The Mae Hong Son Loop: A Birthday On The Road, Mae Sariang & the Kaew Komol Crystal Cave

We went to sleep with a four year old boy, and on a misty morning in late November we woke up with a five year old. Presents were opened, bikes were packed up and we headed out to a special birthday breakfast: ice cream.

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I think he likes it.

After a bit of a draining day on the way to Khun Yuam we were in for an easier ride on the smooth road south to Mae Sariang, 100km away.

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We stopped for some coffee and shakes at a restaurant with a look out over a peaceful valley, and they happened to have piles of beautiful Hilltribe clothes for people to try on. It was fascinating to handle and get a close look at the details of their designs.

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I think it rather suited me…

We arrived in Mae Sariang early afternoon and settled into our bungalows – cosy little concrete huts nestled in beautiful gardens overlooking a fish pond. Lovely. We ventured out looking for a cafe, got lost, retraced our steps, found the cafe, sat and had some coffee.

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It was while we sat sipping our lattes whilst overlooking beautiful fields set against a mountainous backdrop that I spied a giant golden statue of Buddha high up on a hill, gleaming in the sunlight. I knew I’d have to visit it up close before we said goodbye to Mae Sariang.

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Luckily we weren’t leaving any time soon.

Kaew Komol Cave

For our first day sightseeing around Mae Sariang we decided to visit Kaew Komol Cave near the town of Mae La Noi, driving 35kms back up the road we’d driven down the day before. You could argue that we should have stoped off at the cave then, when we’d seen the sign on our way past. And you wouldn’t be wrong. Hindsight, and all that…

Tham Kaew Komol is a rare calcium carbonate crystal cave that was first discovered in 1993 and opened to the public in 1995. Unlike the large cavernous caves we’d visited on this trip, Kaew Komol is a rather constricted space. The main section of the cave is a pothole that descends steeply, reaching a depth of over 30m, its walls encrusted with white calcium crystals in a variety of shapes and sizes. Steps and pathways have been concreted in, allowing visitors to view five chambers that widen out of the narrow pothole as they descend.

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After nearly getting a ton of dirt unloaded onto us from a lorry in front that had to dump its load when it reached a stalemate with a steep hill, we arrived at the car park. You can’t actually drive up to the cave yourself, so once we paid our entrance fee we jumped into a waiting songthaew which sped us up the steep and curving road to the cave’s entrance. We handed over our tickets and were asked to read the list of rules tacked onto a nearby post:

  • No Bags.  Okay, I understand that spaces are narrow, the crystals are delicate, and they don’t want people bashing bags around and ruining things for everyone. Totally reasonable, except they don’t actually have anywhere for you to put your bag while you visit the cave. I mean, I guess you could leave it with the folks taking tickets, if you don’t mind leaving your valuables with total strangers. I had a small bum-bag, I figured I’d be ok. I was pretty sure I could keep my arse away from the precious crystal walls – it’s not that big.
  • No Photography. Why? Because apparently it will damage the crystals. Huh? I don’t get it, someone explain it to me, please. In any case, you are left totally unsupervised in the cave so the rule isn’t exactly enforced. My contraband camera fit in my bumbag, so in it snuck.
  • 20 minute time limit within the cave. Two reasons were presented for this one. The cave area is small so only 20-30 people are allowed in at once. To give everyone a chance to go in and see it, a 20 minute time limit has been put in place. I guess visitor numbers fluctuate, ’cause we had the whole cave to ourselves. The second reason given is that apparently in the deepest caverns, oxygen levels are low so you shouldn’t spend too long down there. I have no way to know if this is true but you’d think if oxygen levels are low enough to worry about, there might be some kind of alert system in place in case someone needs medical attention at the bottom of the cave. There is none. Maybe someone pokes their head in if you disappear for long enough?
  • Don’t touch the crystals, okay? Touching the crystals halts their formation so sure, no probs.

Rules read, we moseyed on over to the entrance, opened the gate and descended into the cave of crystal wonders (and potential death).

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Is it just me…..? Maybe it’s just me.

Maybe it was the power of suggestion, maybe the oxygen really was a bit lower, but I admit I didn’t feel like hanging around down in the bottom chamber too long. It was a neat cave to visit, all the more so because we were alone down there. There’s something about feeling alone deep within the silence of the earth that is fascinating and terrifying at the same time. I understand the draw of caving – to find a cavern previously unknown, where no human foot has ever stepped before you – but I have absolutely no desire to do it myself. None. I’ll stick to nicely prepared caves with pathways and clearly marked exits, thank you.

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The view driving back to Mae Sariang from the cave

We stayed in Mae Sariang for a few more days so I’ll fill you in on our fun there in the next post.

 

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