Birds, Bats and one Precarious Bus

Chiang Mai Travel Blog

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2008 began with a 4am wakeup call, a 6:45am flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, and Cipro #1 on the plane. Damn you, stomach. You make it through 3 years of college eating leftover mayonaise and spoilt pizza and you bail on me now? Now?? When I have a full day of grueling traveling to go?

8am -- I arrive in Chiang Mai and catch one of those collectivo taxi-trucks into town, and back out of town to the long distance bus station. Chiang Mai, you look pretty, but I have more rural fish to fry. Specifically, a certain bird-bat exchange outside a cave deep in the northern hills near Sappong. I had read about Tham Lod cave on the internet.

At dusk, flocks of birds fly into the cave to find shelter for the night while the cave's colony of bats flys out. It's next to the Cave Lodge, a guesthouse which offers river kayaking trips, caving tours and hill treks. I was hellbent on going, no matter how long it took and how bad my stomach felt.

9:45 -- I'm packed into the long distance bus, together with a motley crew of travellers, including kids escorting bags of rice and Lisu hill tribe ladies in their pretty tunics.

11:00 -- I've been cradling my pack in my arms for over 2 hours now. The only other place to put is on top of the bus, which, judging by these mountain curves may be a bad idea. I can't even put it under my feet because my feet are dangling over the bus exit, and the bus door is still wide open as we rolick up this giant hill.

12:00 -- Our only bus stop is a restaurant with a stalled squat toilet. I've already psyched myself up to go in one, but my subconcious rebels and I'm suddenly physically unable to do anything... except take another Cipro.

1:00 -- Omigod there is a dead dude on the side of the road. And this aint no America where everyone pretends not to rubberneck at human misery. This entire bus gets up, little old hill tribe ladies and bus attendees alike, and goes to one side of the bus to gawk. It's a moto driver who likely had an accident on the winding mountain hills. We turn the corner and everyone sits back down again.

2:00 -- We pass Pai, which looks cute, but looks like some weird White hippie ghetto from the bus.

4:00pm -- We finally reach Sappong, where I hire a moto to take me to the cave lodge.

The road there is really pretty, as whizz helmletless on potholed dirt roads through village and forest, past towering limestone cliffs in the distance, everything lit brightly in the late afternoon sun.

5:00pm -- I check into the cave lodge and after a bit of resting, I finally feel OK enough to head out to the cave, in time for sunset. The cave is only 10 minutes away from the lodge, and it's a cute little cave. The bird-bat exchange is a little dissapointing, as it's heavily birds and very very few bats (Apparently there's some national park in central Thailand that is much better for bat viewing), but the sunset is pretty, and the cold mountain air is a welcome change to the heat of the past week and a half.

I get back to the cave lodge that night and enjoy some fresh baked bread, a big pot of tea, warm blankets and cold, fresh air. It's really nice to stretch out and relax in my own little hut, surrounded by plantain trees. It rains a little that night, and I awake to what sounds like windchimes the next morning, but is really a herd of waterbuffalo, all with little bells tied around their necks. It's incredibly peaceful, incredibly comfortable. I could stay a while here.

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Chiang Mai
photo by: Stevie_Wes