Saturday, January 19, 2008

Day two in Nai Phlao

On the second day in Nai Phlao, January 17, we decided to be a bit more active. We had our scooter and we planned out an itinerary with T&B. We started the day by getting them a scooter, then the four of us went to breakfast at a little cafe along about 10 minutes drive away, which was lovely except for the very grumpy Aussie proprietor.

It was a cloudy morning and while dined it began to blow a bit. Our waitress suggested that this might mean rain, but that it generally came down for a bit then blew over. A few drops weren't going to stop us. Number one on our list for the day was to climb (via motorbike) the local mountain. Number two was to do some spelunking at the local caves. And number three was to visit the local waterfall.

We had our trusty map provided by our scooter rental shop that had all of the sites on it, but absolutely no scale. It could be relied on for general directions, but you had no idea when to turn or where you were. Very handy.

We found the mountain and set off up it. It was a beautiful drive through a twisty steep road, no wider than 3/4 of a normal lane. There were great signs all the way up warning of curves, with a picture of a horn to remind drivers to toot as they went along. The hill was much longer than we had expected, and we went on and on. After a bit I noticed that T&B were falling a little further behind. We waited for them to catch up, and they let us know that, while we were close to our destination, they couldn't go on. Their scooter was overheating with the two of them on it. Thomas, at well over 250 lbs, was not a light load for the scooter to take up a hill. (Sorry Thomas.)

Colleen and I set off to make the last few minutes up the hill. We got to the view area, almost at the top, and realized that there was nothing to see. The clouds had settled in, a mist was blowing across the mountain, and there would definitely be no views that day. We carried on to the top, when a few drops of rain started to fall. When we reached the peak it was a disappointing area primarily comprised of a radio/tv tower. I'm sure it would be lovely on a sunny day, but at that point the heavens decided to open up on us. We were in the absolutely worst place at the worst time, and we were going to pay for it.

We jumped back on our bike and started down the hill. By the time we reached T&B, huddling under a tree on the side of the road, we were drenched right through. For the first time in Thailand, except for in over air-conditioned vehicles, I was really cold. Driving quickly down the hill in wet clothes didn't help matters. We had seen a shelter on the way up and Thomas suggested we make our way there, where we could let the storm pass over. We quickly agreed and drove until we got to the shelter, which was much farther than either of us had remembered.

We huddled on the porch of a shack that was likely used by the neighboring rubber plantation until the worst of the storm had passed. We dined on chips and water. We wrung our clothes out and we shivered.

By the time that it had cleared enough to go on T&B were eager to make their way to the caves. Colleen and I kind of wanted to head back to our room, get changed and have a cup of tea, but we were easily swayed. The two couples climbed back on our bikes and made our way to the Khao Wang Thong Caves, which was no easy feat again due to our lack of proper maps.

When we got to the caves we knew we had to get a key from the Cave Keeper. We laughed at this bizarre instruction on the back of the map that seemed like something out of grail lore, but there was a grill across the entrance to the cave with a padlock keeping us out. The key must be sought. Leaving the others at the foot of the stairs to the caves I set off to find the Cave Keeper. At the first house below the caves I pulled in. Four heads popped up on an upstairs patio, wondering what this farang was looking for. I made the universal sign for key, turning my hand left and right. They all laughed and pointed me down the road.

I went down the road a few hundred more yards until I came to another house. I pulled in here again and made the sign of the key. At this a young man jumped up, ran down the stairs and jumped on his motorbike. I restarted mine to follow him, but he clearly told me to wait there. So now I'm just standing in someone's front driveway when a group of their friends arrive. One of the friends, clearly nominated due to his superior English skills, comes over to tell me to just sit tight, the key was coming.

A minute or so later the young man returned on his motorbike and gave me a couple of keys. I gave him a few dollars for his troubles. He looked a little shocked, but took the money anyway. And I went back to join Colleen T&B.

We climb the 150 steps to the cave, where there is a very odd description of what's inside. (See photo.) I unlock the gate, and we enter. Colleen has brought her headlamp, but this is not your normal cave. This cave has had lights placed sporadically through it. Once Thomas and I figure out how to turn them on via a fuse box on the cave wall we start to explore.

The first four or five larger openings are pretty impressive but, really, it's just a cave. There's a small Buddhist shrine in the first one, that's fairly beaten up. It's pretty dark and wet, as caves should be. We're able to sort of find our way between caves by making out the next light in the distance. After a bit, we come upon an iron ladder that takes us up to the next level in the caves. We crawl through an opening or two, then come upon a massive opening. It's beautiful. There are huge stalagmites and stalactites all over. The ceiling is a forest of looming stone. And the floor has been built up, reaching towards the ceiling. In some spots they're almost touching, in others they have met to form huge stone pillars.

We poked around in this area for a bit, taking lots of photos that mostly didn't turn out, due to lack of light. We slid and tried not to fall down. We looked through some of the other smaller caves around, and tried not to go too far from the main cave since we only had one light. After a bit we decided we'd had enough and made our way out. We reached the gate, turned out the lights and locked it behind us.

While we'd been in the cave it had started to rain again, so we hid out in a pagoda just outside the entrance. When the rain had abated we made our way back down the hill, got on our bikes, and I returned the key to the young man who had fetched it for us in the first place. He, presumably, then returned it to the Cave Keeper.

We'd had a great time, but we were cold and wet. We decided that the waterfall might not be the best idea at that time and returned to our guesthouse. We dined at the little place across the street again, which had the most delicious fried chicken. Then we napped, read and watched the Gulf of Thailand crash upon the shore in front of us. That evening, after a nice but pricey dinner at One More Beer, Colleen and I taught T&B our version of Gin Rummy. Needless to say, they turned the tables this time and cleaned us out.

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