by Ethan David
Entrance to Tham Lod Bat Cave
Mae Hong Son is a province in the northwestern part of Thailand, right alongside the border of Myanmar (Burma).
The province is well known for its cool climate, rugged mountains, abundant flora and fauna, crystal clear mountain springs, waterfalls and lime stone caves. Mae Hong Son ,the town and capital, is a small picturesque locality that offers a quiet and relaxing respite.
Some 60 kilometers from Mae Hong Son town is Soppong, Pang Mapha. The locality is more known for its “caving” activities than in any part of the province. The biggest and probably the most famous cave in all of Mae Hong Son is the Tham Lod Bat Cave in Soppong.
Tham Lod Bat Cave is actually a tunnel that was formed by a river as it carved its way into a mountain of limestone. The cave’s entrance is massive with a height of 20 meters and a 50 meter width. The towering walls and ceiling of the cave is peppered with stalactites and stalagmites dating to thousands of years ago.
The cave is populated by bats in the daytime and by swifts at night. A “show” is set at Tham Lod Bat Cave exit at dusk and dawn. At dusk, close to half a million swifts fly into the cave’s mouth to settle for the night as bats take off for their nocturnal hunt.
It’s an amazing sight to see bats trying to “fly out” against the traffic. At dawn, the reverse happens. If you happen to stand close by the exit of the cave, be ready for a rain of droppings.
For a fee of about 450 Baht, a group of three could ride a bamboo raft along the length of the cave tunnel. Local guides with lanterns are available for such tours. Tham Lod or Lod Cave tour is about two hours long as there are other caverns inside the cave that are worth seeing.
A guide could lead you small stairways to take you to smaller chambers where you could see a 2,000 year-old teak coffin. Prehistoric drawings once graced the ancient cavern walls but ironically, the drawings were wiped out by a local in one of their graffiti “clean ups”!
The guides and bamboo raft service are provided by the local Shans, one of the hill-tribes indigenous to Northern Thailand. The money they earn though Tham Lod Bat Cave tours help the community as a whole. There are more than 200 lesser caves in the area that you can visit and swim in.
There is accommodation available in nearby Soppong for the travelers who wish to stay for a few days. Small resorts, bungalows and inns are yours for the take.
Getting to Tham Lod Cave from Mae Son Hong by a car would take about 2 hours; from Pai, about an hour, and from Chiang Mai, five hours. If you want to take a bus from any of these points, just ride one going to Soppong, and then get a motorbike taxi going to Ban Tham.