Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tham Le Cave

Before leaving Hat Yao, we spent numerous hours with the owner’s son, Atiwat, asking him for recommendations of what to see around the country. One of those recommendations was a cave in Trang area and our next destination. Tham Le Cave was supposed to be an elaborate labyrinth of caves varying in sizes and shapes. The only way to get into the cave was to rent a boat with two small Thai guides. Why small? We would find out the reason very soon.

We started off on a beautiful river. Surrounded by an endless sea of palm trees, lianas, fig trees, water striders and large ferns, we were enveloped in greenery. Soon we saw an entrance into the cave. It seemed quite low but still passable. The cave was dark and mysterious. Barely lit by a couple electric lights, it seemed endless. The water was murky and didn’t reflect. The air was stuffy and humid. Within a few minutes we docked to a set of steps which led up into the cave. Before hitting the main “room” we walked through several small clearings; some so small we had to crawl through them. Finally, we walked into the main cave. Thousands of stalagmites and stalactites emerged from the ground and hang from the ceiling. It was beautiful. We marveled at nature’s way of creating beauty even in the deepest and darkest corners of our planet. In the middle of the cave, stood a thick pole clad in colorful fabric and flower garlands. We closed our eyes, put our hands in prayer and gave thanks to Mother Nature for creating such beauty and to the Universe for bringing us there. We roamed the halls of caves for a little while. Some stalactites were lit by colorful lamps and gave off a stunning luminescence. The cave was a site to see.

Before long the guide was rushing us on. We were a little disappointed to leave so soon but we had no idea that the best part of the tour was to come next. We got back into the boat and the guides started to rearrange us. They instructed us to lay flat on the bottom of the boat, and not to raise our hands and heads. That seemed a little weird, considering we were in a very large cave but we played along. As we rode on, we passed an oncoming boat and its guide said parting words which seemed out of place: “Good luck and have fun”. We laughed, thinking that the guides were playing some sort of trick on us. Soon we noticed walls coming closer together and the ceiling dropping foot by foot, nearing the water. One of the guides sat in front of the boat with his feet dangling outside and rowed on. Eventually, he had to put the row into the boat and continued to move forward by pushing his hands against the ceiling. There was no light in the cave at that point; our only source of illumination was a flashlight which held the guide in the back of the boat. It was exciting to feel the ceiling coming down on us but we still couldn’t understand why the guides made us lay flat on the bottom; there was plenty of room for all of us to sit and enjoy the view of the narrow tunnel in which we now were riding through. Alas, we were greatly mistaken. The tunnel continued to narrow. Finally the walls moved in so close, there was only room for the boat to barely pass without scratching its ledges and at that point the guide dropped to the bottom of the boat. Next thing I saw, was the ceiling, only a few inches above my body. We now, were going through a 300 meters tunnel which was only small enough for our tiny boat to pass. All 6 passengers, laid flat on the bottom.

At this point, we felt the adrenaline gushing through. It felt that any moment, the walls would completely close in on us, trapping us under the water. Several times we rode by stalactites which hang so low, they passed our heads within millimeters. A few times I thought it was over and I saw a light at the end of the tunnel (literally); however, I was mistaken by the reflection of the guide’s flashlight on the water. The tunnel seemed endless. The feelings of wonder, fear, insecurity and bedazzlement were all mixed in together.

It felt we spent an eternity in the tunnel however, finally it had come to an end. Opening up into a large cave, we rode into the sunlight. Getting off the boat a few minutes later, we were full of feeling of relief and excitement and couldn’t stop talking. Later, my friend Olga, compared this experienced to Birth. Her imagination drew a picture of the dark narrow tunnel being the birth canal and coming into the light being born. I thought it was an excellent comparison.

Thanking Atiwat for such an amazing experience, we followed his next recommendation and moved on to Krabi.

Besides being a very popular tourist destination due to beautiful beaches and party life, Krabi area is also well-known for a temple. But not just any temple. Wat Tham Sua (Tiger Cave Temple) is located 300 meters above the ground on top of a mountain. One thousand two hundred and thirty seven steps lead up to its magnificent entrance. We didn’t realize just how difficult and how rewarding this endeavor would be. And what waited for us on top of the mountain...

1 comment:

  1. The best part was that your perception gets completely distorted. B/c of the tunnel and your view, it feels like at any moment, the boat will come to a cliff edge, and we'll all go tumbling down with the water.

    And while usually your pictures are amazing, none of them do it justice. You just have to go and experience this. Def on my top ten traveling experiences.