I got up early and caught the 7:00 bus to Mae Hong Son, planning to only stop briefly before heading to a town called Soppong to do some caving. After four hours of the most spectacular scenery of the trip, I arrived in Mae Hong Son and decided to get off the bus so I could grab some lunch. I walked into town, had an awesome Shan lunch, took a quick look around and then headed back to the bus station. By that time it wasn't yet 1:00, but it turns out that the next bus to Soppong didn't leave until 4:00. Darn!! Luckily, I had a book with me, which helped to pass the time as I waited for the bus. Four o'clock rolled around and I finally was on my way to Soppong, enjoying even more gorgeous views on the way. Truly, the Northwest region of Thailand is by far the prettiest I've seen so far. Lots of ancient jungles, rolling mountains and waterfalls right next to the road. Loved it!
When I got to Soppong two hours later I hired a motorcycle to take me to the Cave Lodge, about 10km outside of town. The Cave Lodge was amazing!! By far the coolest place I've stayed at so far. For starters, you have to travel on this small dirt road through the forest to get there. It sits on a beautiful river in a lush valley and has lots of charm, what with the hammocks hanging everywhere and the large wooden communal area where everyone gathers every night. It is run by an Australian named John Spies who's dedicated his life to exploring the caves in the area. I love, love, love, caves, so naturally I was thrilled to be there. There were adorable bungalows for rent for 300B, but I wanted to save money so I opted for the dorms, which were only 80B. Luckily, I was the only one in there, so I had the place to myself for the two nights I stayed. I loved the dorms, because all the mattresses were raised off the floor and were under big white mosquito nets, which were a ton of fun to sleep under. There was a roof but lots of open space in the walls, so at night there was a wonderful breeze and you could hear all the frogs croaking down by the river. It was really, really lovely and felt a lot like camping. I had met a group of French travellers who were going to explore the caves the next day, so I joined their group and went to bed to get ready for a day of exploration!
The next morning I woke up early, had a hearty breakfast, and set off along with 7 others to go explore some caves! The area around Soppong is the place to go for caving in Thailand, so I was very excited about what the day would bring. We hike for about 1 1/2 hours to the first cave. Let me tell you: the hike was brutal! It was so steep and the day was so hot, that in no time flat I was sweating like crazy. It was well worth it, though, because the scenery was beautiful and very wild looking.
The first cave was Spirit Cave, not for the claustrophobic. We had to squeeze through a tiny opening to get inside and look around. The cave contained coffins that were over 1700 years old-amazing! This was the smallest cave of the day, and its main attraction was the coffins, then we were off to see cave number two.
We hiked for another couple of hours, again, very brutal. We did pass a group of Red Lasu tribespeople thrashing their rice in a field, which was very cool. There was a group of water buffalo in the field next to them, also, very cool. We stopped for lunch on the way and sat under a mango tree to eat our rice and bread. It was pretty damn perfect. Our lunch spot was quite close to cave #2, the Fossil Cave. This one had some awesome formations in it, caused by mineral deposits from the dripping water. There was water dripping everywhere, so of course we all got very muddy as we scrambled over rocks and under overhangs. Still, it was very fun. There were shell fossils in the cave, thus the name, and a river was running deep below us in a cavern. Creepy, but awesome.
After exiting Fossil Cave, we hiked for another 1 1/2 hour to the third cave, Christmas Cave. I have no idea why they call it that, but the stalagmites and stalactites in there were truly spectacular, and there was a whole chamber just full of them.
By this time we were all very tired, so it felt good to hike one final hour before reaching the Cave Lodge once again. It was an amazing day, full of lots of good memories.