We travelled further west to Soppong, to stay at Cave Lodge, run by John, an intrepid explorer and caver from Australia and his Thai wife Diew. Their daughter had just got married at the lodge, and most of the other guests at the lodge were family friends, many of whom had stayed on after the wedding to enjoy the local caves and hikes.
The area is deep jungle, with Karst mountains, riddled with limestone caves, some of which can be explored on foot, others by kayak. On Tuesday, Clare opted to revisit her childhood canoeing adventures and join a group of very excited girls visiting from a university in Dohar, Quatar on their guided kayak trip. Noel opted for a quieter, less giggly day exploring on foot.
The trip began with everyone tucking either hair or hijabs into crash helmets. After much giggling and checking in the van mirror that our fringes/hijabs were tidy, we carried our kayaks down to the river. The students had guide each, but Clare and the two university professors had agreed to paddle their own canoes. The steering of the inflatable canoes was less precision, more hanging on for dear life over frothing Rapids, lying down flat in the boat to allow overhanging rocks or tree branches to slide overhead and sometimes sliding down small waterfalls backwards ( which oddly enough seemed to work better than forwards). Fortunately the river was very shallow, so the worst anyone would have had was a wetting. We giggled a lot, applauded each other’s efforts, splashed and collided with each other and arrived at the caves drenched but in one piece.
The youngest of the student admitted that she was terrified of bats, spiders and snakes. The professor informed her with calm authority that there would not be any of those in the caves ( never believe an academic, we make stuff up ). The cave seemed vast, with towering stalactites and stalagmites. We beached our canoes deep inside, and followed the guide up steep rocks, into the interior. Clare clambered up behind the lead guide with the students lagging worriedly behind. ‘ Snake!’ the guide suddenly cried and backed hastily down the rock. ‘Are we going back ‘ Clare asked. ‘ Oh no’ said the guide. ‘ make noise’. Our hearty clapping drew the attention of the professor and students below. ‘What is it? ‘ came an anxious chorus. ‘Don’t tell her it’s a snake’ the professor hissed. ‘It’s a snake’ cried the guide happily, and with some local pride. ‘It’s only a small one’ called the professor down to the quivering students. As we traversed cautiously, at a fairly safe distance, past a 2.5 meter long, six inch thick snake Clare reflected on the accuracy of academics.
Past the snake, were glorious stalactites, colonies of bats and spiders the size of a spread hand. ‘ you like spider?’ The guide asked hopefully. ‘Very fine spider’. Clare answered in the spirit of appreciating local attractions. ‘ not nearly so fine spiders in England. England has only small spiders’. The guide, quietly pleased at this statement helpfully found many, many examples of Thai prowess in spiders.
More stalactites, bats, snakes and we reached a spot in the deepest cave, where we were told monks go to meditate. On their own. In the dark. This is a level of spirituality we do not aspire to reach.
Back in the kayaks, we warmed up with a 7 km paddle down rocky rapids through lush jungle, then one more mega slide down the side of a small dam, and we were finished. The jeep was waiting to take us dripping and happy back the guesthouse thrilled to bits with the adventure.