To my chagrin, I had to leave the paradise accommodation of my bungalow, now that the U.K. girls were leaving, for the farm based mess that is Darling dorms. My bed now meant sleeping on one of many mattresses strewn about on the floor; I was truly spoiled the past couple nights. With the Spanish girls deciding to take today easy, Ignacio and I hit the road ourselves ready to brave all that Thailand has to offer. We cruised along surpassing the speeds I set yesterday (96 km/h or 60 mph) on the long open stretches of pavement lined in front of us. The way became trickier but more exciting as the road twisted and turned every which way like a snake that knew no end. As we felt the ripple of the wind streams cut around us, we saw exhibition upon exhibition of nature’s finest artistry. Rice terraces and small Thai villages took up the country side as well as untouched land that gleamed so fruitfully green under the high noon sky. Every moment I was tempted to turn a glance into a longlasting look but that would prove foolish as my face would meet pavement. It was almost too easy to daydreaming, especially for me, into the world of the wilderness that stood at either side of me just off the road. For the most part, the road was well paved with the exception of some patches adding an unexpected bump to the journey. Sure, cars and high speed daredevils on motorcycles sped past us but for the most part we held our own on the road. So many times I wanted to stop and take a picture but in the end I realized all those pauses would take away from what I was really experiencing, which was the greatest roller coaster known to man. I felt like young Ricky Bobby from the movie Talladega Nights, always saying ‘I want to go fast!’ We kept going, pursuing our destination of Lod Cave, but now the road began to rise faster and faster and the turns grew sharper and sharper. At points, the road morphed into hairpin turns, slowing me and my moped to near standstills. Around these winding bends I could begin to peak over the edge to the land below to where those same awe-inspiring sights stood before but now from a heightened angle that turned these views on their head. At its summit, the panorama of the valley was lacking, not special in any way with a fog that suffocated all the awaiting vegetation below. Onwards and downwards we went feeling those same mind-bending turns but now at an accelerated rate. We rode quickly and without regard, passing as much of a town as we might ever see on a journey such as this. Eventually we found another place to stop up on a hill hoping the cave would be nearby since we had already traveled great distances thus far. I asked some unsuspecting Belgians if the cave might be near and found a response I did not expect. Apparently, the cave lay 25 minutes away but back in the direction from which we came. Thank goodness we talked to them otherwise who knows where we might have ended up, probably on the either side of the Myanmar border. Just past the same town we saw earlier, we found the tiniest of signs signaling the direction in which to reach Lod Cave. Down a dirt path lies Lod Cave. To get into the cave we needed to hire a lantern toting guide to light our way through three sections of the cave. Our guide happened to be a cute little elderly Thai woman. She spoke very little English and the English spoken was rough to understand but that didn’t stop me from asking her name and introducing myself. She returned my introduction with a big smile. Before we could walk through the caves, we took a bamboo raft along a river that cut through the main entry way and cavern of the cave and was filled with thousands of fish begging for scraps. For her age (I was curious to ask but felt the request would have been rude and may not be customary in Thai culture), she moved quite quickly up the steep and narrow wooden staircases. The cave’s ceiling and floor was lined with hundreds and hundreds of stalactites and stalagmites, amongst various age-old natural structures. Even though most features in caves are comparable, I appreciated the differences between Lod Cave and the cave I saw at Jenolan Caves outside of Sydney, Australia, mostly for the sheer size of this cave. Unfortunately I could not see as much in these caves as I did at Jenolan because in Australia they have all the technology and money to afford to build all the light systems that make each nook and cranny glow. From time to time, she would stop and point at various things worth interest. Every once in awhile I would guess correctly but for the most part I had a tough time understanding what she was saying. She showed us rock structures that looked like various animals such as a crocodile. The best sights were the cave drawings from 1500 to 2500 years ago of a deer and a dog drawn by bamboo. The cave even had narrow, tightly fit coffins made up of wood; I have no choice but to assume she meant funeral coffins based on the gestures we exchanged but I cannot be for certain. As we worked our way down the stairs back to the water and the main cavern, I could not help but feel like I was in the world of Middle Earth in which Bilbo first meets Gollum. The scene was set quite right in the immense hollow space of the mountain and with a large boulder sitting in the center from which the disfigured hobbit mourned the loss of his one true ring. Then again, I am a huge LOTR nerd so that may have gotten the best of me. While departing the cave we heard loud chirping from bats or swifts hanging from the ceiling of the black abyss. Walking along on the outside of the cave I noticed a random closed off entrance way. Too curious to let it pass, I asked the woman what was there. All I could hear was “shampoo”, which resulted in an odd look with me tilting my head in disbelief. So do people go there to take a shower? Thank goodness for Ignacio having more percept ears than I to hear that she meant ‘temple’ or a Wat. We chuckled over my senile deafness. Not willing to let this moment escape me, I had to get a picture with the woman as a souvenir of my trip to the cave. With some time to spare, we rode in the direction of another cave we passed in our pursuit of Lod Cave. Before doing so, we stopped at a small Thai restaurant formed by bamboo with a woman cooking us up a bowl of noodles each while her little boy played on the bamboo floor of this eatery no larger than the size of an average kitchen; very quaint to be exact. With our bellies full and reinvigorated, we powered on. Off the main highway, the road to the cave was rocky and filled with many potholes along the way. Shaking furiously as if I stood atop a jackhammer, I questioned whether we should continue when a wreck would surely spoil the moment and the day. With my stubborn desire to see and do more, we continued and were rewarded beyond our wildest dreams. Looking over my right shoulder, I saw something I did not believe nature could create. I kept thinking to myself that this is not real, surely I am dreaming all this up. From this viewpoint near the small town of Jabo, I saw mountains and canyons covered by a thick moss of shrubbery and forest. The sky itself could not have been more pure, a clear bright blue with strains of cloud dotting the ceiling above me. As much tourism as the Blue Mountains gets, this view exceeded anything I saw in that national park in Australia. The mountains here stood so close I could almost reach out and touch them before stretching out into the horizon as they disappeared into the hazy distance far away. Somehow this viewpoint did not make it into the tourist guidebook for reasons I cannot fathom and I am forever grateful. Stumbling across something such as this out of utter randomness made all that I saw better and more worthwhile realizing so many unknowing travelers pass it by and I could have been one of them. After asking a couple of Americans, a rare breed, how much further to the cave, we realized we did not have enough time to see it. For a while longer, we sat there staring out at the view wanting to etch every bit of it into my memory. For some reason I must add this. A stray dog in the street was scratching itself but in ways I could not imagine. The canine found a way to contort itself into a wild variety of shapes in an attempt to scratch that last itch. It clearly knew some advanced yoga as it rotated its neck like an owl. After taking one last glance at the view, we rode back to Pai as the sun began to set and the air grew cooler. Zipping back and forth, we cruised on the road up and down the main mountain that separated us from Pai past the same rice terraces we saw before but with a softer light from the setting sun. We got back into Pai where I ate a grilled octopus tentacle and some more soup before finishing off with a coconut, Nutella, and banana crepe that I couldn’t pass up no matter how non-Asian a dessert like this could be. Before ending the day, I met a guy originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, which is always a welcome sight from time to time.
Thailand Day 63: Freedom of the Open Road