My first day in Pai, once again, I rented a motorbike. I went back to my hostel, Pai Circus School, with my new motorbike pondering what to do next. I heard a guy (who I soon learned was Steve from Toronto) giving two girls directions on where to see some elephants and a Jack Sparrow look-alike. I approached to listen in. He said he was going to check out a Buddha atop a hill close by and I asked if I could follow.
What happened next turned out to be the highlight of my stay in Pai. Once at the Buddha, we decided to go see the Tham Lod Caverns some 50 km away through the mountains. This drive was one of the most scenic I’ve ever taken in my life. Steve and I snaked up and down the lush green mountains on our motorbikes taking in the view. Every now and then we’d signal the other to stop for photos. The high mountain tops provided a lot of shade and it was a lot cooler than in town. After the 2 hour drive of a lifetime, we arrived at the Tham Lod Caves. We decided to do a guided tour for 250 baht each. Two Thais with old school lanterns led us onto a bamboo raft and we started onto a stream that runs through the caves. The caves were amazing! They were dark and more expansive than I imagined them to be. We made stops on our rafts and followed the guides on paths that were sometimes not paths at all. I felt bad about the damage we might be doing to the delicate ecosystem down there, and I tried to tread light. Our guides spoke very little English. They would periodically stop, hold up a lantern to a stalagmite or other formation, and say “crocodile”, or “elephant”, indicating what we were looking at looked like a crocodile or elephant. They showed us a 3,000 year-old cave painting of a deer and 2,000 year-old wooden Chinese coffins. All in all they took us through three caves. We got to the third just before sunset, in time to see the bats come out of the cave opening.
The ride back was just as spectacular as the rest of the trip. We dipped, curved and swerved our way through the tall mountains, this time at night. The moon was almost full and illuminated the road just enough to see. Right now is the time when the Thais do their annual controlled burning in the mountains to clear dry brush and at one point we stopped to watch the trees in front of us ablaze. The pearl-necklace of fire on the mountain gave off a dazzling glow. We tried in vain to capture on our cameras what our eyes were seeing.
Finally we got back into town, a little disoriented after the eventful day. I think we both went to our huts to go to sleep rather early, while everyone else at Pai Circus School was just starting the party. A very memorable day indeed.