Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” — John Muir
Nestled into a lushly wooded hillside overlooking the Lang River, the Cave Lodge serves as a hub for travelers interested in caving and visiting hill tribes in Northern Thailand. From there, you can visit one of over 200 caves, trek into the hills to visit nearby tribal villages, or kayak down one of the nearby rivers.
For my first excursion with the Lodge, I went on a single day trek to a Karen village and Long Cave. The day started with a short drive up a dilapidated jungle road to what seemed like the middle of nowhere. “Everyone out!” yelled John Spies, the owner of the Cave Lodge, from the cab of the truck. We disembarked, and our guide, Pat, led us up a slippery path into the woods.
Immediately, the road seemed distant. We walked and munched on fruits and leaves which Pat found along the path, letting her show us which ones we could eat and learning about their various uses.
After a long trek through the woods, we heard a metallic jangling sound. As it grew louder, we could hear the sound of something large lumbering through the jungle. A herd of cattle soon came into view, walking along a gulley towards a marshy clearing.
“They come here because the ground is very salty,” Pat told us. No one decided to test for themselves to see if she was correct.
Gradually, we began to see signs of civilization: a motorbike parked beneath a tree, an animist shrine to local spirits, a wooden shed on the edge of a field. We stepped blinking from the shade of the trees into the baking heat of the sun.
Our first stop was at Long Cave — hidden at the end of a barely-there path past someone’s shack. They met us at the entrance, since it’s illegal to enter the cave without a local guide. Once inside, we stepped gingerly around glistening stalagmites and kept a sharp eye out for cave snakes.
As we neared our village, the thick greenery of the jungle gave way to fields of sesame, rice, and corn. Farmers worked their fields, while their children waved shyly in our direction. Thick mud caked our shoes, sweat soaked our shirts, and weary smiles split our faces as we climbed the last hill towards home.
Have you done any treks to visit local tribes? What was your experience? Share in the comments below!