“Okay, time for the cave trekking! Please wear shoes only and wear something that is okay to get wet. The trek will take a total of 4 hours!”
This statement came as a shock to Scott and I as we finished eating our fantastic lunch. Obviously my parents were not going to join us on this trek but now both Scott and I were debating about skipping it ourselves. We confirm again with our guide about the details of this trek. His details were far different then what we expected when we bought our packaged 1 Night 2 Day Chieow Lan Lake tour. He told us again the cave trek is 90 minutes to the cave. Then an hour to trek through the cave, and another hour and a half back. We will cross through water multiple times, and will also need to swim through one part of the cave. Don’t wear sandals as you might loose them and/or risk slipping and hurting yourself. This all sounded a bit out of our league and the idea of having wet shoes the entire time was not helping. We are not big hikers and thought the cave would be a simple walk through the jungle, see the inside of the cave, and then walk back. Not some mountain trek. After some debate and muttering, Scott and I decided to man up, put on our shoes and pile in the long tail with the rest of tour group. (Who all looked like hiking professionals, quite sprite and streamline!)
Hiking through the jungle
We arrived to the start of our hike point and piled out of the long tail. During the first hour and a half of our walk we made friends with an older Dutch couple, the chit chat back and forth helped take my mind off the thoughts of “Why am I doing this again?” They were even sweet enough to lend a helping hand to me in the tricky spots of the hike over large rocks and back down again. To my surprise I was doing fairly well and watching my footing great. I’m usually the one to make a small tumble in the first 30 mins of a hike but this time I often found myself moving quick, keeping up momentum and leaving a trailing Scott behind me. I was quite happy the guide strongly advised shoes, although we crossed a stream within the first 15 mins which resulted in having to deal with the squishy swish swash of our running shoes and socks the entire time.
The giant mouth of the cave
An hour and a half later we arrived to the giant entrance of the cave. A stream was flowing into it’s wide mouth that even had a couple of huge stagmite teeth. Quite a sight to suddenly appear as you walk through some jungle brush! I was feeling a bit tired and happy for the small break we took. Aside from that, I was feeling pretty great for just completing a long trek through the jungle. I’ll admit, I’m not a fit person but after lugging my backpack around the world and climbing WAY too many stairs throughout our travels I do feel more agile then before we left. Now if only this European beer belly will go away!
Beautiful crystal formations were found inside
It was time to put on our head lamps and we walked into the cave’s entrance. Since this was my first cave exploration, I had no idea what to expect. Right away we saw giant crystal calcite formations and the smell was pretty dank. It smelled like an entire pack of wet dogs had taken over the place. We followed the stream around a corner into total darkness, only the places where our headlamps were pointed were illuminated. It was hard to see and walk at first because of all the “dust” in the air. It would look as if it was flying right into your face because of the bright light attached to your head just above your eyes. Scott and I turned our headlamps off and turned around to see just how dark it really was. It was the darkest of black I think my eyes have ever seen. Even closing my eyes in a dark room has never looked as dark as this. A bit eerie to think about… especially when you let your mind wander to various horror movies you have seen with caves in them.
On-top of the blackness, our guide had to make sure to point out all the hundreds of giant spiders that were just sitting in the dark trying to go by unnoticed. I’ve seen documentaries about caves and fully knew what lived in them, but never but two and two together. As we continued to walk more and watched the ground you could see the spiders crawling around and stopping like a deer caught in head lights when they would come into full on view of my headlamp. Their glowing, beady eyes which were the size of a nail head stared right back at you. What were they thinking? Surprised by the light? Or thinking we are trespassing into their home? I’m the lucky soul to have the job of getting rid any spiders at home. Scott will gladly step aside and I will usually catch the little guy in a paper and cup trap and release him outside. But I couldn’t help to wonder what I would do if we found one of these giant but harmless (so says the guide) spiders in our home. First of all I don’t think it would fit into a cup!
Don’t wake them up with the flash!!
Okay, enough about the creepy crawly spiders. Remember how I mentioned that the entire cave smelled pretty dank? Well, soon enough we found out why. After rounding another pitch black corner all we can hear is a familiar squeaking sound. My first thought was mice and rats but instead of pointing down our guide points straight up and reveals to us thousands of bats hanging upside down over our heads. Below us the ground is covered in a fine white caulking of bat guano and cockroaches, every so often you feel this whisp of wind by your ear. Was it a bat flying by or guano falling? One of the sprite girls suddenly gets tired of all of this and asks if we can just keep moving and get out of here already. So, deeper in we go!
The rest of of the cave trek was pretty treacherous. The ground was often wet and extremely slippery, or the crevices to step in where so small my shoes barely fit. I often found myself supporting myself on the walls of the cave as I tried to get balance with each step. I was always weary of where my support hand was going. Pile of guano, giant spider, cockroach, etc, etc, any of these less desirable things to touch could be just within an arms reach. On top of that all I remember reading to try and avoid touching any crystal calcites as they will die from the oils of a human hand if touched too many times. As deserted as this cave seemed, I knew every single day at least 5 hiking groups had to come through here, if not more.
If it wasn’t for our guide I think I would still be inside that cave. He was extremely helpful for everyone throughout the entire cave. When we came to the area you had to swim he was a life saver for me. In order to get into the underground river passage to swim, we had to climb straight down a 10 foot shaft with a strong waterfall pouring over the rocks. You basically had to place a foot on both sides of the shaft and lower yourself down and the river below was not deep enough to just jump in. If it was just Scott and I, I don’t think he would be able to convince me to go down. Just sitting on the edge with the water pushing me forward was scary enough! But, our guide was right there and even provided his hands as a place to get your footing on the way down, while pointing at each other place to put your feet and hands. He was quite a monkey and had the ability to just perch himself any where in this cave. On top of that, he and his assistant both had flip flops on the entire time!
The small exit of the cave
The swim was cold but refreshing after all that hard work. Mostly a dark passage with a rope to lead your straight ahead and the echo/glow of the rest of the group ahead. Just one last rock passage to squeeze through before we exited the cave. This passage was so small I even scraped my shoulder on the edge of the jutting out rocks and felt like my bum might not quite make it through! But, with the light of the day blinding us just ahead gave me that extra push to on pulled through. Finally we found ourselves in the comfort of daylight again and everyone was covered in shit, literally!
Happy to be on our way back!
After another rest break we then made the hike all the way back to the longtail boat. I was not so quick this time and was feeling pretty worn in. My legs were now shaking and my breath was quite short. But much as the rules of life work out, the way home always feels shorter then the way there and we were back before I knew it.
In conclusion, I’m glad we did end up going on this cave trek, but I don’t foresee us signing up for another one any time soon! We’ve had our fair share of dealing with cave creatures for one round the world trip!
My Dad relaxing instead of hiking like us!