Phu Pha Phet Cave

Wow, I can’t quite believe that it’s April already.  3 months of this year gone already!  And once again I have been totally slack on the blogging front – expect a barrage of updates playing catch up once again.  I have finished teaching until the summer holidays are over so will have plenty of time to get blogging again.

So, recently we have been on a few little mini-adventures around the local area, and today’s post is about our visit to the largest cave in Thailand and the 3rd largest cave in the world – Phu Pha Phet Cave (also known as Diamond Cave).

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The weekend of February 23rd was a long one with Monday 25th being a Buddhist holiday, so we took it upon ourselves to seek out some adventure armed only with our trusty map of the Deep South and our new exciting motorbike that actually had gears and didn’t guzzle fuel at a ridiculous rate.  A well-travelled friend had heard from another well-travelled friend that there was a little-known gem of a place to visit only a few hours from Hat Yai.  ‘Head to Manang, find somewhere to stay and visit the diamond cave’ were her instructions.  The cynic in me doubted the little-known-ness of this place – this country is full of travellers who boast about seeing unknown, off-the-beaten-track, not-mentioned-by-the-Lonely-Planet places that turn out to be not so much of secret when you actually get there.  We checked the Lonely Planet and the Rough Guide – Manang doesn’t even get a cursory mention on a map and the cave is nowhere to be seen, so on this trip we were to be our own tour guide and our own sat nav.

We set off at around 3pm (we would have chosen to leave earlier but I had said I would help the school with some Saturday work before we had made the plans) and headed to Manang.  After a quick search on my iPhone maps app I had scribbled down some loose directions but we were mostly relying on the road signs that thankfully are in both Thai and Roman script.  After 2 hours we made a pit-stop for fuel and food and a map check and we continued on our way.  According to the map we were only 40 minutes from Manang and we needed to get there before it got dark as we were yet to find anywhere to sleep for the night.  I’m not sure when we reached Manang because there isn’t really anything there for you to ‘reach’ but we got to a point where the signs were sending us around in circles and off in the wrong direction, and then the signs were only in Thai and I wasn’t quite sure which one said Manang anymore.  The sun soon disappeared and then the heavens opened too – luckily Tom had stocked up on some ponchos for us both.  We decided to head for the caves (as despite the lack of town signage, signs for the caves and waterfalls of the area were a plenty) and kept our fingers crossed that there would be places to stay along the way.  And so in the dark, and wet, with no help from our motorbike headlamp (as someone had decided to helpfully place a basket on top of the light that we had decided to fill with stuff) we carried on.  There were no streetlights, and apart from when the landscape opened up to reveal large limestone cliffs jutting out of the ground towering above us, it felt like we were driving deeper and deeper into the jungle.  We didn’t say anything to one another but we both went through the same thing in our heads as we hopelessly drove further into the unknown – half an hour more and we would have to turn around and head home.  The Deep South of Thailand isn’t the safest place to travel especially at the moment, and it’s not the best place to get lost in the dark. 

After about 45 minutes of driving nowhere in particular we saw a hut on the side of the road where a couple of men were sitting.  I had written the Thai for ‘accommodation’ on a scrap of paper and Tom repeated it to the man.  “Homestay?” he asked us.  We nodded, we had read a little about homestays and although we weren’t sure what exactly it entailed we knew it at least meant somewhere to sleep.  He pointed to the road right next to the hut – we had stopped right outside a large Muslim homestay!  At first we were thought we were told there was no room but then a bamboo hut was presented to us and we finally had somewhere to call home for the weekend.  The hut was simple – a mat on the floor for a bed with about a foot of space around it to put your belongings.  The toilets and washrooms (note – no showers here, just a bucket of cold water!) were shared by all the huts at the homestay.  It was really dark so we had absolutely no idea how many huts there were, or what the area the huts sat in looked like, but we were happy to have somewhere to drop our bags and relieved that we wouldn’t be turning around and heading back home.

After nipping to the shop and sneaking in some rather un-Muslim beer, we settled down for the night; or at least we tried to.  After a couple of cockroach incidents (I’m not very tolerant of cockroaches, or any insects for that matter) we were laying down looking at the inside of the roof of our hut when a rat decided to run in, along the wall, up into the piece of hollow bamboo that made the main roof joist.  And then it squeaked.  And then it stayed in there.  Apparently this rat lived in the hut too.  Resigned to the fact that it was us who were choosing to temporarily stay in what appeared to be the more permanent home of this rat, we tried to sleep.  I created a safety cocoon out of blankets around myself so no insects or animals could actually touch me, put on my trusty sleeping mask and drifted off.  Tom on the other hand, lay and stared at the ceiling, waiting for the rat that fortunately never made another appearance.

Morning came around and the weather was OK but clouds were looming ominously so we made our way to the caves while it was still dry.  The caves were amazing – and only 30 baht each entrance fee including a guide who spoke enough English to give us a little information about the caves.  I’ve included some photos of the cave in this post but the camera really doesn’t do it justice – this complex of caves is so large (largest in Thailand, 3rd largest in the world) that you can’t really capture the sheer size of the place. 

After we visited the caves the heavens opened and it didn’t stop raining all day or night, so sadly we didn’t manage to visit Jed Khot caves – another complex of caves nearby that you can kayak through.  We will definitely head back there to do that (just maybe this time we will check the weather forecast and scope out somewhere to stay before heading off!)  We ended up driving home (over 100km) in the pouring rain – fingers shriveled to prunes and soaked through.  The joys of traveling by bike.

As usual I have rabbited on about unnecessary minute details so I will sign off now to save you reading any more of my drivel.  Bye!