Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Pang Mapa, Thailand - Cave Lodge
I decided to hire a scooter for a couple days and check out a remote area of northern Thailand. The woman at the rental shop only said, "hmmm... bring back the other bike and let me give you good bike." ha! Besides better brakes, the new Honda Icon actually had great features like a horn and an odometer, which came in handy when trying to figure out if the bunch of huts I just passed was actually the village I was trying to find. Also, several places have multiple names which resulted in some confusing fun! Before I set out I did some research on the condition of the local roads and used the "terrain" feature on google maps to ensure that the mountain roads weren't too steep. Riding steep downhills on a bike without gears is not my favorite thing to do.
Left Pai and traveled to Soppong, then continued north and ended up in Ban Tham. The ride was broken up by photo stops and waiting for herds of wandering cows to clear the road. The cows here all wear wooden cow bells and as a herd moves along they create a really pleasing, relaxing sound
stayed for three nights at Cave Lodge, a clustering of bungalows built by an eccentric Australian, John Spies, who traveled to Thailand 30 years ago and never left. John has spent his time here learning the hill tribe languages, photographing the tribes, and publishing articles about the area. He has also created detailed maps of the surrounding area, including hundreds of caves that hold 2000 year old carved teak coffins. Very little is known about these coffins and the people who placed them there. You can see some of his AMAZING tribal photographs here: http://www.cavelodge.com/tpics.htm He has also published an autobiographical account of his time in this region and its a fascinating read full of local history, politics, and archeology.
I stayed in the Ban Tham region three days. Did several hikes, visited some local hill tribes, and went into a couple caves. This area contains such a mix of people. The women working at the lodge spoke Shan, not Thai, and the local hill tribes speak yet another language. I paid some of the local villagers to guide me through various caves. The only English word one guide knew was "hello." He would point to a stalactite. "Hello." He would gesture down a dark tunnel. "Hello." Or he would wave good-bye. "Hello, hello."