Lod Caves

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After two relatively slow days in Pai, we decided to book a tour on our third day. Sort of a get-all-the-sights-in-as-fast-as-possible tour. We would start with a lookout point, then go to caves, a hot spring, a waterfall and finally the Pai Canyon. This story is about the Tham Lod Caves (also spelled Tham Lot, also referred to as just the Lod Caves. You do you.)

After a gut-wrenching, twisty-turny, lumpy-bumpy ride, we arrive at the caves and are quickly split up into groups of three. Each group is assigned a guide. Our guide was a young boy – I wondered just how old. He had the shyness of a child, but his smile was wide – as many smiles around here are.

We reach the cave entrance and he and the other guide (also a young boy) sit on their haunches to light their gas –or propane? I wouldn’t know- lanterns. They pump them up until they have a good amount of light, and beckon to us. Ready.

The cave entrance quickly gives way to darkness. The light and the hissing of the lantern are the beacons that lead your way.

Our guide leads us into the different chambers of the cave. He lights the path and the cave walls and I marvel at the chamber’s size; at the shapes and colors. Much of the rock glistens, almost glittering.

He begins to point out the different shapes in the rocks.

“Look like frog,” he says.

“Look like elephant.”

“Look like UFO.” (pronounced “you go”)

“Look like alligator.”

With every figure he shows me, he lifts the lantern close to the rock to light it up so we can see. With each figure I say “wow!” and flash a smile. He nods.

“Look. Stalactite.”

“Look. Stalagmite.”

He forms all of these words slowly and carefully with his mouth and I find myself wondering how much time he has put into it. How carefully he has learned these words and phrases; how diligently he has practiced forming these syllables.

I ask a question and he answers with a nod, our conversation over. I wonder how much English he actually speaks; how much of what I say to him is actually understood.

I wonder again how old he is. Where he comes from. How he wound up being a tour guide. I find myself hoping that he enjoys it. I find myself hoping that he’s paid reasonably well. I wonder how many times in his life he has walked through these magnificent caves, and how many more times he will.

I recognize that I won’t likely find out. Our limited time and our significant language barrier prevent that.

We board bamboo rafts and are rafted to another section of the cave. Thousands of fish swarm beneath us. They’re massive and some of them have whiskers. Catfish? I wonder. He shines a laser into the water, and they begin to splash, coming up to the surface in droves. They think it’s food. “Wow!” I say, and he turns around and smiles. I decide to stick with “wow” as a communicator.

We climb up into another section of chambers and continue our routine.

Point. Shine light. “Wow!”

Point. Shine light. “Wow!”

Point. Shine light. “Wow!”

Eventually I notice that we’ve completed the loop. We head back to our raft and that’s when he finally asks: “what’s your name?”

“Nicole. And you?”

“I (Aye?),” he says.

“How old are you, I?”

Blank stare; no answer.

I gesture towards him and say, “You. How many years?” My hands make an accompanying gesture akin to “how much.”

He giggles, taking a few seconds to prepare, then he sounds it out. One syllable at a time.

“Four-teen. You?”

“Twenty seven,” I say.

He giggles and nods, and as he looks away I think that twenty seven may have been lost in translation. I decide it doesn’t matter. Because though there are many things I would still want to ask, for now, this sweet-as-sugar exchange will have to do.

And it so does.

 

——–

Note: Most hostels offer similar tours, so if you’re ever in Pai and not feeling comfortable enough on a scooter to see the sights yourself, this is a good option. Pro tip: take a motion sickness tablet (or five) because the drivers do not slow down in bends and your stomach will 100% feel it. As far as the price, I honestly can’t remember what it cost but it definitely wasn’t much. I never said I’d be a good travel blogger, okayyyy?

 

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