman to pole against, so he got out and towed the raft back to the dock.

It was a great experience, and one we highly recommend to anyone visiting the area.


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