Lod Cave Tour
Up and down and around about and back again
Touring the very best of Pai
I only planned to stay in Pai for two nights, and on my only full day, I reserved a day-long tour of the region through the Lod Cave tour itinerary. I'd heard good things about the tour and having done it, highly recommend it as well. The tour is $500 baht, or $14 USD, and includes transportation, a guided tour of the caves, entry to a hot spring, time at a waterfall, and sunset over Pai Canyon. It's a great value for all you get to do and although you could easily rent a bike and do this yourself, by the time you add up the rental cost, gas, and the admission fees for each stop, I believe you end up saving money. Plus, you're guaranteed to meet some great people on your tour, which we did.
After a brief stop at a view point, we arrived at the Lod Caves. The caves are considered historically significant due to a 3,000 year old cave painting of a horse and many coffin rafts people used to use to send dead bodies into the stream running through the cave. If you're planning to visit the cave for these reasons, I believe you'll be a little disappointed. While these are certainly part of the tour, they're not really well explained or the most impressive part of the caves. Go with the intention of seeing a cave, not a museum.
You can only enter the cave with a lantern guide, which is exactly what it sounds like. Caves are, well, dark and you need a guide to show you where to go and light the way with a small gas lamp. Because of this, you can only go in groups of 2 or 3 so that everyone can use the light as the guide walks you through. You see the first part of the cave by foot and something that stuck out to me was the amount of large, thick pillars in the caves. Pillars form when stalactites and stalagmites meet in the middle to form a continuous structure, but these were several feet in diameter. The tour guide didn't speak enough English to explain why this occurs, but my guess is monsoon season dumps in so much water into the caves each year that the sediment settles very fast, thus forming the pillars much quicker and thicker than usual. Personal hypothesis, anyone is free to correct me! I let the cavernous darkness swallow me up and enjoyed the eerie otherworldly architecture of the caves.
The next part of the cave tour involved getting onto long bamboo rafts and letting our lantern guide paddle us through the stream that ran through the middle of the cave like a spine. With the scant light of the lantern at the front of the raft, we could barely make out how extraordinarily tall the ceiling was but we could hear the faraway chirping of a thousand bats gossiping about the strange amphibious visitors, imploring us to turn off our light so they could get back to sleep. The stream bent and we could see the other side of the cave opening up like a wormhole and before we turned around, we climbed up and explored around a bit on that side.
The next stop was Sai Ngam hot spring where we actually ran into a large crew from our hostel. We lounged for an hour in the clear warm shallow water with new friends and talked about our lives for a while. I wish we could have stayed longer!
Afterwards we visited a smaller waterfall that didn't impress me much (I've become a kind of connoisseur by this point) but I loved watching Dain sketch it. He's a fantastic artist and I'm glad that our trip has given us both a creative outlet: writing for me, drawing and photography for Dain.
One of the most magical experiences one can have in Pai is to see the sun set from the canyon. Lucky for us, this was built into the final stop on our tour. Hopefully from the pictures you can see what a dazzlingly spectacular place Pai is- it's a little difficult to describe the feeling of wonder and adoration I felt driving lazily through the landscape where somehow everywhere you go you're surrounded by green peaks and luscious valleys. Maybe it's too soon to say, but it's easily one of the most beautiful places I've had the pleasure of experiencing. The canyon is the pinnacle of Pai's beauty; in one place you have access to spectacular views in every direction.
The canyon is not for the faint of heart, all those afraid of heights beware. There are steep drops and very narrow, unstable footpaths taking you around the dragon's back on the canyon. At some point you have to get over any hopes you have for guard rails and follow suit down the dusty slope of the canyon in order to get to that perfect spot to watch the sun set.