Off the Beaten Track in Hua Hin: Part 1

Adventures with Cave Man Jim

A chanting monk within the Kai Lone Cave entry chamber

I was having dinner with a buddy, who resides in the same condo building as me, and regaling him of my recent trips caving to Laos when he mentioned something about caves in the Hua Hin area.

“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.”

“Stumbled?”

“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 been in it. 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 three to four meters long although, when we first went in, we were all crapping ourselves because we’d been told the thing was over five 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 and, even though it was curled up and sleeping; 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.”

A couple of days later, with all arrangements sorted, we were boarding the train at Hualumphong Station for the run to Hua Hin. Four hours after departing 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 seven 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 wifi 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 thirty five 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 twenties, hanging out in Kathmandu and developing a fondness for Buddhism. It was a fondness that saw him eventually move to Thailand, during 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 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 Buddha’s were close to nine feet in height and weighed 900 kilo’s each. They cost me fifteen hundred 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 one of the Buddha’s on the back of a pick-up and drove 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 would tell them it was Buddha’s birthday and there was a huge Buddha statue 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 Buddha on the back of the pick-up. He saw me and flagged me over. Anyway, we had a bit of a chat about Buddhism and a few other things, 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 a Buddha statue for sale.”

“Did you end up selling them?” I said enjoying the amazing tale.

“Yeah, I ended up selling them the two big ones 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 Buddha’s 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.

A travel magazine with an article on Jim’s caving adventures around Hua Hin

“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 photo’s.  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. The days 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 and 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 11 AM we were on our way towards our first destination; a mausoleum for a preserved dead monk. Jim had given me a bit of background info, on what to expect, the evening before.

“I knew the guy, he was eighty-three when he passed away. He must’ve known that he was going to die because he drank a heap of oil, just before he expired, 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 at rest in the mausoleum

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 an orange robed skeleton with the skin still intact. To either side of the coffin were glass display cases with the deceased’s last personal artifacts.

A close up of the mummified monk

“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, fifteen 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 two hundred, or so, steps still gets the heart rate going,” he said as we both began to breathe a bit harder.

“Any Buddha’s 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 got to the top of the stairway.

The entry chamber, with Buddha statues, at Dao Cave

We moved towards the entrance to find that it was, as Jim stated, covered by mesh. We stepped through the small gate into a large, well lit entry chamber to find, as expected, there were Buddha statues situated within. One was in an alcove directly in front, as we entered the chamber, and another was situated on the left wall. Both were around three 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.

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 any snakes in this cave.

Formations and the view looking back at the Buddha’s in Dao Cave entry chamber

Jim leading the way through the labyrinth of tunnels

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.

Jim looking up at a hole in the cave ceiling

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 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.

“Kai Lone 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 fifty 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 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 him a cigarette, and they began conversing in Thai, while I refilled my water bottle at a nearby rainwater tank.

A friendly monk joins us at the viewing platform near the entrance to Kai Lone Cave

After another cigarette, and Jim explaining he’d been in the area for twenty 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.

The entry chamber to Kai Lone Cave

The collection of Buddha statues, some reputed to be 400 years old

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 two pm.

“No problems, 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 four to five hundred 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. 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 passed two small chambers with a wooden bed in each.

We continued circling back towards the entry chamber and, in doing so, arrived at another chamber where 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 as well,” said Jim as he clambered up onto a beautifully terraced formation that forms part of the rear wall of the chamber.

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 HR the King during his time as a monk. Jim looked at his watch and noted that we should push onto the last cave.

Jim standing on the beautiful terraced formations

A local lady paying respects to the pyramid shaped statue

A portrait of Thailand’s late king during his tenure as a Monk

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, fifteen 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 late 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 ten years and we were good friends. When I first came up here, fifteen years ago, he’d been living in the cave, we’re about to go into, for twenty eight 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 eighty two 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, compared the other two caves we’d been to, 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. There was a large white Buddha statue, immediately to the left, as we entered. Compared with the two previous caves we’d visited, this one was smaller and dropped down, steeply, into dark passages below.

The white Buddha just inside the entry to Lap Lae cave

I looked across the chamber and, directly in front of us was a small, wooden blue door with some Thai writing on it.

“Where does that lead to?” 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 across to the wooden ladder leading up to the door.

I moved up the 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.

“Be careful climbing down. This ladders been here for a while and may not be all that sturdy,” said Jim as I negotiated my way back towards him.

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 atmoshere 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.

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.

“Yep.”

“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 bat shit. A few years ago one of the monks gave me a stone age digging implement. Someone uncovered it, in here, a couple of feet below the surface, ” he said as I got down to take a closer look at the smooth, brown surface we were walking across.

The stone age digging implements used by guano collectors in past millennia

NOTE: A few days later Jim showed me the digging implement. It was approximately 125 cm long – I used a cigarette lighter for a size comparison – and I made from a hard, marble like stone. There were also marks on it which indicated that it had been chipped into shape using another implement. Jim noted that it was quite feasible that people had been coming into the cave to collect guano for thousands of years.

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.”

It’s bats; man

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 moved in to get a few shots.

The sleeping lady formation

“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.

“How so?”

“We’re going to the serpent’s lair.”

“Great, lead the way,” I said suddenly losing interest in the Sleeping Lady.

We continued along narrow tunnel and then descended some cement steps as 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.”

Deep into the Lap Lae Cave and working our way towards the “serpents” lair

“No doubt. Getting stuck in a confined space with a large snake is something I think I’d prefer to avoid as well.”

“Ha ha, you want to try it when it’s pitch black in here. That really gets the heart rate up.”

“No way, don’t tell me you actually did that?” I said looking at him incredulously.

“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.”

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,” said Jim as he leaned across a large boulder to look into the dark space behind.

“See anything?” I said still optimistic that we’d see the serpent.

“I think we’re in luck,” said Jim as he suddenly launched himself over the rock and along a narrow channel formed by the cave wall and a line of boulders ahead.

The serpent (AKA a cave viper) putting on a display for us

I raced around the other side and suddenly there, moving ahead of us, was the tail of a snake I estimated was at least four meters in length. Jim tried getting hold of it as it slithered into a long crevice in the wall.

“Don’t worry, this is only a small passage. It will re-appear a couple of meters up ahead,” said Jim as he bounded out of the channel and we moved forward to a depression in the cave floor.

We stood there silently waiting in anticipation. I had the camera at the ready as the sweat dripped off my forehead and rolled down the side of my face. After what seemed an eternity, but was probably no more than thirty seconds, a head suddenly appeared, then a body, as the snake dropped out of a crevice, above us, and slithered down the cave wall. I couldn’t believe my luck as I moved in to bang off some shots.

“Give it some space and let it drop to the floor first,” said Jim with the time worn experience of an expert.

The full length of the viper eventually dropped to the floor and slithered along the edge of the cave wall; it’s tongue flicking about testing the air for scent as twisted forward. I started working the camera and got closer. Suddenly the stopped its forward movement, reared up and started weaving from side to side.

“Oh, oh I think we’ve pissed it off. We better give it some space because it’s going into attack mode,” said Jim as we backed away.

As we moved away it slowly dropped back to the cave floor and slithered off towards a hole in the floor. A few seconds later it had disappeared. I was stoked; the serpent was the main reason I’d come down to Hua Hin and I felt fortunate that I’d been able to see it.

“Bloody brilliant,” I said to Jim.

“Yeah, it’s always great seeing the serpent. We’ll push on, we’re not far from the exit now.”

The Serpent coiled for attack

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 and, 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, 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. 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.

Cave man Jim checking out some formations in Lab Lae Cave

“Thanks Jim, I really enjoyed that,” I said as we stood there drying off in the cooling breeze.

“You’re welcome, anytime. 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.”

I’d spent the better part of six hours having a look at three 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 in Hua Hin.

TBC……

Safe travels,

MEGA

 

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