A speleologist’s heaven, Soppong district has more than 200 known limestone caves, five of which are over four kilometres long with world-class formations.
Tham Lod is one of the highlights, but there are plenty of other cave systems, and extensions and "new" systems are being discovered all the time.
Tham pi man, or spirit caves, contain prehistoric wooden coffins that have been carbon dated to approximately 1,700 years old. There are 83 known pi man caves in Soppong, and little is known about the culture or people who built them.
Some of the most accessible of these unusual coffin caves are located just to the side of the main road a few kilometres out of town on the way to Mae Hong Son, and are open for guided visits at 40 baht per person. These contain wooden coffins as well as the usual stalactites and stalagmites -- there’s a signpost in English on the highway.
In seven of the caves in the area, two species of the uncommon eyeless cave fish have been found -- one cave has both varieties in one stream. One of these fish uses their fins to 'walk' up waterfalls. Pictures can be found on the walls at Cave Lodge, if you don't want to spend the time searching. Meanwhile Fossil Cave has 280 million-year-old fossilised shells and Waterfall Cave has beautiful formations and an awesome 30-metre waterfall inside.
Some of the smaller caves around Soppong are okay to visit on your own, but you will certainly need guides and equipment for the larger ones. Cave Lodge is the place to organise serious caving expeditions but some of the smaller guesthouses can also organise shorter visits for you.
Cave Lodge offers a day tour to explore several different caves for a reasonable 600 baht per person with three or more people, 900 each for two people and 1,700 for just one person including transport, guide, caving light, helmet and lunch. It's inexpensive and another trip that gets rave reviews from their guests. For all their caving programmes check their site.
By Mark Ord.
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