2 June 2013
We set foot on a flimsy bamboo raft where equally-distant wooden stools were waiting for their passengers. An oil lamp would be our only source of light in the almost two-kilometre long cave filled with stalactites and stalagmites.
The Tham Lod cave is only one of almost two hundred found in this mountainous area of northern Thailand. It's on the way from Chiang Mai to the villages of long-necked women and while it's off the main road, the cave was bustling with Thai tourists.
Our guide gently paddled along the subterranean river. All was quiet apart from the indistinguishable chatter of fellow tourists strangely resonating on the walls of the cave and the sound of the water sliding under the raft. Some cave chambers could only be reached by ladders delicately blanketed with dung which reminded me of the presence of thousands of bats above my head... and also forced me to keep my mouth shut (not an easy feat, I know). I therefore had to contain my awe at the animal-like shapes of the stalactite structures, but also at the few teakwood coffins bizarrely present: it's not exactly known which tribes carved them and why they were placed in caves.
After two hours in that dark and cold environment, it felt good to be freed like the prisoner in Plato's allegory of the cave, back in the warm and luminous atmosphere of the surrounding forest, perceiving again the true form of reality and not its mere shadows. I just had to add a litre of fuel in my scooter from a makeshift pump station which consisted of two big cylinders of yellow and red liquid – and off I went to carry on with my journey.