The only thing about the Cave Lodge that is a little inconvenient is that once you’re there you are kind of trapped there. It is about ten kilometers from the little town of Soppong and has maybe a few little restaurants near it. However, once we were there we found out that there was never a reason to leave.
We got to Cave Lodge without a plan for the day. This resulted in me taking a glorious nap. After the nap it was lunch time and I went ahead and ordered from the restaurant they had at Cave Lodge. This was pretty much the first time the entire trip where the Thai food was actually amazing. Everything we ordered in our time here was amazing, a little pricey, but absolutely worth it. After lunch, and more time killed by wandering around, we decided to do something with our lives. We looked on the walls, which are draped with things to do, and found three “treasure maps”. These were very crudely drawn maps of three different hikes that used landmarks as a guide of where to go. We picked the easiest one and with a picture of the map made our way to the trailhead.
When pirates hunt for treasure they never find it on their first try (right?). The treasure maps warned us that you might end up going out on a nice walk, but if you did find the trail then you would be rewarded with an awesome hike. We were doing just fine until the map told us to go over two fences and then uphill toward the forest. It was here that we ended up walking in circles around a couple of fences wondering where to go. We thought we knew which summit we were going for (called Big Knob) but it was here that I questioned that. If we were where the map said we were then it had to be this small looking hill instead of the cool looking cliff. Anyway, to make a long story of just walking around in the sun not knowing where to go short, we eventually discovered (after backtracking) that we had walked through one of the two fences that the map mentioned without noticing! The gate was open and we didnt have to go over it so we didnt realize it was a fence. From here it was smooth sailing to the summit. It was a rather steep hike, but also one that only took about an hour to get to the top. The views from the top were really cool, especially since we got to see the giant storm approaching that had the potential to ruin our lives.
We weren’t sure whether to snap a couple of shots and then quickly make our way down and beat the storm or wait it out and see what happens. We chose the latter and enjoyed our time at the top.
The treasure map also mentioned that there was a cave system inside the Big Knob (it was hollow apparently) and that if we were lucky we could find it (and to take a guide to find it for sure). We were not lucky, but to be fair we didnt really search too hard. The rain didn’t pour like we thought it would but it made everything wet enough to make the way down rather interesting. The way down was a dangerous game of guessing which patch of mud was the least slippery. A little side note, I haven’t mentioned our canine friends – we picked up a few dogs off the street that made it all the way to the summit with us. We honestly couldn’t believe they made it and on the way down they navigated with just as much surprising dexterity. Anyway, we were not as successful as them. By the time we got down I was the only one that did not go for a little tumble on the way down! Everyone was fine though and happy to be off of Big Knob.
This would be a good warmup for the day of caving that was waiting for us. We had dinner and enjoyed a calm night of relaxing in hammocks.
Caves, caves, and more caves
We got up nice and early and met up with our guide for the day – Ja’Ka. That is my made up spelling of his name but we are going to pretend its right, it certainly looks spot on. The way you pronounce it – 1) say jackal, 2) put the emphasis on the second syllabus instead of the first, 2) now get rid of the l sound at the end. He was a fantastic guide from a local Karen village. When we found out he was Karen I began to show off our Karen language skills (we had learned how to say hello and thank you with Copy in the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary). Funny enough thank you is very very very similar to crazy. So whenever we would say thank you we would say (almost) the same word twice to say – “thank you crazy!”
Sad story of why there are no pictures for this part of the post. I had taken out my battery of my camera to charge it (anticipating a full day of pictures) and was sure I would remember it the next morning, because I always did. Now I know why two batteries is a useful thing to have… I actually did have two batteries but I somehow lost one and now had to rely on me not forgetting to put the battery back in my camera before leaving. Well, this was the first (and hopefully the last) time that I brought my camera and realized like an hour into the hike that I had not put the battery in. It was a very sad realization.
Anyway, the hike was filled with interesting little tidbits of information from Ja’Ka. The best parts, however, were when he stopped and pointed out a random fruit on a tree and asked us if we had tried it before. We are not really too well versed on the jungle fruits of northern Thailand so we got to try many fruits and leaves that were safe to eat and delicious. I wish I could name these fruits or describe the taste but they were weird and tasty (for the most part). After an enjoyable hike of learning about different trees and fruits we got to the opening of the first cave.
This cave was called Long Cave and I think it was a 300 meter long cave. The entry was a crawl through mud which was a good way to get nice and dirty. After the crawl the cave opened up into a huge cavern. We went ahead and walked down it while looking out for a green viper (or cobra; something that would kill). Ja’Ka said he sees one in almost every cave and that the day before he had seen two. Unfortunately, there were no snakes in sight; just a lot of bats. After exploring this cave we went to the next one which was right next door. I don’t remember what this cave was called…lets call it swimming cave. Yup, this was a cave we had to swim through. When I asked how deep the water was Ja’Ka said he didnt know and that the closest he came to measuring it was with a 10 meter long bamboo stick that he could not touch the bottom with. What we found out is that cave water is freezing but is also crystal clear (once you get over that the surface is a layer of bat poop). This was by far the highlight of the day. Once my body was numb, the water felt amazing. I don’t know if it was swimming in the pitch black darkness with headlights or if it was not knowing what could be in the water, but it was great. By the end of it we didnt want to get out of the water, which was funny given all the curses we were yelling when getting into it. The last cave had some climbing and pretty risky gaps that we had to go over which made it unique and fun. Overall, all three caves were really different and awesome!
After the last cave we made it to a little shed in the middle of a giant field to sit and have our lunch. Lunch was delicious noodles spiced with some chilis that we had picked while hiking. After that we hiked through Ja’Ka’s village and walked on the river until we made it back to Cave Lodge.
Shannon’s last 24 hours
That night at Cave Lodge was Shannon’s last night and we spent it playing Cards Against Humanity with 3 new friends and a bottle of wine. It was a fun night which was highlighted by one great moment. If you remember, we have had a bottle of Thai Moonshine for a while. Well we had tried it at some point and its one of the worst things I’ve ever put in my mouth. Another important fact for this story is that when we were at Koh Tao the bartender had taught us how to smoke alcohol. Essentially you burn a high proof liquor in a cup and trap the vapors and then inhale it with a straw. So, Collin decided he wanted to show our new friends this trick with the Thai moonshine that was being kept in a water bottle. He went to the room to get a lighter and while he was in the room we switched the moonshine with just water. Once he got back Shannon immediately took a shot and thoroughly impressed Collin. I dont know how this didnt give it away but thankfully it didnt because we got to spend the next five minutes watching someone try to light water on fire. He was convinced it was supposed to burn but yet couldn’t light it no matter how hard he tried! It was hilarious! Anyway, after that we went to sleep and then woke up the next morning to go back to Chiang Mai.
In Chiang Mai we had time for a final lunch before sending Shannon off to the airport. I searched google for a good place and ended up finding a cafe that had really good reviews and off we went. This was by far the best meal we had in Thailand. In fact, I ordered two dishes right off the bat (a curry and cashew chicken). The Cashew Chicken was so good that after everyone was done with their food we ordered one more plate of that to share (I held back since I was a little full from my two meals). It was the perfect last meal for Shannon.
I accompanied Shannon to the airport and we said our goodbyes. It felt like my first section of the trip was coming to an end. Collin will leave soon and then Paul will join me in Cambodia. The first half of the trip could not have gone any better. I cant imagine better company than the one I had and the one I will have. As for my next plans with Collin; we are going to Chiang Rai pretty much solely to see the famous white temple and then hopping on a plane to Cambodia.
Soppong in a exotic jungle fruit shell
There are so many things to do in Soppong. Specifically, there are so many things that Cave Lodge offers to do in Soppong. If I had the choice between Pai and Soppong I wouldn’t even hesitate. Soppong is a tiny town with cave and trekking opportunities that abound. It is probably what Pai was fifteen years ago.