Cave Trekking - A Private Tour
“What lies behind these gates?” asks a tourist. We’re are outside a cave, one of three that on Jungle Jim’s cave expedition in the lime stone hills of Prachuap province, only thirty minutes outside of Hua Hin.
“Come inside and find out, “replies the intrepid guide, a Canadian who’s been traveling the globe in pursuit of Indiana Jones like experiences for the past 30 years. He rattles his keys to the gate, and invites the small tour, into his playground.
“The main thing is that the caves are not a tourist destination,” he spells out from the outset. To get here, we travel through pineapple plantations which eventually blend into thick forest canopy. Yes, this really is Indiana Jones territory, and Jungle Jim is the real McCoy. He doesn’t get the name Cave Man Jim for nothing, as were soon to discover.
Jim gives was handed the keys to the cave entrance seven years ago by the resident monk who had lived in it for over 28 years inside the cave. “The first cave that we are visiting,” Jim informs, “was where the monk lived for nearly three decades. He never came out. He had food brought in to him.”
This first cave we enter is called the Cave of the Seven Sleeping Ladies. Jim says that it’s haunted by seven lady ghosts that live in the cave. “The monk told us that on some nights he can smell their cooking fires at night. There are other times he sees them walking in and out with long veils on. He smells their odors.”
This tour group is riveted; Jungle Jim has the gift of the gab. The Thai tourists on this trip are melting to his every word until he mentions the resident of this cave, the Gollum.
“No it’s not a Gollum, you’re thinking of that character in Lord of The Rings,” he corrects me. “Actually it’s an eight foot white cobra. It’s white because it never sees sunlight. And it feeds off bats.”
Jim’s an old hand at breeding snakes, and has no fear of them. But the very mention of a cobra has me visualizing a quick retreat. But we are reassured by our guide. On past tours he’s pulled the cobra off the ledge so that the cave trekkers could take photos to send home to mum as trophies. “But it’s a dangerous snake,” he warns us. “If he bites you, you’re dead.”
Lights guide our way into the chamber of the cave while thousands of shrieking bats fly over our heads. Jim leads with a flood light. “Watch your step,” he says, “the bat shit deposit’s can be slippery.” The bat shit is also known as gold soil, because of its high nitrogen content.
Jim points his flashlight down a deep hole and proceeds to inform us of the highlights.
“There’s a legend about this cave, says Jim of the Seven Sleeping Ladies Cave, one of three on the cave tour itinerant. “If a man goes in he never comes out.”
He’s referring a lime feature that he points out with his torch. It’s actually a large limestone sculptor of a sleeping lady, thirty feet in length. “See the whole feature of her lying their,” he says with enthusiasm. “It’s all made out of limestone. The limestone deposits over thousands of years. So you see this perfect sleeping lady with long hair. She’s resting on her arms with legs. You can even see her details right down to her belly button. It’s beautiful detail. It’s all in a crystal limestone.”
Near by is a man hole that enters into a deep chamber.
“If you go down in that deep hole,” says Jim, who says it takes a bit of time to climb down it, “you’ll see three bodies lying in it. You can still see the features and skin all over them because they have been preserved by the nitrogen of the bat shit. There’s other piles of bones and things in their.”
None of us dared to enter. Jim warns that there are some chambers that have dead pockets of air. “The old monk had told me that to go down and find these three bodies, he would take me down. The man’s eighty three years of age. Personally I didn’t think his health was that good to crawl all the ways down their.”
So he and a stocky Australian guy dared to venture down to the Sleeping Ladies den. “I remembered the monk telling me that you have to watch your way going down their. If you make a wrong turn down the deep chambers, there is no oxygen.
Everything was fine, says Jim, as they went deep down the chamber in a belly crawl. “Then it opened up very big inside,” he recalls. “As I entered, I felt all the side of my tongue go numb. And little stars were running around in my eyes.”
At the time the time he didn’t realize he was oxygen until he collapsed. ”It was the Australian guy that had to pull me out. He dragged me out by my feet to a chamber where there was oxygen. Otherwise there would be four dead bodies in that chamber, and not three.”
We all pile into the back of the pickup and Jim takes us to our second cave, called Tum Doa, the Star cave.
We enter the cavern. The temple has installed lights that guide our way. The ambience is striking, and the lighting brings out the contrasts of the lime stones and the stalagmites hanging down the cave like reversed stupas.
“Follow me, “says Jim, as we go way deep into the cave. He then shines his light at the ceiling, and thousands of ferry like lights twinkles down at us. “They are bats hanging upside down, and the reflections are their eyes,” says Jim who is standing under a ledge. One Japanese tourist is enchanted, and tells the group that it’s raining golden flakes. Jim lets out a bellicose laughter. “It’s not snow flakes, “he chuckles out, “it’s bat shit.”
Its pitch black in here, as Jim shines the light into every nook and cranny. “I’ll find him,” he says. He’s referring to another snake which lives in this cave. He says if you see him, it will bring you good luck. “See that ledge up their,” he points out. “One trip we saw this monk meditating,” he says. “He had been at it for months at a time. So I just moved my flashlight down a little bit, and all coiled up was this big white cobra sitting about six feet away from him.
The monk didn’t even know it was there. Jungle Jim had pointed it out with this flashlight. “You could see that the monk was a little bit alarmed,” he recalls.
“Eventually he came out of his meditation, usually they won’t. Usually you look at him in meditation, he doesn’t see if you are coming or going. He was a bit shocked himself. It was beautiful to see the monk in meditation, and only six feet away was the snake, seemingly in meditation itself.”
The third cave we visit is the Cave of the Fallen Chicken, Gai Lon in Thai, which is 280 steps up to reach it, says Jim. “So it’s hard to take people up with canes and high heal shoes. When you get up to the top, there’s an amazing big vault that you walk into. There’s a big hole in the top, a natural hole.”
The cave is all naturally lit. It’s the size of a football field with an amazing big dome. “The Sultan of Brunei doesn’t have a home like that, “says Jim who really is in his element as we follow him. “ There’s a big elephant like made out of the lime stones. And this was where the king in Thailand did his monk hood. And that’s the cave he lived in at the time. I believe it was eight months that he lived in this cave. “
What’s even more fascinating was how the cave got to get its quaint name. “There was an old farmer chasing his chicken,” Jim obliges to another local legend. “The chicken fell into a hole, and the farmer looked down in, and discovered a massive cave. And he found another route down to retrieve his chicken, and found this amazing big cave.”
Inside the dome it rises about 80 to 100 meters high. There are also old monk urns that have been burned and placed up in little cavities through out these caves.
“Across the valley, the old monk told us a real interesting story of this cave, “says Jim. It’s dark in here, and his voice echoes around the cave. “Right across the valley where you are looking, there are caves all around that area. An old man went into a coma in Bangkok. And when he got out of his coma, all that was on his mind was this dream that kept recurring while in a coma.”
In his dream, as the legend goes, this man was asked to go and find this place, across the valley from the Cave of the Fallen Chicken, and find this dead body in the cave which has a large head.
“The head is over two and half feet in length, “says Jim, who speaks with the assurance this is no local folklore. “ So the old man went in with the monks and retrieved this body with the massive head and had the monks cremate the body to release its spirit.”
Though the monks were skeptical at first, they obliged and now this legends lives on. One local of the cave verified this, says Jim. “Sure enough says the local, he saw this body, preserved in the nitrogen, from the bat shit with a great big head. So the old man who came out of comma was just enlightened after that. It just blew him away that was his main purpose in life, he felt, was to release this spirit out of this cave.”
"See this deep hole here," says Jim, and he climbs down for the convenience of the group. “On one occasion I was crawling along on my belly just like this,” he says, “And I saw this tale. It looked the size of an alligator or a crocodile. I could just make out the tale end of it leaving in front of me. I couldn’t turn to get out; there was no room to turn. I had to wriggle out backwards on my belly.”
Jungle Jim got us all back alive around six that evening in Hua Hin. On the way back he spun a few yarns on the sitting Buddha which you’ll hear more of soon. So if you want to spice your life up with some adventure, Jungle Jim’s Cave tours is a must for those Indiana Jones wannabes out their.