Off the Beaten Track in Hua Hin: Part 3
More subterranean adventures with Cave Man Jim
It was the second day of my latest trip down to Hua Hin, and I was just beginning to feel the energy levels sagging a bit from the heat and exertion of the activities of the previous day. With more physical exertion expected for the coming day, I made a mental note to up my water intake significantly. I met Jim at the Baguette: http://www.bcg-thailand.com/kunden_1/X01/A1_en.php?id=S22 (the best bakery to date I’ve been to in Thailand) at 0900 hrs for breakfast and a chin wag about our planned day. We were heading up to Kai Lone Cave to see if we could find another cave that Jim had been to, nearby, with a monk a few years ago. It had been nice having a look around Khao Krachok Headland, but this cave was the primary reason for me being back down here. As we sat there enjoying our buttered rolls, and brewed coffee, Jim went back over the steps that he considered would be the best way of locating the cave.
“The last time I went up there, and it was a while ago, we were roughly about two hundred meters back down the road from the stairway up to Kai Lone Cave. I seem to remember there being an advertising billboard right where the track went in off the road. That sign’s not there anymore but I figure one of the locals, living in the area, might know. There are some houses just back down the track, near the turn off from the main road, which we can stop by and ask if someone can guide us up to the cave entrance,” said Jim, as he put together a methodical plan.
Forty five minutes later we were on the bikes, and on our way, for the thirty two kilometer run up to Kai Lone Cave. Jim had his daughter with him to act as an interpreter when talking with the locals. We also had a good friend of his, Keith, along for the adventure. Remembering what Jim had previously told me about traversing through the cave, and the possibility of taking a wrong turn, I’d bought some extra gear with me to ensure that we’d be able to safely find our way back out. It was type of gear that I’d used years ago in my cave diving activities but could still be applied to dry caving; a reel with a few hundred meters of line on it and some helmet mounted lights. The reel ensured that we had a continuous connection to the cave entrance, and the helmet mounted lights gave you a hands free ability when climbing about inside the cave.
By the time we reached the turn off to Kai Lone Cave it was approaching midday. The sun was blazing down and I knew that the climb up, regardless of whether we found the cave entrance or not, would be a sweat filled slog. There was a group of houses, approximately two hundred meters in off the main road, so we pulled over to allow Jim’s daughter to gather some info or, even better, find someone to guide us up to the cave. She had no luck at the first house but the second produced the maximum result we could hope for; one of the younger male residents knew where the cave was and could guide us to it for a small fee. A price was agreed upon and we on our way up the track again.
The guide pulled over just before the final rise up to Kai Lone Cave. There didn’t appear to be a track of any sort visible but after parking our bikes, and having a scout around, the remnants of the advertising billboard, Jim had spoken about earlier, were hidden in amongst the undergrowth. After a quick respite to sort out our kit, our guide made his entry into the bush very near the remnants of the billboard. There wasn’t much of a track to follow and as we meandered through the rubber plantation I decided just to let fate take its course and allow the guide get on with it. After forty meters of relatively easy going we began the ascent up the escarpment. And, this wasn’t easy going. The sparse foliage of the rubber plantation gave way to dense undergrowth, and a rock filled incline, as we battled our way up behind the guide. It wasn’t long before we were all breathing hard and the sweat was rolling off us as we worked our way up through the thickets of bamboo and thorny bushes impeding our climb. At about what I estimated was the half way point we had a drinks break at a group of large rocks. The guide then mentioned the name of the cave we were going to; Tham Mee.
“Tham Mee means Bear Cave,” said Jim with a bit of a chuckle.
“Well I certainly hope there’s none of the buggers in there still hibernating,” said Keith, breathing hard after the fifteen minutes of hard slog we’d just done.
“Not much chance of that. The locals would’ve eaten them long ago,” said Jim, wryly.
After a few minutes spent cooling off, and getting the breathing rate back to normal, it was time to push on to the cave entrance. The guide had assured us that it wasn’t much further and, after estimating that we were a good 150 meters above the road, we were all hoping that he was good to his word. After another hard slog, up through fifty meters of even denser foliage, the guide veered off along a ridge to the left. I’d pretty much kept right up with him but, as I followed in his wake along the level traverse, a glance back revealed that the rest of the team was strung out well below. After a short bash, through more dense thickets of bamboo, we arrived at the cave entrance. The entry hole was quite small – about one meter in diameter – but as I got closer, and shone my torch about, I could see that, once inside, it opened up into a large internal volume. I was tempted go into the entrance chamber alone but, with the perspiration already soaking my shirt, decided to cool off and wait for the others to arrive. As the others straggled in to join me I grabbed the reel from Jim and tied it off to a tree root right next to the cave entrance.
“There might not be any bears in there now but there sure are plenty of bats, the place stinks of bat poo,” said Jim poking his head into the entrance for a quick look around.
I gave Jim the reel and, with everyone feeling settled after the slog up the cliff face, he led the way into the cave. The entry hole opened up into a large inner chamber with an initial gradient sloping to the bottom eight meters below. A couple of minutes later we were all standing at the bottom of the chamber, a passage way sloped off in the blackness beyond.
“The small white Buddha’s are still all here. The monk, I came in with last time, placed them throughout the cave,” said Jim, as we shone our torches about and picked out the stark white little statues on the natural rock shelves.
“Bloody hell this place doesn’t half pong,” said Keith, as fluttering of bats became increasingly noticeable.
“Plenty more of that to come,” said Jim as he started moving down the passageway towards the next chamber.
The passage sloped away quite severely and, after a short distance, we were confronted by a wooden ladder, dropping almost vertically, to the floor below. Remembering the trouble I’d had with ladders, on the last outing with Jim, I took my time climbing down the rungs. A close inspection revealed that it was still in good order and we were all eventually standing on the floor of the second chamber. As we moved forward again Jim was methodically running the line off the reel and I couldn’t help thinking that, although it ensured that there was no chance of getting lost, it was probably overkill for what was unfolding as a relatively straight run into the cave system. A few meters up ahead our torches flashed over what, initially, looked like a large tree trunk. As we got closer it became apparent that we were looking at an incredible, complete floor to ceiling formation; the size, of which, normally takes millions of years to evolve.
I banged off a couple of shots, with Jim, to get a size comparison with the floor to ceiling formations and then pushed on towards the third chamber. As we moved forward it became ever apparent that this system, like most other caves which originate high up, was, at some time in the past, a water course. A river or some kind of regular deluge had, over millennia, eroded the passageways we were now descending in to. A tell tale sign was the smoothness of the eroded rock surfaces and the way in which water flow had scoured out some of the narrow points. There was another gradual incline down into the third voluminous chamber. There was a flat area at the bottom and we all decided to sit down for a drinks break. The warm, humid conditions inside had the sweat flowing again and as I took a couple of large gulps from my water bottle, I began to notice a number of small passages leading off into the hard rock wall of the chamber.
“How far did you get last time you were in here?” I said, trying to prod Jim’s memory.
“I think this was it. I seem to remember the Buddha statues,” replied Jim, as we shone our torches about picking up more little white Buddha images.
“The string on that reel is joined at one hundred meter intervals. Have you noticed a knot in the line as you were running it out?” I said, trying to get distance estimation.
“Yeah, I think we’re about half into the second length,” said Jim, as a matter of fact.
“Okay, so we’re in about 150 meters. The biggest passageway, forward, appears to be that one over there to our right. I think we should work our way down there for a bit and see where we end up,” I said, keen to get on with it.
The others, apart from Jim, didn’t look too enthusiastic and I could see, by their demeanor, that they were feeling a bit foot sore and weary, particularly after the scramble up the cliff face.
“We’ll go on for a bit more and if the terrain gets too difficult we’ll call it a day,” I said, trying to raise their spirits.
“Right you lot, come on, let’s get on with it,” said Keith, as Jim was already moving towards the passageway at the bottom of the chamber.
We started the ascent down the passage and I could see, straight away, that the going was becoming more difficult. The incline we were working our way down was covered in loose rubble and the footing was unstable. Eventually it leveled out and before us was another narrower, vertical passageway milling with bats. There was a steep drop into a hole at the bottom after which, I could see, there wasn’t any clear access to push on. I climbed up onto a high point and shone my torch into the vertical drop below; there was a small hole at the very bottom.
“I’m going down there for a closer look,” said Jim, as he began working his way slowly down the narrow shaft.
A couple of minutes later he was at the bottom and then, without further ado, began squeezing his way into the small hole until he’d completely disappeared. We sat there waiting expectantly, the silence accentuating the flapping of bat wings. A minute or so later, Jims head popped back out.
“This hole drops down for about three meters and then there’s just a black void beyond. I think there must be a really big chamber down there. To go on we’ll need ropes, or climbing gear,” said Jim.
The water course, that had created the cave system, had obviously reached a point where it simply dropped through a hole, into the depths below, and created more chambers as it worked its way down into the bowels of the earth.
“Well, that’s it then. Time to go back,” I said, resigned to the very real fact that we couldn’t go on.
I think most of the team was happy to hear that, the smiles on their faces said as much. Jim climbed up out of the hole and we trudged back up to the third chamber where we took another rest stop. While the others were cooling their heels, Jim and I poked our noses into another small side chamber. It was also a dead end. The monk had been in here as well. The little gold Buddha, above the entry hole, signified as much. After a couple of more minutes of poking our noses into the little nooks and crannies, and finding more miniature Buddha statues, we crawled back out to join the others for a few minutes rest before exiting.
As we worked our way back up towards the cave exit/entry point I was feeling tired but, all in all, it had been a great afternoon’s adventure into a cave where very few people had ever been. It was a bit of disappointment that we’d turned back after what was really a short penetration in but, in the interests of safety, there wasn’t any other option. Thirty minutes later, after a slow amble back, we were exiting the cave into the cool breeze blowing up the cliff face. We were all covered in sweat, grime and bat excrement but it had been a day to remember.