After spending a day relaxing in the waterfalls and rice fields of Pai Brian and I decided to head off to Mae Hong Son. About 70 kilometers out Lod Cave drew tourists from all over the country and was a perfect way to break up this exciting journey so we strapped our packs on the bikes and drove off. With any luck we’d arrive in Mae Hong Son just before dark. Until then we had 200 kilometers of open road and one massive cave to entertain us!
The ride out of Pai was much smoother than zig zagging through the mountains separating Pai from Chiang Mai. It felt more like rolling hills than the steep
blind corners of our journey just a few days prior. In many ways this drive was leisurely. The views around us extended for miles and miles with tiny little towns tucked into valleys filled with rice farms.
Coming around the next bend I simply knew I had to stop for a photo before the rain came. Signalling Brian I slowed to a halt and dismounted dropping my kickstand. As the clouds parted I shouted to Brian that I was going to put my poncho on when my feet abruptly fell out from under me! I lost my footing on the slick grass and slid into a stone drainage basin bordering the highway; my knees skidded down the shallow trough finding the opposite bank of this watery “V”.
Luckily I had both hands on my bike and Brian was quick to the rescue steadying my bike as I clambered back up to the road. Doing a quick check on my legs and bike I was happy to notice we both escaped unscathed. I shrugged it off and grabbed my camera and poncho while a massive logging truck blew past us whipping up debris and spraying a few puddles into our face. Thankfully this glimpse of a bad morning on the bikes soon passed and blue skies peeked through keeping the rain at bay for a few more hours.
Cruising along we eventually found a sign for Lod Cave coupled with unknown Thai. This left us hopeful but unsure if we were going the right way. Turning off the highway we quickly found ourselves passing through a shanty town as the roads deteriorated. Swerving to miss potholes and stray dogs we kept seeing signs for Lod Cave but there were no mile markers and cave was the only English word on the sign! The road wound past more rice farms and bridges before heading deep into a forest. On our left we saw a giant compound. Did we go too far? Did we make a wrong turn?
Now a solid 45 minutes off the main highway I opted to stop and ask for directions. Pulling up to the gatehouse I realized these buildings looked more like a school than some military compound. The guard spoke exactly 2 words of English; “Yes” and “No” but luckily he understood “Lod Cave” and smiled a wide Thai smile pointing in the direction we were headed.
Back on the road jungle crept closer as the narrow road somehow get even smaller. A few more kilometers and we finally saw the entrance! For a few hundred baht (a few dollars) we hired a private guide and bought tickets. She grabbed a lantern and led us down a path nestled in the trees. Giant leaves and branches loomed across the well trodden trail as a massive river crept into view. Just before the mouth off the cave we stopped and prayed to the cave spirits. I don’t know what we said or who we prayed to in broken Thai but we both decided to follow her lead. Better safe than sorry out here!
Walking into the mouth of Lod Cave we were immediately rewarded with a mass of stalagmites as the cavern opened up into an immense darkness. The river babbled a solemn tune off to the left while we marched along makeshift plank bridges thankful for our guide’s lantern and my headlamp. The first chamber echoed with bats above too far into the darkness to illuminate. With my trusty tripod I snapped a few shots as our guide led us around a handful of chambers. Lod isn’t nearly as large as Son Doong but each of these chambers could easily have been nestled along that magical trail through the world’s largest cave.
I snapped back to reality and enjoyed this current fantastic cavern while our guide pointed out “Elephant Rock” and a half dozen others that could have been naturally shaped or carved by the indigenous peoples. Oddly enough the animal names were her best English words giving both Brian and I a slight laugh as we acknowledged each one before finally departing back into the jungle.
Jumping on the bikes again we were excited for the next ride. From Lod Cave to Mae Hong Son is the longest stretch of open road on the loop. By now were comfortable on the bikes and also knew our limits. We were cautious on the curves and near trucks but happily floored it when presented with vast stretches of rice fields and an empty highway. Mountains loomed behind those fields calling us at every turn and creating a spectacular backdrop for this dreamy adventure.
As the afternoon sun disappeared rain clouds quickly took its place. There were still nearly a hundred kilometers between us and Mae Hong Son but decided to press onward in the light drizzle. We paused briefly to wrap our packs and don ponchos that billowed comically anytime we went about 20km/hr. Our pace slowed significantly on the wet roads but we were out of the mountains and on well paved roads.
Suddenly the drizzle disappeared and a patch of blue snuck out! Before we could rejoice it was quickly replaced by even gloomier grey monsters. Opting to skip an unnamed magnificent looking temple we pushed forward hoping those beasts would hold back the flood until we could find shelter. The drizzle returned and quickly turned into a deluge raining down bucket after bucket in what we hoped would be a short-lived downpour.
With darkness looming I made the risky choice not to wait out the rain (breaking one of our rules). Instead I slowed our pace to about 30 km/hr and was more concerned with finding a hotel before nightfall. I grew optimistic seeing a “20km to Mae Hong Son” sign and hoped for a dryer ride. I kept telling myself “At least its summer and a warm rain ,” when somehow the storm cranked it up another notch. Brian and I found a makeshift shelter on the side and discussed our options.
“Should we wait it out?” I asked, “Those clouds go on forever and I just saw a sign 17km to Mae Hong Son.”
“I dunno man, I’m soaked through and can’t see with this rain.” Brian concernedly replied, “But I feel fine driving as long as we take it slow.”
“Yeah, I agree. I just don’t know if its going to get any better and we’re running out of light. Lets give it 5 minutes to let up then I’m gonna toss my sunglasses on to keep the rain out while we still have some light. Even going slow we should reach town in 30 minutes.” I said as Brian nodded agreement.
Surely enough the rain lightened up in 5 minutes and we took off. Unfortunately as soon as we started driving the rain picked up again! We drove right into the section we waited out. Resolving that we would be soaked to the bone we drudged on as the rice fields gradually gave way to more frequent signs of civilization. Driving straight along the main road. Well the ONLY road we stopped at the first sign that said “Hotel” and were lucky enough to be greeted by a wonderful old woman who spoke some English! At $6 a night we took a massive room with a balcony, 2 double beds and a fan. The rain cooled everything off enough to know we wouldn’t need AC.
The wettest ride of my life over now it was time to wander around this village and find some food. Whats your best rainy travel story? Ever been to one of the many amazing caves in this world? Leave a comment below and let me know!