Tales of Caves, Monks and Serpents
There was a time, and not all that long ago, when the taxi ride from Suvarnabhumi would have me tingling in anticipation of what was to come. Thoughts of immersing myself in hedonistic adventures of the known, and unknown, creating a heightened sense of excitement as the driver sped down the motorway towards the fleshpots of Sukhumvit.
As I sat there looking out at the drab concrete, and blur of lights, in the early evening traffic congestion of Thong Lor, I could only reflect on the fact that things change. Times change. People change. What I once found to be exciting no longer was. In recent times I’d come to the profound realization that all the money I’d spent on involving myself in the P4P industry, in the LOS, was done primarily because I was bored. Going out to the P4P areas was a way of beating that boredom. Getting blasted was a way of beating that boredom. Picking up, or bar-fining, a demoiselle of the night and taking her back to my apartment was a way of beating that boredom. And, at the time, it did have an element of excitement about it; it did help to alleviate the boredom. The thing is though that eventually one gets to a point where there just seems to be no point to it. It’s like ground hog day; you’re making the same moves all the time but not really going anywhere. It’s like running up and down on the spot and emptying money out of your pockets. One day the light came on; running up and down on the spot, and emptying money out of one’s pockets, doesn’t take you anywhere. It’s a waste of time and it hardly offers any kind of life motivating challenges. It is, by its very nature, the definition of a boring life; 2030: take the sky train down to Nana then walk to NEP; 2100: enter Rainbow 4 and get a seat next to the dance podium on the left (as you enter) because that’s got hotter selection of babes; 2110: drink in hand; 2130: number seventy two sitting in my lap; 2140: number seventy has her first lady drink; 2200: bar fine paid for number seventy two; 2230: departing Rainbow 4 with number seventy two; 2300: back at my apartment with number seventy two; 0030: business completed and number seventy two out the door with her two thousand baht. Note; getting low on condoms and need a restock of KY gel. Ho hum, what’s on the movie channel tonight?
There was also a time when I was full on into outdoor / adventure pursuits; activities that actually offered a real challenge in life. Surfing big waves in Indonesia, and scuba diving in caves were at the forefront of those pursuits. After my trip to Laos my enthusiasm for outdoor / adventure type activities had been rekindled. Even something as simple as hiking up a cliff face, and breathing good clean air, was something to look forward to. I was back in Bangkok though and the boring was everywhere I looked. Perhaps a decent meal and a glass of red wine would be in order? A couple of hours later I was down at a trendy new wine bar, on Soi 11, ordering a glass of my favourite Ozzie red and a tuna pizza. I looked around to find there were some familiar faces scattered along the bar. It was all looking a tad boring again. A number of demoiselles of the night had moved in and made the place their new operations base. Night after night you could watch them hugging the same corner of the bar and going through the same little routines. One, in particular, had been labeled a parasite by a good mate of mine.
“She’s in there every night. She polishes of one bottle of red and then milks guys for drinks for the rest of the evening. She’s a parasite.”
Being a bit of a people watcher, and having been in the bar on reasonably regular basis myself, I had to agree with his assessment. As I looked over in her direction she turned and gave me one of those practiced, artificial smiles that are about as sincere as my ex telling me “I love you for one thousand year.”
I found myself thinking “Is that it; getting plastered every night and hugging the same corner of the bar. Is that the sum of your pointless, useless world?” I finished my pizza and left. As I wandered back down Soi 11 I knew I it wouldn’t be too long before I was heading out of Bangkok on another adventure again. I just wasn’t quite sure where that would be. A couple of nights later I had my answer. I was having dinner with a buddy, who resides in the same condo building as me, and regaling him of my trip to Laos when he gave me a cue for my next trip.
“There are some good caves down in Hua Hin that you might want to have a look at,” said my buddy.
“You’ve got me interested.”
“Well a mate of mine, who’s been living down there for twenty years, does tours to some caves we stumbled on years ago.”
“Yeah. Me, my buddy, and his girlfriend went up to a remote temple to see one of the monks and we noticed the entrance of a cave nearby. The monks told us that up until that time, no farang had ever entered there. They said we could go in for a look around and provided us with some large candles and a guide. As we were moving towards the cave entrance one monk told us to watch out for the serpent.”
“The serpent?” I said looking at him dubiously.
“Well, it wasn’t really a serpent. More like a cave viper that lived on the bats inside the cave.”
“How big was it?” I said becoming more interested.
“It was about 3 – 4 meters long although when we first went in, we were all crapping ourselves because we’d been told the thing was over 5 meters long!”
“So you saw it?”
“Yeah, and it was purely by chance. We spotted it sitting on a ledge, just above my head, as we were having a look at some formations.”
“What did it look like?”
“Well it was a tan, white colour from being in the cave all the time. Even though it was curled up, and asleep, we could see it was a reasonable size by the thickness of its girth.”
“It looks as though a trip down to Hua Hin might be in order in the next couple of days then. Can you contact your buddy and see if he has time available to take me up to the caves?” I said with growing enthusiasm.
“No problems and, you know what; I think I might join you as well.”
The departure platform at Hualumphong Station, Bangkok
A couple of days later with all arrangements sorted we were boarding the train at Hualumphong Station for the run down to Hua Hin. Four hours after departing from Bangkok we were disembarking at the Hua Hin station, and on our way to the hotel my buddy had pre-booked. The Subhamitra is an older Thai hotel and no more than 7 minutes walk from the station. At 900 THB per night the room rates are very reasonable for a hotel which is located right in the center of town. The daily rate includes free wi-fi use but not breakfast.
After getting settled in we wandered down to the beach front area to see Jim, our guide for the trip to the caves. Jim has a restaurant down on the sea-front road which serves up great Thai food and ice cold beer. He also has a very interesting tale, or two, to tell about his life adventures over the past 35 years in this part of the world. Originally from Canada, Jim, or Jim Currie to be more precise, spent a number of years, during his early 20s, hanging out in Kathmandu and developing a fondness for Buddhism. It was a fondness that saw him eventually move to Thailand in the mid 1980’s and he’s been here ever since. We made our introductions and Jim kicked things off by talking about his involvement with Buddhism.
“I got interested in Buddhism when I was living up in Kathmandu. I got to know some of the holy men and started studying some of the Buddhist books that were I was able to get a hold of,” said Jim as he pulled out a pile of A4 size laminated photos to back up his tale.
More recently Jim got involved in a fairly unique project; he had a number of large bronze Buddha’s cast, at a foundry in Bangkok and then shipped them over to Canada.
“Yeah, that was a few years ago and it was a hell of an adventure. The Buddhas were close to 9 feet in height and weighed 900 kilo’s each. They cost me 1,500 bucks a piece to cast and I shipped them back to Canada in a container. A lot of guys don’t believe it when I start telling people this story so I gotta show them this magazine article about it,” he said as he handed me the magazine.
I had to admit I was impressed.
“It was pretty funny because I put the Buddhas on the back of a pick-up and drove them down to L.A., with the intention of selling them. To make it more realistic I dressed myself in monk’s robes and shaved my head. As we were working our way down from Canada I’d get in touch with local radio stations, in the US, and tell them it was Buddha’s birthday and there were a couple of huge Buddha’s in the local parks if people wanted to come down and see them. Quite a few practicing Buddhists turned up. Anyway, we eventually got to L.A., and a number of actors got interested in buying them. I met Mel Gibson purely by chance. I was driving around in L.A., with the Buddhas on the back, and he saw me and flagged me over. Anyway, we had a bit of a chat about Buddhism and then he drove off. I also met Steve Martin who actually thought that it was some kind of candid camera hoax. Eventually he came around to realizing that I really was a guy from Canada with two Buddhas for sale.”
“Did you end up selling them?” I said enjoying the amazing tale.
“Yeah, I ended up selling them to Steven Seagal. He’s a practicing Buddhist. I had to deliver them to his ranch up in Montana,” he said as he showed me the photos of the Buddhas in place at Seagal’s home.
Jim showed me a few more photos of his L.A., adventure and then we got onto the real reason I was in Hua Hin; the caves.
“There are three caves I take people to. All in an area about an hour’s ride up into the mountains. We don’t need to go too early though as we should be able to see them all in an afternoon. Have you got lights?”
I replied in the affirmative and also mentioned that I intended taking a lot of photos. We eventually agreed that we’d make the outing in two days time, on Monday, as there would be fewer tourists about to disturb us. For the following day we arranged to do a boat cruise down to the edge of the Sam Roi Yot National Park for a relaxing day of swimming, fishing and getting a tan. Jim is an agent for a beautifully refurbished Thai fishing boat, the Siam Pearl, which does the daily tour to the National Park.
A great day out cruising Sam Roi Yot National Park on the Siam Pearl
The day's outing also included a stop at an island, inhabited only by monkeys, for a spot of monkey feeding on the beach. With that out of the way, Monday couldn’t come quick enough. I was up early in anticipation of our ride up into the ranges behind Hua Hin. Unfortunately my buddy from Bangkok wasn’t able to join me as he’d been called back on urgent business. Jim leant me one of his bikes and at 1100 on the dot we were on our way towards our first destination; a mausoleum for a preserved dead monk. Jim gave me a bit of background info, on what to expect, the evening before.
“I knew the guy; he was 83 when he passed away. He must’ve known that he was going to die because he drank a heap of oil to help with the preservation process. They sealed him in an airtight glass coffin and he’s lying, in state, in a purpose built sanctuary nearby the temple.”
The preserved dead monk lying in state in a dedicated sanctuary
An hour after leaving the hotel we turned off the back country road and onto a dirt track leading up to a temple situated within a forest on the side of a hill. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and, if anything, I had some strange idea that I’d be looking at something akin to an Egyptian mummy. When I stepped into the mausoleum I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong. Contained within the sealed glass coffin was a perfectly preserved dead body. Expectations of seeing bandage wrapped cadavers were quickly dispelled as I stood staring at a skeleton with the skin still intact. To either side of the coffin were glass display cases with the deceased’s last personal artifacts.
“You see that small plastic vial,” said Jim pointing to the middle shelf of the display cabinet to the left.
“Yep, ” I said moving in for a closer look.
“That’s full of his hair and nail clippings. They keep growing from the dead cells and the other monks have to trim it off from time to time,” said Jim with a bit of a morbid chuckle.
“Rather them than me,” I replied thinking that it probably wouldn’t be a job to get excited about.
I spent a few more minutes working the camera and then left the preserved monk to his lonely vigil.
“Where to next?” I said as we moved towards our bikes.
“Dao (star) Cave. It’s just a few minutes back down the road,” replied Jim.
Fifteen minutes later we were parking our bikes near a sign proclaiming we were indeed at Dao Cave. Just to the right of the sign was a flight of stairs leading up to the cave’s entrance. As we began working our way up the steps, Jim started giving me some background info on the cave and what I could expect.
“When I first started coming here, 15 years ago, none of this was here. It was a just a rough, rock trail and fairly hard going in some places. It’s now much easier to get up to the entrance but the 200 or so steps still gets the heart rate going,” he said as we both began to breathe a bit harder.
“Any Buddhas in the cave?” I said knowing that there almost certainly would be.
“Yeah, there are two in the fairly large entry chamber.”
‘What’s the deal with Buddha statues in caves in this part of the world?” I said hoping he could solve something that’s puzzled me for a while.
“Oh, it’s just that the Thais, and probably the Lao as well, believe that caves are full of dead spirits so they place Buddha images in there for protection against them,” replied Jim as a matter of fact.
“Hmmm, okay. Are we going to see any serpents?” I said feeling a bit more enthusiasm for that rather than dead spirits.
“Years ago it would be definitely on the cards but not very likely now as the entrance has a mesh gate over it which has stopped the bats from getting in. If there are no bats then there’s no food supply for the cave vipers and they move away,” said Jim as we finally arrive at the entrance.
The ubiquitous Buddha statue in another Thai cave
The view looking back to one of the Buddhas in the entrance chamber
We arrived at the entrance to find that it was, as Jim stated, covered by mesh. We passed through the small gate and stepped into a large, well lit entry chamber. As expected, there were Buddha statues situated within. One was in an alcove directly in front, as you entered the chamber, and another was situated on the left wall. Both were around 3 meters in height. We spent a few minutes checking out the entry chamber and then, with Jim leading the way, began to work our way through the labyrinth of tunnels and smaller chambers. The cave was well lit with well placed fluorescents highlighting the more interesting features and formations. Jim, with the expertise gained from many visits, provided additional information and anecdotes as we moved through the cave system. We worked our way down a ladder into a well lit passage that looked almost like a man made corridor. There was a large hole, with a log across it, just forward of the foot of the ladder.
“I’ve seen the cave viper in there a couple of times. I’m fairly certain it connects with Lap Lae Cave and allows the viper to move between the two, looking for bats,” said Jim as we skirted the hole.
Jim leading the way through the labyrinth of tunnels
As we moved past I peered in hoping that I’d see the eyes of the serpent looking back at me. The hole was black and empty so perhaps Jim was right? With a lack of bats the viper had moved on to another location where it could find something to eat. We stopped for a while and I shone my torch up at the ceiling noticing thousands of little black spots.
“What are all those black marks on the cave ceiling?” I said as Jim shone his flashlight upwards as well.
“Those were the places where the bats used to attach themselves. As you can see there are thousands of them but no bats,” said Jim reinforcing the idea why we weren’t likely to see the serpent.
The cave ceiling showing all the little black spots of where the bats previously nested
We pushed on into other chambers, where there was natural light coming through from holes in the ceiling, and climbed up to the dead end of one to find a rattan mat sitting there.
“Probably belongs to one of the monks back at the temple. They quite often come in here to meditate,” said Jim as though reading my thoughts.
Within a few more minutes we’d been down all the interesting little twists and turns, that Dao Cave has to offer, and were back at the entrance chamber. I banged off a few more shots and then we exited the cave. As we began heading down the stairway, towards our bikes, Jim revealed his thinking for the rest of the afternoons outing.
“I think we’ll head over to Kai Lone Cave next, the one where HM The King spent some time as a monk, because there’s a large hole in the entry chamber which allows in the midday sunlight and creates a dramatic effect. Hopefully we won’t be too late,” he said looking at his watch.
Fifteen minutes later we were pulling up in the parking area of Kai Lone Cave and looking at a sign proclaiming as much.
“This cave, apparently, got its name from a farmer whose chicken fell through a hole at the top of the cave,” said Jim as we started the climb up the stairway to the entrance.
The stairway up to the entrance of Kai Lone Cave
“This cave has the longest flight of stairs up to the entrance out of the three caves we’ll go to today. If you don’t mind we’ll stop for a rest halfway up,” said Jim as we both started breathing harder.
“You see those marks on the edge of the steps there,” said Jim as we stopped for our time out.
“Yep,” I replied noticing indents on the edge of each step.
“When the viewing platform, at the top of this stairway, was being built there was 50 army guys camped here for nearly a month hauling an electric generator, the size of a Volkswagen, up these steps. Each day they’d push, shove and haul that damn thing a few feet at a time until they finally got it up to the top,” he said shaking his head at the thought of the effort involved.
“Impressive. Why would they be doing that though?” I said as we began to ascend the stairs again.
“Well the HRH The Queen provides a lot of support for this temple. Most of everything you see here was funded by her. I guess the army was under instruction to help out.”
A few minutes later we were standing in the viewing platform and looking out over the magnificent vista back towards the coast. The effort of those army guys was most appreciated as we enjoyed the shade provided by the roof on the well constructed building. As the wind, coming through the open sides, cooled us down we were joined by a monk from the temple below. Jim offered the monk a cigarette and they began conversing in Thai.
A friendly monk joins us at the viewing platform near the entrance to Kai Lone Cave
As Jim continued to engage him in friendly conversation I refilled a bottle from a rainwater tank nearby. After another cigarette, and Jim explaining he’d been in the area for 20 years, the monk decided to join us for our entry into Kai Lone Cave. There was no mesh gate and, even though we’d arrived a bit too late for the dramatic effect of the sun penetrating through the hole in the cave roof, the entry chamber was an impressive first sight. The formations within were big and the monks had done a great job placing a number of Buddha statues throughout the large amphitheatre. As I stood there banging off shots our accompanying monk moved past us and walked down to the seating area in front of the Buddha statues. Jim pointed up towards the hole in the cave roof and noted that we’d arrived a bit too late to see the sun light penetrating the chamber.
“We needed to be here around midday, when the sun is directly over head, to see the place lit up,” he said looking at his watch and commenting that it was just after 2 PM.
“No problem, it’s still an impressive sight,” I said moving in to have a closer look at an array of small Buddha statues just in behind the seating area.
“A couple of those are 400 – 500 years old,” said Jim as he began lighting up a bunched handful of incense sticks and placing them in earthenware pots in front of the Buddha statues.
To add to the mood of the moment the monk sat down and began chanting. Jim indicated that we should move off, to another part of the cave, and leave him in peace.
A monk and Buddhas in the impressive entry chamber of Kai Lone Cave
He’d already mentioned something about this being the temple where HM the King had spent some time as a monk. Apparently one of the smaller chambers was his room and I was keen to get a few shots. As it turned out there were actually two side chambers with beds in them and Jim provided an amusing anecdote when I remarked as such.
“There’s a bit of a debate going on as to which chamber was actually used by HM the King during his time here as a monk. Some say it’s this one and some say it’s the other,” he said as we began circling back towards the entry chamber.
We arrived at another chamber, which connected with the main entry chamber, and there was a strange, pyramid shaped statue positioned directly below a hole in the ceiling. As we stood there looking at it the only other tourists, to come into the cave that day, entered the chamber as well. It was a couple; a farang on holiday with his Thai girlfriend. While we exchanged a few pleasantries with the Aussie tourist his girlfriend proceeded to light some incense sticks, she’d brought in with her, and place them around the statue.
“You might want to get a couple of shots of this,” said Jim as he clambered up onto a beautifully terraced formation that forms part of the wall of the chamber.
The pyramid shaped statue and the beautiful terraced formations
A painting of HM the King during his time as a monk at the temple
After getting a few more shots I decided I’d seen enough and we exited the cave. We made our way down the long flight of stairs and wandered over to a building which was part of the temple complex. Inside there were paintings of HM The King during his time as a monk. Jim looked at his watch and noted that we should push onto the last cave. We clambered back on our bikes and fifteen minutes later, after a ride up into a more remote area in the mountains, we arrived at Lap Lae Cave.
“I left this one till last,” said Jim as we walked towards the main building of the temple complex.
“Any particular reasons why?” I said as we looked over the gate into the deserted building.
“Besides the fact that I think this is the best cave, I’ve also got quite a bit of personal involvement with this site. When I first came up here, 15 years ago, none of this was here. Most of the structures you see around us were built from the money received from the tourists I brought up here,” said Jim as a monk appeared before us in the open sided building.
The monk gestured for us to come in. We removed our shoes, opened the gate, and walked across the tiled floor to get a closer look at the Buddha statue. Jim said something to the monk and then went into a small room at one end of the building. A few seconds later he poked his head back out through the curtain and gestured for me to join him.
“You might want to get a couple shots of this but be warned it’s not for the faint hearted,” he said as I moved towards him.
“Why do say that?” I said not quite knowing what to expect.
Jim held the curtain aside to reveal a rather grotesque sight; in a fungal encrusted glass case was a semi decomposed body.
Jim’s friend in a sad state.
“It’s pretty sad to see this,” said Jim shaking his head.
“No doubt,” I said as I positioned myself to get a couple of shots.
“I knew this guy for 10 years and we were good friends. When I first came up here, 15 years ago, he’d been living in the cave, we’re about to go into, for 28 years.”
“Continuously?” I said incredulously.
“Pretty much. He’d come out occasionally but most of the time he stayed in there and people would take in food for him. When I met him he was almost finished with his time in the cave due to health problems caused by the high humidity in the caves’ atmosphere. Over the years that we knew each other, he would sometimes walk down to my restaurant in Hua Hin to say hello.”
“That’s quite a hike,” I said as I we took our leave from the somber scene.
“Yeah, it usually took him a couple of days,” said Jim as we moved back out into the main building area and made a donation to the wat.
“He was 82 when he died. He wanted to be preserved the same as the other guy we went to see but, unfortunately, the glass coffin they used didn’t seal very well and he’s decomposing.”
“Well, it definitely doesn’t look to be the same quality as the one the other guy is in,” I said as we put our shoes on in preparation for the walk up to the cave entrance.
“No, more like a large, upside down fish tank than anything else. He’s in a bad state and there’s now a bit of a dispute as to what the monks should do with him. Some want to cremate him and others are objecting because the guy’s last wish was that he be preserved. It’s a mess,” said Jim as we took the short walk up the hill, behind the building, to arrive at the cave.
My first impression was that it looked gloomy and I could see that this cave was definitely less set up for sightseers; there wasn’t much in the way of internal lighting. The entry chamber, compared with the two previous caves we’d visited, was smaller and dropped down, steeply, into dark passages below. I looked across the chamber and, directly in front of us, there was a small, wooden blue door with some Thai writing on it.
“What’s that for?” I said indicating across the chamber.
“It’s a door to a small passageway leading to a meditation chamber up there,” said Jim as he pointed to a small chamber up in the roof of the cave.
“Have you been up there?”
“Only once and it’s pretty hazardous. The monk wouldn’t let me go up there while he was alive. After he died I ripped the lock off the door and took a look see. There’s a narrow passage that goes off to the right. You’ve got to squeeze through on your belly and crawl up for a few feet before you can stand up. Go up and have a look for yourself. Be careful though because there’s a vertical drop straight ahead as you open the door. The access passage angles upwards to the right,” said Jim as we made our way down to the wooden ladder leading up to the door.
I moved up the wooden steps carefully, testing the strength of each, as I got closer to the door. Thinking the door might be seized I yanked at it, forcefully, only to find that it swung open with little resistance. The ladder creaked with my over exuberance and the open door revealed a sheer drop, directly ahead, into a black void. To my right was the narrow passage angling upwards. I didn’t see much point in trying to squeeze my way up there so I closed the door and moved back down the ladder.
“Just be careful climbing down. This ladder's been here for a while and may not be all that sturdy,” said Jim as I negotiated my way back down.
As if having some kind of premonition, regarding what was about to occur next, I stepped onto the bottom rung and there was a loud crack, as it parted, and my foot went straight through. Luckily my years of experience in moving down ladders on sea going vessels came to the fore; I had a firm grip on both vertical sides of the ladder and quickly arrested my descent.
“I guess you were right about the age of the ladder,” I said as I stepped back onto solid ground.
“No shit. That was a close call,” said Jim shaking his head and having a bit of a chuckle.
“What’s down there?” I said indicating towards the hole that I might have fallen into.
“Three dead bodies,” said Jim as a matter of fact.
“Aye?” I said looking back at him a little incredulously again.
“Yeah, there’s a lot of bats in here and the place is feet deep in guano – bat shit – and it’s one of the best fertilisers known to man. The locals used to come in here all the time, dig it up, and carry it out in bags. The three bodies down there are guano collectors that didn’t make it back out. They crawled into a back chamber, in there, and suffocated. I had personal experience of it a few years back when I took an Aussie adventurer down there to have a look. There’s a lack of oxygen in the atmosphere and I blacked out as I was half way up a narrow passage on my stomach. Luckily the Aussie guy was switched on to what was happening and he dragged me out by my feet.”
“Okay, I think we’ll give that one a miss until we’ve got breathing apparatus,” I said as Jim lead off down a passage to the right.
Caveman Jim leading the way
As we moved into a dimly lit larger, inner chamber Jim pointed to one of the smaller side chambers leading off to our left.
“You see the depression in the floor there?” he said as I looked towards the spot he was pointing to.
“That’s where the locals have been digging up the guano. There’s a three foot deep hole in the floor. All this area we’re walking on is piled high with millions of years of batshit,” he said as I got down to take a closer look at the smooth, brown surface we were walking across.
A dimly lit inner chamber with bats on the ceiling
There was no doubting what he said as the place had a strange, musty odour about it. As we kept moving forward into the center of the chamber the squeaking, of the bats hanging above us, got louder. Eventually I was standing right underneath their lair and as I got ready to take a few shots Jim gave me a friendly word of warning.
“You’d better get that done and get out of there quickly. If they get agitated they might start raining guano down on you.”
I fired off a couple of quick shots and then followed him into the next chamber – the chamber of the Sleeping Lady – and was amazed to see a rock formation looking remarkably like a woman lying asleep on her side.
“Lap Lae translates to sleeping lady. The first time I came in here I was told by the monks about the curse of the sleeping lady. Any man who laid eyes on the sleeping lady would never emerge from the cave again. It’s superstition but it’s great for adding a bit of atmosphere to the walk through the cave,” said Jim as I took a closer look at the sleeping lady.
“Nothing like a bit of superstition to spice up a cave tour,” I said continuing to work the camera.
“Well, the next chamber we’re going to should spice things up even more,” said Jim with another chuckle.
A rock formation resembling a sleeping lady
“We’re going to the serpent’s lair.”
“Great, lead the way,” I said suddenly losing interest in the Sleeping Lady.
We continued on down a narrow tunnel and then descended some cement steps. Jim led me into a small, dead end chamber to the left of the stairs.
“The viper usually has himself coiled up on that ledge there. If you follow it, to the left, it goes into a hole in the wall. That’s its home. As I said, when you go looking for it you never find it. When you’re not looking for it, that’s when you usually bump into. I came in here with a bunch of people one day to find its home vacated. As we stood there looking at the ledge I glanced up towards the cave roof and the damn thing was a couple of feet above us, gripped onto those rough bits of rock protruding out, and staring down at us.”
“What did you do then?”
“We just moved back out of the way and gave it some space.”
I took a last look around the serpent’s lair, hoping like hell I’d see it coiled up somewhere, and then moved into the cave proper again. We moved a few meters on and stopped at some large boulders sitting on the cave floor.
“I chased the serpent around these rocks one day, when I had a group in here with me, and cornered it over here,” he said pointing to small alcove.
“Was that a good idea?”
“I don’t know but it made for some great photography. We got a shot of the thing reared up with its mouth wide open and tongue flicking about.”
“That would be a great shot,” I said slightly disappointed that I hadn’t been able to bag the serpent.
“There was another time I’d seen it with a tour group, and had to come back into the cave later by myself in the pitch black, to look for a pair of glasses one of the group had dropped,” said Jim shaking his head.
“What the hell was that about?”
“One of the group, an accountant, lost his reading glasses in the cave and only realized it when we arrived back at his hotel. He made a bit of an issue about it saying that he needed them to read his emails in the morning. The funny thing was that I’d actually picked them up while we were still in the cave. They were sitting on an old pair of sneakers and I just left them there. When I came back the torch crapped out and I had come in here working my way around by touch. I knew where I had to go but I was pretty nervous because we’d seen the viper during the earlier run through. In the end I found the glasses sitting right where I’d left them; on top of the sneakers. I grabbed them and high tailed it out of there.”
We were beginning to work our way to the rear exit of the cave and in doing so came to a section which only had a meter of clearance between the ceiling and the floor. After doing a duck walk through the ten meter stretch we were both dripping with sweat from the humidity in the cave. We were now in the last chamber before the exit. Up ahead I could see the faint glow of light at the top of a rocky incline we would need to negotiate before exiting. At the bottom of the incline was a beautiful floor to ceiling formation and another, which had broken away from the ceiling, lying nearby on the cave floor. It seemed appropriate that this would probably be my last couple of shots before departing the cave. In some kind of weird twilight zone twist I got my final two shots off before the camera battery went dead. It had been a reasonably physical few hours and, with the muscles beginning to feel the effects of fatigue setting in, I decided to call it a day. Feeling sore, but satisfied, we trudged up the rock strewn slope to emerge into the late afternoon sunlight. I was soaked in sweat, and covered in mud and dirt, but it had been a great afternoon.
“Thanks, Jim, I really enjoyed that,” I said as we stood there drying off in the cooling breeze.
“You’re welcome, any time. Next time you’re back in town we’ll do another cave that’s not too far from here. It’s got no lighting at all and it’s full of bats and snakes,” said Jim giving a wry grin.
“Sounds good, I might be back sooner than you think.”
Formations at the base of the incline to the exit point of Lap Lae Cave
I’d spent the better part of 4 hours having a look at 3 different caves. All in all it had been a very satisfying day out and one that I’d highly recommend if you’re looking for something a bit different to do besides lying around on a beach or sitting at a bar.
For anyone interested in having a look at the caves, or a day out on the ocean to Sam Roi Yot National Park, these are Jim’s contact details: Email: [email protected] Mob: +66 (0)811914627
Absolutely wonderful, a trip report par excellence!