Day 10. 28 Jan. 2011. Long day in a van.
It wasn’t a bad hangover, but I was pretty tired, waking up for our drive to see caves near Mae Hong Son this morning. The alarm went off at 08:00, and we packed up, had breakfast, and checked out. The driver, Pradit, was right on time. He bowed very much to us, put our bags in the van, then we hopped into the back and we were off.
I slept for the first couple of hours. I woke up because the road had become quite curvy and bouncy, and I was being bounced all over the place in the slightly old and very bouncy van. I started feeling a little sick. We stopped twice for toilet breaks, and getting out and stretching helped, but the roads got worse and soon I was in really bad shape. We stopped for a scenic view, and I went and sat down with my head between my knees. Matt bought me a Fanta, and I moved to the front seat of the van, which helped a lot. I was able to eat lunch when we stopped, and was slowly feeling better.
Eventually we got to Thad Lod (Lod Cave), where after buying tickets and fish food, we followed a teenage girl guide with a lantern down a path to a beautiful stream-bank, where men sat around resting and cattle grazed. Bamboo canoes waited in the water to take us into the cave. It was a beautiful place.
It was immense. Unfortunately, it proved to be close to impossible for me to take pictures of it, using my little digital point-and-shoot and no tripod. That, and the guide moved FAST. I stopped anyway, when I liked, but it was clear she didn’t approve. I think the idea was that they tried to keep the tourist groups apart, so that everyone got the feeling of being alone in the cave, which is a laudable endeavor, I have to say. There were times of canoeing interspersed with walking.
At a certain point, our guide pointed down, and we were reminded of the fish food we’d bought from the old ladies near the ticket counter by the huge, obviously well-fed carp that were everywhere. Matt fed them, mostly. At one point, one got so excited it jumped right into the canoe with us. Our guide and the boat guy were very surprised, and there was a bit of rocking as we tried to get it back into the water.
At probably the 3rd off-boat stop on our tour, we had been approaching an entrance that was so gorgeous and green outside. It looked like a piece of fairy-land or something, mystical and surreal, while overhead we could hear the bats. We climbed another steep staircase which we didn’t want to hold onto because of all the guano, and when we looked below, there was a nice view of the boat guy, his canoe surrounded by many of the carp we’d been feeding.
Side-note here on how different visiting this cave was to so many other tourist caves I’ve been to. It is still relatively unexplored, and the caving organizations in the area advertise for interested cavers to help map parts of it and other interesting caves in the area. Although there are stairways built in many places, and some guard rails around sinkholes, there is also very little protection in place as yet for the rock formations. We walked among these rock terraces with impunity, and touched fresh-growing stalactites. Still, caving in this area bills itself as eco-tourism. A local Shan tribe handles all the cave tourism, even with the existence of international caving groups interested in the area, and in that respect, there’s certainly support being given to the local community here, but I found myself trying to not step on the tall parts, which also made very convenient steps.
After a refreshing iced coffee at the visitor’s center, we joined our driver and continued towards Mae Hong Son. On the way, we stopped at Tham Pla, the fish cave, where huge carp seem to bubble straight out of the side of the mountain. A strange place, but a nice garden to relax in. The pictures all pretty much look like foggy fish in water, so I’ll skip them.
We were exhausted by the time we arrived in Mae Hong Son, and even sitting in the front seat, I wasn’t feeling well. Which is probably why we made the mistake of staying at Jo’s Guest House, at the wat end of the night market. It didn’t seem so bad at first. We paid, showered, and went to the market, where we ate condensed milk roti to tide us over while we wandered through, up to the Fern Restaurant, a very classy place with live music and good food.
While listening to a young man with a lovely sweet voice sing, we ate: Stewed Pork Shan Style, Spicy fern salad, and chicken in pandanus leaves (just like what we’d made last week, and it was exactly the same). We shared a large Singha beer.
On the way back through the market, we stopped at the wat, where various ceremonies seemed to be going on. People were lighting more of the large lanterns like the other night, and others were placing little boats with candles and flowers to sail around a small carousel. We watched many of these things, and smiled at people. No one seemed to mind our presence, but in case we were intruding, we kept it short.
Then we headed back to the guest house and our bed. It dipped in the middle and our blankets were large towels. All folded, it hadn’t looked so bad. There were stains on the wall next to the bed, so I stayed in the middle. The curtains barely covered the windows, and I felt very self-conscious. It was difficult to sleep.
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