I am finished my massage course and am now camped on the Pai riverbank at the Paizen River Jam Hostel. It has thatched bamboo huts, tent camping, an open air kitchen, and 2 rambunctious puppies. I pitched my tent, went to the night market for green curry soup, and hurried back, eager to snug into my cozy sleeping bag. It was not to be.
I returned to find my tent netting ripped in several places, my zipper partly opened, and my stuff strewn about the grass, some of it never to be recovered. Grrrrr – the carnage smacked of puppy play! On the upside, if your tent is going to be attacked by animals, puppies are probably your best option. In any case, my beloved wigwam needs repairs before it is spider/mosquito/reptile safe again. So, for now, I am sleeping in a small complimentary River Jam tent. It’s not mine, but it will do.
Motor bikes are the local mode of transport and are available for rent on virtually every corner for as low as $6 a day. Most young travellers rent them whether they know how to ride or not. I wanted to be a bad-ass-mama on a motorbike, and ride to Tham Lod Cave (about 55 km away), but scars of my last riding attempt a few years ago, and seeing the bandages of the walking wounded, dissuaded me. Not to mention, the added complication of driving on the opposite side of the road and general public safety. I splashed out for a tour of the caves instead, and the 500 baht ($20) was money well spent.
In a predominately limestone region, Tham Lod Cave; the Spirit Caves, as they are locally known, are an impressive series of caverns full of mind-blowing stalactites and stalagmites. I, and two very nice Europeans girls, walked the wooden planks and hard packed dirt trails to the rickety wooden stairs. Clutching guano-coated handrails, we climbed high into the dark depths, guided only by the the propane lantern of our non-English speaking guide.
The enormous and convoluted cave network is approximately 1½ km long and not one I would want to explore alone. Among the varied contours and colours of the fascinating formations, we saw a faded prehistoric drawing of a deer. It made me wonder how many other pictographs and valued caches were in close proximity, undiscovered, untouched, and unseen.
Teakwood log coffins, dating back thousand of years were also nestled along the trail. The extraordinary grottos were occupied from 9000 BC to 5500 BC by a Stone Age community of hunters and gatherers called the Hoabinhian Tribe.
Back at the bottom of the cave, an hour or two later, we poled our way along the Nam Lang River on a narrow bamboo raft, through eerie swarms of large black fish. As we glided in and out of gaping inner sanctums, I tried to tune into some deep, ancient communal memory, and listened for spirit echoes. Alas, I could access no memory, and heard only bats and the swish of water as the bamboo poles slowly powered us along. But in my mind, I imagined scenes from the prehistoric age in clear and vivid colour.
We finished the day at Pai canyon, watching the sunset. A lovely end to an awe-inspiring day.