. Anna grins at him smugly.
Off we go! We carry the kayaks down to the river and put our life jackets on but in all the excitement we have forgotten our helmets. Mr Wat looks at us and asks if we want small helmets or big helmets? Anna shouts 'big helmet Mr. Wat, I need a big helmet!' Mr Wat returns with two small helmets. Memories of Koh Lanta and the childsize helmet start to flash back in front of Anna's eyes... Off we kayak towards the gaping mouth of Tham Lod, Anna and Mr Wat effortlessly gliding downstream with Ian following behind, effortlessly hitting everything in his path. The Cave feels endless and our headtorches barely pierce the darkness around us. The eyes of the bats overhead stare back at us in the gloom, like hundreds of stars in a black night sky. About halfway into the main cavern Mr Wat leads us onto a shallow stone beach where we park our kayaks and set off for one of the lesser known caverns. The terrain is quite hard going as there are no paths here or wooden steps, so we follow closely to Mr Wat and try not to think about the possibility of being trapped in here. Mr Wat is a cheery fellow and happily points out every interesting rock formation and MASSIVE spider we come across. We try not to scream. A centipede the size of the Incredible Hulk's arm strolls past us as we trek deeper into the cave but the fascinating underworld around us stops us from running away
. Finally Mr Wat leads us back to the kayaks and we continue through the twisting tunnel of Tham Lod. After what seems like an eternity in the belly of the cave we finally see daylight in the distance and smell the fresh air. As the light hits our faces we feel a sense of relief. This is short lived as Mr Wat parks us up and before we know it we are treking into untamed jungle. This is unexpected. Mr Wat does a funny little walk/jig to empty most of the river from his vastly oversized formal dining shoes. We laugh and relax. We don't know where Mr Wat is taking us but we do hope it's a nice open space with cakes and biscuits.
As we stop, infront of what can only be described as a small hole in the bottom of a massive rock, we look at each other a tad perplexed. Surely Mr Wat isn't thinking about going in there. Ian is wearing poorly made flipflops and Anna is wearing a bright white vest. We are not dressed or prepared for a spot of pot-holing. Then again, Mr Wat is wearing too-big dining shoes. He disappears into the hole (which we later find is called Hair Cave) and we follow him like lambs to the slaughter, banging our tiny helmeted heads on the way. The going is wet, muddy, very narrow, dark, steep, scary, did we mention dark and very narrow? As claustraphobia starts to set in we limbo under a slab of rock to emerge into a large cavern. The rocks here glisten and sparkle and the sounds echo weirdly
. It has been tough getting here and Anna's white vest is now a muddy brown. We are tired, lost and a little scared. Then Mr Wat turns the lights out. As the screaming subsides.... only joking, we didn't scream, we were much to frightened for that! We stand in the darkest dark of darkness. Nobody has been anywhere this dark ever before. We fumble around for each others hands and cling on tight, both imagining various scenes of death about to occur. It is eerie but also very peaceful stood under the earth in silent darkness. Four days later we turn the lights back on and head for the surface. On the way back we see bats clinging to the stalactites and more monstorous spiders (they probably fed on bats they were that big). Are we climb though a passage with many hanging stalactites, Mr Wat stops us. Grinning, he flicks them with his fingers and plays out a little tune. It sounds like a xylophone and we give him a little clap once he finishes. We struggle free from the earth covered in crap and trek back to the river for a bit of a wash.
Back on the river we tackle harder and harder rapids. Anna and Mr Wat watch from afar as Ian gets stuck on every rock poking out of the river. He hopes they don't see him splash about in panic. They do. They Laugh. Then, in the distance, the water falls away. This must be the waterfall Steve had told us about earlier. It's not too bad, about a six foot drop
. We whoop and laugh as we go over, it is brilliant! After a few more kilometers of rapids, calm water and amazing landscapes, we come across a group of maybe ten young naked Thai boys playing in the river. They make a dash for us laughing and hollering. Mr Wat and Anna manage to paddle out of reach of the boys. Ian, all alone in his kayak and not the best paddler in these parts, doesn't. Less than a minute later Ian has eight naked Thai boys sharing his kayak. They jump about on it laughing and Ian laughs too. Soon however, his laughs turn a little hysterical as it becomes clear it is only a matter of time before the kayak capsizes. As the kayak crawls toward Anna and Mr Wat (going is slow with nine people on a kayak), the boys start to jump off and Ian breaths a sigh of relief. We think this must be the end of the line as Mr Wat gets out of his Kayak, but as always we are wrong. He is in fact preparing us for the 'actual' waterfall. It turns out the one before was the 'little' weir we had forgoten about. This one is about 15 feet of white water and Mr Wat needs to let a bit of air out of the kayaks before he sends us to our certain death. Gripping on tight he sends Ian over first before throwing himself and Anna over the edge. It's exhilarating and we survive! Unlike Ian's paddle which snapped in two as he hit the water. It has been a brilliant experience and we chatter in the van on the way home. We are officially now experienced kayakers, cavers, pot-holers, jungle-trekkers, intrepid explorers and all-round adventurers. Awesome. Thanks Mr Wat.
Later that evening we decide we haven't had enough adventure yet so we trek back to Tham Lod's exit using our advanced map-reading skills. We don't get lost. Yeah we know, it's quite a miracle! We get there before sunset and watch 300 thousand swifts entering the cave. It is a fantastic sight and sound. They speed in at a phenominal rate and fill the sky overhead. Unfortunately the camera doesn't pick them up too well as they are so small and fast but it is an amazing thing to witness. We don't even get pooed on and manage to trek back to the hut using only our combined sense of direction and head torches :)
After such a great day we reward ourselves with beer at the Lodge. Chang of course.
The jungle is peaceful and soft in the early morning light. We leave our cabin and head up to the Lodge. We have our brave faces on today. Last night we arranged a kayak trip down the river and through Tham Lod. Ian has only recently mastered the doggy paddle. We are greeted by Steve who asks if we have ever kayaked. We say.....yes... sort of...we did it in a flat man-made lake...once..! Steve looks frightened for our safety. We start to get that nervous feeling. He tells us that there will be rapids, lots of them. A weir to drop over. A few more rapids. Oh, and then a waterfall. A WATERFALL! He ends by saying that they don't usually let people go over it as it's very dangerous, but the river is quite low at the minute so it's 'safe enough'. We start to sweat. Steve introduces us to Mr. Wat, he will be our guide and one of us will travel in his kayak whilst the other gets to drive their own. Anna volunteers to go with Mr. Wat before Ian can get the words out. He is envious and fears for his life