This is the first of a series of reports which will detail the results of the SMCC cave explorations in Thailand. The report also notes the caves which were not found although efforts were made to locate them. This first part covers the northern provinces of Uttaradit, Phrae, Lampang, Nan, Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai.
The caves included in Part I were visited between December 2003 and March 2005.
All grid references given in this report are on the UTM grid based on the Indian 1954 (Thailand-Vietnam) datum and most were obtained by GPS.
Amphoe Thong Saeng Khan
Klong Tron National Park
The Klong Tron National park covers an area of 518 km2and its highest point is the 1,500 m Khao Phu Miang. As well as the caves in the Tham Chan (also spelt Jan) Forest Park other caves, such as Tham Pha Tang, are reported from the National Park.
Tham Chan Forest Park
This small forest park is part of the Klong Tron National Park. It is located to the east of Uttaradit town and is reached by taking the H11 northwards from the town towards Phrae and Nan. A few kilometres north of Uttaradit there is a major crossroads with traffic lights with a lignite mine sign posted to the right (with one of the blue tourist signs). Take this right hand turning and go along the H1047. Keep following this road in a generally easterly direction. After about 30 kilometres the entrance to the forest park is sign posted on the left hand (northern) side.
From the car park a concreted track leads up for a short distance to a level area. This area used to be a camp site and there is a toilet block, etc. At the start of the concreted track a large sign, in Thai, indicates that there are eight caves in the park with the furthest being about one kilometre away. We only explored six of these caves, of which five were surveyed.
Tham Sampeng / Tham Khang Khao ถ้ ำสามเเพ่ง / ถ้ ำค้างคาว
Tham Sampeng: 47Q 0651059 1944503 Alt.: 184 m
Tham Khang Khao: 47Q 0651027 1944466 Alt.: 184 m
Length: 208 m VR: 14 m
Having walked up the short hill from the car park this is the first cave you reach. It is in the cliff on the right and is conveniently sign posted with a path leading up to Tham Sampeng.
From the Tham Sampeng entrance a rift passage, which is parallel to the cliff face, has a couple of short ladders to aid the scramble over boulders to reach a chamber with a couple of entrances. On the right there is a 7 m pitch. It is not necessary to descend the pitch as the chamber at the bottom can be reached from Tham Khang Khao.
Tham Khang Khao is a few metres further along the cliff from Tham Sampeng, but access is easier if you descend back down to the track and then climb up the slope to the left (west) of the flag pole. The low and wide entrance soon opens up into a large passage. To the right leads to the chamber at the bottom of the pitch in Tham Sampeng. Continuing ahead and then left leads to a couple of rifts, one of which also connects to the chamber below the pitch.
Tham Chan ถ้ ำจัน
47Q 0650987 1944468 Alt.:194 m
Length: 45 m VR: 3 m
The path to Tham Chan leads up the slope to the cliff from the resurgence beside the track. The resurgence has a thatched roof over it. Tham Chan is simply a 45 m long, large and high phreatic passage. There is a large shrine in the cave and it is the best known of the caves in the park.
47Q 0650995 1944460 Alt.: 192 m
Length: 15 m VR: 7 m
This cave is a small descending rift just to the south of Tham Chan.
Tham Wua Daeng ถ้ ำวัวเเดง
47Q 0650952 1944476 Alt.: 189 m
Length: 145 m VR: 16 m
From Tham Chan a path skirts the cliff to Tham Wua Daeng. The descending entrance leads to a small complex of passages. Up to the right leads to a dead end, a second entrance and a loop back towards the main entrance. Down to the left the passage reaches a small chamber. A small hole on the right leads down a climb into a fairly large, rubble floored chamber. At the opposite side of the chamber it is possible to climb up and exit the cave by squeezing between boulders.
Tham Sawan ถ้ ำธารสวรรก์
47Q 0650967 1944491 Alt.: 208 m
Length: 20 m VR: 11m
Tham Sawan is simply a 10 m wide phreatic tube descending at 45° through a spur of the hill. It is located a few metres above Tham Wua Daeng.
Tham Sua Dao ถ้ ำเสือดาว
Length: ~100 m
Tham Sua Dao is a couple of hundred metres away from the caves above. It is sign posted and a good path leads to the entrance. The entrance is behind the boulders. This cave was quickly looked at, but not surveyed. It was a small maze of rifts and chimneys, probably less than 100 m long.
Tham Je Dee ถ้ ำเอดีย์
This cave was not visited. The sign post indicated that it is 650 m beyond Tham Sua Dao
Tham Dao ถ้ ำเต่า
Another cave that was not visited. According to the sign posts it is 300 m beyond Tham Sua Dao.
Other Caves in Uttaradit Province
A sign for Wat Wang Tham (COT UT 1) was seen heading to the north of the H1047 at 47Q 0641377 1942832.
A blue tourist sign for Tham Din (COT UT 6) was seen at 47Q 0631647 1931479 indicating that this cave is to the east of the H11 along the H1214. The Caves of Thailand indicates that the cave is near the junction of the H1143 and H1246 roads. Although the roads in this area were driven along in December 2003 and March 2005 no further signs were seen.
Amphoe Rong Kwang
Tham Pha Nong Khoi ถ้ ำผานางคอย
Main Entrance 47Q 0643426 2031309 Alt.: 260 m
Back Entrance 47Q 0643474 2031521 Alt.: 272 m
Length: 435 m VR: 14 m COT PA 1
This is a well know show cave that is sign posted to the west of the H101 about 40 kilometres north of Phrae town at kilometer 59. A set of concrete steps leads up to the large entrance where a woman was waiting to collect the 5 baht donation towards the cost of the electric lighting. The cave is simply a single large phreatic tunnel that goes through the hill to a second entrance and a large shrine. Near this back entrance there is a large stalagmite which is supposed to represent a mother and child which has given rise to a legend regarding the cave. In this ancient and famous legend a king's daughter is saved from drowning by a soldier and she then elopes with her saviour and has his child. The king, furious at their behaviour, sends men after them to ambush the soldier as he leaves the cave. Unaware of his death, the princess waits eternally for his return and the stalagmite is said to represent the princess and her child. An interesting trip and worth the short detour from the road.
Doi Pha Klong National Park
This new national park, formerly known as the Suan Hin Maharaj Park, is located to the south-west of Phrae town and is circled by the H101, H11 and H1023
Blue tourist signs to Tham Erawan were seen at the junction of H101 and H11 (47Q 0613193 1986696) and to the north of H11 at 47Q 0597997 1987034. The cave is close to the Mae Nam Nan river and a boat trip might be needed to reach it. The map of the park has a Tham Paak Long marked just to the north of the H1023 to the east of Amphoe Long at the Coral Mountain. The park literature also mentions a Tham Chan Pha in the Suan Hin Maharaj rock garden (to the south of the H1023 to the eats of Amphoe Long). Tham Chan Pha is described as being "a huge bat cave with lots of bat's dung" and it is located in the north of the stone garden.
Locke, Clutterbuck & Wilson (1998) [Tham Pha Nong Khoi]; Kimmins, B. (2003) [Tham Pha Nong Khoi]
Tham Pha Thai National Park
Tham Pha Thai ถ้ ำผาไท
47Q 0594922 2057129 Alt.: 375 m
Length: 1,186 m VR: 25 m COT LA 1
This is a very well known show cave close to the H1 between the towns of Ngao and Lampang and is mentioned in most tourist guidebooks. The cave was found in 1923 by animal hunters during the survey for the H1. It was explored and surveyed by the French in 1983. The cave is now in its own National Park and has a small visitor centre at the cave. We were allowed to explore the cave on our own and without being charged an entry fee.
From the car park a set of good steps leads up to the large collapse entrance. The main entrance has a large shrine and leads for several hundred metres to an end chamber which has a couple of skylights. There are side passages, but these have not been pushed to a conclusion as they contain over 5% carbon dioxide. Indeed, the carbon dioxide concentration reached 3.5% on the main show cave path during our visit. From the large collapse a couple of other smaller caves can accessed. These smaller caves are included by the French in their total length for Tham Pha Thai
There are several other caves in the park including Tham Chon and Tham Suao which are near Tham Pha Thai and described as "old historical", Tham Rat Cha Kreu which is a 300 m walk from Ban Mae Kae (near Ngao) and Tham Ok Roo which is near the Huai Mae Pleung plantation office.
To the south of Tham Pha Thai the H1 follows the eastern side of the mountain which has a series of limestone cliffs. At one point the road goes through the ‘Cliff Gate’ which is a 75 m wide gap in the limestone wall. A couple of cave entrances were seen in the cliffs near the Gate at 47Q 0582950 2039650, but no attempt was made to visit them. Hallett also followed this route on his travels in 1876. However, he passed through the Gate on elephant rather than in a pick-up truck. He describes the ‘mural limestone’ alongside the route and the gap in the wall. Hallett also mentions a couple of caves near the gate, but he said they were only ‘short’.
Amphoe Sop Prap
Tham Phaya Lue
A blue tourist sign for this cave was seen to the north (?) of Sop Prap on H1. The cave was to the east of the road. No references to the cave have been found.
Tham Pha Khan
47Q 0521800 1974866 Alt.: 700 m
Length: 762 m + VR: 114 m + COT LA 28?
This cave came to our attention when Tilley published his article in April 2004. However, rumours of a large cave located high in the mountains of southern Lampang have existed for a long time.
Tham Pha Khan is difficult to get to. In March 2005 we went to the village of Ban Mae Thot, which is just off H1 to the north of Thoen, and met the village headman who arranged guides for us. Obviously this would be more difficult to do if you do not speak Thai. The next day we drove for about 10 km to the end of the 4WD track which heads out north of the village from the wat. The end of the track is at 47Q 0521550 1970750 alt.: 270 m. Here we met our guides, with motorbikes, and about 15 villagers. A 20 minute pillion ride across the fields and through the forest brought us to the edge of a river. It was then a very steep walk up the valley, past a couple of other caves, to reach the entrance to Tham Pha Khan. The entrance is 4 km north of where you park the car. We paid the six guides 200 baht each.
The cave descended steeply with a couple of low sections which had been dug out to make it easier. Soon you reach a magnificent calcite floor flowing down the passage. We first explored an upper passage which ascended steeply. Back at the junction we then followed the calcite river, bypassing a climb via a small passage and a rift on the right. Below the pitch the cave got smaller and we were stopped at the top of a 3 m gour climb. One person descended this and reported that the passage continued to descend through a couple of chambers before he turned back. It may of interest to note that drinking water from the small trickle found above the calcite floored passage did not have any ill effects.
The cave was not been fully explored as we ran out of time. The way on below the 3 m gour has only been quickly looked at by one Western caver (the locals have explored extensively below this drop). If the GPS altitude for the entrance is accurate and if the cave resurges at the valley floor level the cave has the potential to be about 400 m deep. Tilley describes the cave as a 'huge labyrinth burrowing more than a kilometre into the heart of the mountain.' It is unfortunate that it is such a difficult cave to get to.
The cave made the news because the villagers in Ban Mae Thot have plans to build a good track and path to the cave and open it as a tourist attraction. They have heard how Tham Chiang Dao, in Chiang Mai province, is a good source of income for the nearby villagers. It has been estimated that they would need 600,000 baht (£8,600) to construct the track and they hope to recover the money in two years. To do this they would need to attract 1,500 visitors a year paying 200 baht each, something that is unlikely to happen as this is not a very pretty cave and the walk up the hill from the end of the track is very steep and difficult. After our trip we thanked the village headman and gently tried to tell him that Tham Pha Khan would not make a good show cave.
In Caves of Thailand the location details for Tham Pha Khan (LA 27) don't match the Tham Pha Khan that we explored. In addition LA 27 is described as having an entrance crawl and then explored following a stream. This is very different to the cave that we visited. However, LA 28 is described as being 2 km from and higher than LA 27 and was said to be much more attractive. It is possible that LA 28 is the Tham Pha Khan we visited.
Tham Sukkasem Sawan ถ้ ำสุบเกษมสวรรค์
47Q 0522231 1957894 Alt.: 200 m
Length: ~70 m
This is a small cave in a large temple complex to the south of Ban Mae Thot. It is sign posted, in Thai, from Ban Mae Thot. The cave has been developed as a shrine with several Buddhas and some mural paintings. A passage reached via a metal ladder over a rift to the right of the main entrance was not explored. Of more interest than the cave is the wooden temple building in the monastery which is made from wood and has extensive bas-relief carvings.
Amphoe Mae Phrik
Mae Wa National Park
Tham Nam Pha Pha Ngam ถ้ ำน้ ำผ่ผาวาม
47Q 0518283 1932372 Alt.: 259 m
Length: 302 m VR: 8 m COT LA 26
The cave is in the Mae Wa National Park about 20 km south of Thoen to the east of the H1. A blue tourist sign indicates the turning into the monastery where this cave is located.
From the car park 220 steps lead up to the entrance. The cave passes three side entrances to reach a collapsed chamber and passage to another small chamber and the upper entrance. There are also a couple of side passages, one of which wasn't explored as a monk was meditating there. The Royal Forest Department website mentions there being a 'cold water stream' inside, but this had completely dried up when we visited in March 2005.
The Royal Forest Department website also mentions a Tham Phra Chedi located 3 km from Ban Nam Dip in Tambon Mae Wa, Amphoe Thoen. It is described as being a medium sized limestone cave with pagoda like stalagmites on the floor and 'tiered ponds' (gours). It has been developed for tourism, Nearby there is also a Tham Chang and many small caves.
47Q 0518413 1933451 Alt.: 189 m
Length: ~20 m
This cave is located a short distance to the north of Tham Nam Pha Pha Ngam and there is a small sign, in Thai, at the start of the track leading up to the temple complex. The cave is home to a monk who has been there for 20 years. The monk said there was one more small cave round the corner from Tham Ngu and two more small caves behind the petrol station a few kilometres to the north. Two white stupas were seen on small hills near here which might mark the where the caves are.
Clarac, A. & Pagau-Clarac, H. (1985) [Tham Pha Thai], Cummings, J. (1999) [Tham Pha Thai], Deharveng, L. & Gouze, A. (1983) [Tham Pha Thai], Deharveng, L., et. al. (1986) [Tham Pha Thai], Hallett, H.S. (1890) [Cliff Gate], Munier, C. (1998) [Tham Pha Thai], Tilley, R. (2004) [Tham Pha Khan], Vogt, M. (2003) [Tham Pha Thai]
Doi Phuka National Park
Doi Phuka is northern Thailand's largest national park covering an area of 1,704 km2. It was designated on the 17th June 1999 and is named after the highest peak within the park, the 1,980 m high Doi Phukha. This large park covers parts of amphoes Thung Chang, Chiang Klang, Pua, Bo Kluea, Chakern Phra Kiat, Santi Suk and Mae Charim.
Although various websites and Royal Forest Department brochures mention caves it had not been visited by speleologists before our trip in March 2005. This brief reconnaissance only explored one cave, Tham Pha Phueng, but this was found to be a very significant pothole. Information on other caves, gleaned from the park headquarters, reforestation project headquarters, road signs and the internet, has been included in this report although the caves were not visited. The park has been split into three arbitrary sections to hopefully make the descriptions of the caves easier to follow.
Christen Goodden's book "Trek It Yourself In Northern Thailand" is the best guide to the area and is recommended. It even has a detailed description of Tham Pha Phueng, but this had escaped the attention of cavers before our visit.
At the Royal Forest Department reforestation project HQ just before the village of Ban Mani Ploek there are several displays of photos and information of nearby caves including Tham Pha Phueng, Tham Nam Dam and 4 other caves. This area is covered by L7017 series 1:50,000 maps 5247 I Amphoe Thung Chang and 5247 IV Ban Sakat Num. However, both of these maps have restricted availability and can not be bought. If arranged in advance accommodation is available at the project HQ.
Tham Pha Phueng ถ้ ำผาผึ้ง
47Q 0717319 2149726 Alt.: 1325 m (from map)
Length: 757 m + VR: 163 m surveyed plus an undescended pitch of approx. 150 m
This is an easy cave to find. Heading north out of Chiang Klang on H1080 a blue tourist sign (in English) directs you onto the H1291 on the right which steadily climbs up into the hills. This road has suffered from some large landslides and is probably not advisable in the wet season. Eventually you reach a five-way junction where you need to take the road on the left past the national park station. When you reach the reforestation project headquarters there is another sign, this time in Thai. The cave is about a kilometre from the headquarters in a doline just before you climb up to the Hmong village of Ban Mani Ploek. Park at the bottom of the doline and a short path follows the small stream to the large cave entrance which is at the base of a 50 m high cliff.
The cave descends steeply with a boulder floored passage 30m wide and 20 m high. A small inlet on the right about 50 m inside the entrance has not been explored. The passage stays big and impressive for about 300 m until it levels out and narrows into a rift. After 25 m the top of a 8 m pitch is reached. Descending the pitch drops you into a large streamway. Upstream has only been explored for about 50 m and not pushed to any conclusion. Downstream the passage follows a bedding plane descending at 12°. After 135 m a canyon inlet on the left has been explored for 50 m to an unclimbed pitch. The main passage continues to descend and after a further 200 m the stream flows over some gours and then drops down a very large pitch. Stones take six seconds to fall, hitting a couple of ledges on the way, and the pitch is estimated to be at least 150 m deep.
To the top of the big pitch the cave is 163 m deep which makes it the fifth deepest known cave in Thailand. However, including the undescended pitch the cave is approximately 310 m deep which would make it by far the deepest Thai cave. The resurgence is unknown. Tourist maps show a tributary to the Mae Nam Nan about 4 km to the west of the cave which is probably at an altitude of around 500 m which gives a depth potential in the region of 800 m. From the base of the 150 m pitch the cave could descend a further 500 m and there is a straight line distance of about 3.5 km to the valley.
Goodden (2000) describes a smaller doline not far from Tham Pha Phueng and about 100 m from Ban Mani Ploek. This was caused by the collapse of a cave roof and has dense and intertwined vegetation in it.
Tham Champi ถ้ ำจําปี
As with Tham Pha Phueng, driving north of Chiang Klang on the H1080 a blue tourist sign directs you up the H1291 to the east towards Tham Champi, Tham Nam Dam and Tham Pha Pheung.
At the Royal Forest Department reforestation project headquarters there are several displays of photographs and information of nearby caves including Tham Champi.
Tham Nam Dan ถ้ ำนํ้าดั้น
This is the third cave on the blue tourist sign seen while driving north of Chiang Klang on the H1080 which directs you up the H1291 towards the east. According to the sign it is 2 km before Tham Pha Phueng and is probably to the west of the village near the Royal Forest Department reforestation project headquarters.
At the Royal Forest Department reforestation project headquarters there are several displays of photographs and information of nearby caves including Tham Nam Dam.
Tham Nam Mudt ถ้ ำนํ้ามด
At the five-way junction on H1291, near the national park station, a sign indicates that Tham Nam Mudt, Tham Ho-Ying and Tham Ho-Yai are all along the road towards Ban Mani Ploek.
Tham Ho-Ying ถ้ ำหอหญิง
Other name: Tham Too Dee Gong 1 ถ้ำภูตกลอง 1
This cave is sing posted on the H1291, near the Royal Forest Department reforestation project headquarters.
There are photographs from this cave in the Royal Forest Department reforestation project headquarters.
Tham Ho-Yai ถ้ ำหอชาย
Other name: Tham Too Dee Gong 2 ถ้ำภูตกลอง 2
This cave is sign posted on the H1291, near the Royal Forest Department reforestation project headquarters.
There are photographs from this cave in the Royal Forest Department reforestation project headquarters.
Tham Too Lan ถ้ ำภูหัวล้าน
There are photographs from this cave in the Royal Forest Department reforestation project headquarters.
Tham Pha Daeng ถ้ ำผาแดง
Approx. 47Q 0722600 2151000 (from map in NP HQ)
NB: the position on the map of Tham Pha Phueng is about 500 m different to the GPS co-ordinates for the entrance.
This is the best known cave in the national park and was used as a base by the communist insurgents up until 1982. The co-ordinates place it to the west of the H1081 between Bo Klua and Ngom Pao and the Berndtson & Berndtson tourist map shows a Ban Pha Daeng (a Yeo hill tribe village) at the end of a track. However, the route descriptions seen have all been from Ban Mani Ploek in the centre of the park and involve a very long walk.
Goodden (2000) gives a good description of the route. From Ban Mani Ploek drive along a 4WD track to Ban Saam Yaek. Goodden describes it as a trek, but a 4WD track continues for about 4.3 km to a three-way junction. From this junction Tham Pha Daeng is 4.4 km away along a path. Goodden says you will need a guide to find the cave and that a forest monk was living there on his last visit.
The 1:50,000 maps which cover the national park, which can be seen at the park headquarters and the Royal Forest Department reforestation project headquarters, show several large dolines. Some of these are shown to have streams sinking in them. Three of these dolines are centred on 47Q 0717700 2139500, 47Q 0718600 2144700 and 47Q 07219100 2147300.
The national park headquarters is located on the H1256 that goes east from Pua and through the mountains to Ban Bo Klua. There is a barrier across the road where you enter the park and foreigners are expected to pay 200 baht each, even though it is a public highway. In the park headquarters there is a 1:50,000 map covering the whole park and several caves are marked on it. However, when we later visited Tham Pha Phueng there was a difference of about 500 m between the GPS co-ordinates and the position marked on the map. There is basic accommodation available at the park headquarters, but there are few caves in this area.
Tham Pha Kong ถ้ ำผาฆ้อง
Approx. 47Q 0716300 2121500 (from map in NP HQ)
NB: the position on the map of Tham Pha Phueng is about 500 m different to the GPS co-ordinates for the entrance.
When driving up the H1256 east from Pua to the national park headquarters the road breaks out of the forest and runs along the top of a razor-back ridge. A road on the right leads steeply down to a village and the cave is probably somewhere near here. If you reach the turning (on the left) to Ban Toei or the barrier at the start of the national park you have gone too far.
Just before the barrier at the entrance to the park a road on the left leads to the village of Ban Toei which is spectacularly sited on a steep ridge. Going through the village you reach the Bamboo Huts guesthouse (where the concrete road stops). This is signed from the junction with the H1256. The huts are very basic, but only cost 100 baht a night and are a very peaceful place to stay. The owner of the guesthouse, William, is also a trekking guide and can lead you to three caves which are a six hour walk away into the jungle. In 2005 he charged 500 baht per day per person. Two of these caves are through trips under a ridge. According to Cummings, et. al. (2003) the longest of these caves is called Tham Lawng.
Tham Pha Kao ถ้ ำผาเก้า
Approx. 47Q 0719300 2106600 (from map in NP HQ)
NB: the position on the map of Tham Pha Phueng is about 500 m different to the GPS co-ordinates for the entrance.
This cave is located to the north of the H1081 about 6 km from of Ban Lak Lai when heading towards Ban Bo Klua.
Ban Nam Pun
47Q 0725000 2066000
This village (Lime Water Village) is located in the far south of the park. Although outside the southern edge of the Doi Phuka National Park we were informed that caves have been reported from here. From Mae Charim take the H1268 which goes to the Lao border and in Ban Nam Phang turn left onto the N1168 which heads north-east to end in the village of Ban Nam Pun.
Other Caves in Doi Phuka National Park
Tham Lod or Tham Nam Ook Roo
A National Park leaflet and websites also mentions a Tham Lod or Tham Nam Ook Roo, but this cave was not marked on the topographic map in the park HQ and its location is unknown. The cave is described as "...a natural phenomenon. The water inside the cave in the mountains, flows out across the caves to the outside" which would seem to indicate it is a resurgence cave with an accessible streamway.
Tham Pha Tup Forest Park
47Q 0683188 2085286 Alt: 280 m (car park)
This forest park is to the west of the main road (H1080) north out of Nan town, not far past the airport. The name is also spelt Tham Pha Toob on some maps and signs. There are blue tourist signs, but they are misleading and we ended up on the wrong side of the hill. The main entrance to the park is amongst the buildings of the village. A dirt track and then a concrete track leads round the back of the hills and also give access to the park. In the park there are a couple of limestone hills which contain several small caves and shelters and there is a monastery. The Caves of Thailand and Cummings (1999) say that there are 17 caves in the park of which nine are easily located.
Tham Pha Tup ถ้ ำผาตูบ
Length: 50 m COT NA 4
As you climb the steps and then the path from the car park up onto the hill a track on the right leads to a small entrance. Once through the entrance a single passage, about 4 m wide and 6 m high with a few formations, leads to a meditation site. This cave is probably Tham Pha Tup.
Tham Pha Sawan
47Q 0682932 2085410
Length: 120 m COT NA 23
This is the longest cave in the park and its length was confirmed by pacing.
Other Caves in Tham Pha Tup Forest Park
Tham Bor Nam Thip (COT NA 6): "There's a ...wide hall within, cave hole allows the sunshine in and stalactites decorated around the cave. One side of it consisted of valley with oval shaped pool filled with water throughout the year. The water is believed to be holy water."
Tham Chedi Kaew (COT NA 21): "It's a small cave. The front of the cave has a stone like a chedi."
Tham Khon (COT NA 24): "It's long like a log. There are splendid stalactites inside the cave and there is a cliff at the entrance to the cave."
Tham Phra (COT NA 5):"It's a huge cave, large ground...hole exists on top of the cave. Entrance in other side of the hill allows wind and light access into the cave. Beautiful stalactites exist."
Amphoe Song Khwae
Tham Sakern National Park
Tham Sakern National Park is located in a remote part of northern Nan province close to the border with Phayao province and not far from Laos. The park covers an area of 448 km2. From Nan town take the H1080 north to Tha Wang Pha where you turn left onto the H1148 to Song Khwae. In Song Khwae take the H1097 which climbs up and over a mountain range before descending into the Ban Sakern valley. It is a two hour drive from Nan town to Ban Sakern. There are several limestone towers in the valley located to the north of the H1148. The park headquarters are about 6 km north of Ban Sakern along a dirt track which also passes the entrance to Tham Luang Sakern.
Tham Luang Sakern ถ้ ำหลวงสะเกิน
Main Entrance: 47Q 0662062 2142242 Alt.: 750 m
Swift Entrance: 47Q 0662038 2142166 Alt.: 819 m
Side Entrance: 47Q 0662041 2142282 Alt.: 806 m
Top Entrance: 47Q 0661982 2142455 Alt.: 850 m
Length: 600 m VR: 105 m COT PY 4
In the village take the track to the north towards the limestone outcrops and the park headquarters. The track leads past a temple with many chedis and there is a small wooden sign, in English, directing you to the cave. The main entrance is 20 m wide (not 200 m wide as claimed by Cummings) and can be seen from several kilometres away.
From the track a path leads steeply up the side of the hill and then contours around the base of the cliff to the entrance. Guano is mined in the cave and is removed from the main entrance using an aerial ropeway. The cave is home to many swifts and bats so the boulders are covered in droppings and feathers. From the main entrance the 40 to 50 m wide passage ascends up and round to the left to a second entrance. Near the main entrance a large horizontal passage to the right leads past a third entrance and then ascends steeply to end at a choke. A route up the choke leads to a small entrance between the boulders.
The cave ascends for over 100 m to make it one of the deepest known caves in Thailand.
Other caves have been reported from the Tham Sakern National Park including Tham Pla Kang.
Amphoe Na Noi
The following two short caves are formed in a very isolated limestone outcrop, surrounded by a ‘desert’ of sandstone hills. They are located just before you reach the village of Ban Chatawan. From Nan town take the H101 south to Wiang Sa. In Wiang Sa turn right and follow the H1026 south to Na Noi where you turn right again onto the H1216. This road eventually degenerates into a narrow concrete surfaced track. Before then take a turning on the left and you will hopefully end up in Ban Chatawan. This is an obscure part of Thailand and several new roads are not marked on the maps.
There is a yellow sign on the right just before the village and by taking this turning you soon arrive at the monastery. The limestone outcrop is also unmistakable.
Tham Chatawan ถ้ ำเชตวัน
47Q 0667155 2020884 Alt.: 500 m
Length: 25 m VR: 2 m
A flight of concrete steps with nagas leads up to this cave which is a 20 m long rift to a Buddha. A concrete path leads for a few metres round the cliff to other shrines and a Buddha footprint.
Tham Chatawan Lower Cave
47Q 0667142 2020876 Alt.: 488 m
Length: 50 m VR: 12 m
Found just below the shrine cave this cave is a series of mud floored passages leading to a high rift passage. All ways on are choked.
Sri Nan National Park
The Sri Nan National Park covers an area of 934 km2 in the south-eastern corner of Nan on the border with Uttaradit. It protects the valley of the Mae Nam Nan and its surrounding hills upstream of the large Sirikit Reservoir. From Nan town take the H101 south to Wiang Sa. In Wiang Sa turn right and follow the H1026 south to Na Noi where you turn left onto the H1083. At the top of the first hill there is a small park office and a track leading north to a viewpoint which has fine vistas over the Mae Nam Nan valley. Only one limestone outcrop was briefly visited. This is just outside the northern boundary of the park and is reached by continuing to follow the track past the vewpoint.
Sri Nan Cave 1
47Q 0693245 2032643 Alt.: 795 m
The small entrance to this cave was seen from the track heading north from the park office and viewpoint. It is located in the bottom of a small depression at the base of a limestone outcrop. It was not explored.
Sri Nan Cave 2
47Q 0691714 2033720 Alt.: 629 m
The track leads to an area that has been cleared of forest and is being intensively farmed. This area is outside the national park boundaries. This cave is a choked sink at the bottom of 1 km long limestone cliff to the west of the agricultural area to the north of the park office. It is choked with soil due to erosion caused by the farming.
In addition to the caves mentioned above farm workers informed us of another cave located to the east of, and uphill from, the farmed area. Staff at the national park office claimed there were caves within the park.
Other Caves in Nan Province
The blue tourist signs for the following caves were seen, but the caves were not visited or could not be found:
Tham Pha Luk – sign posted to the west of the H1148 near Na Nun Song, 5 km north of Tha Wang Pla
Tham Huai Puak – sign posted to the south of the H1162 at 47Q 0689801 2050017. We are sure that we were close to the cave, but couldn't find it despite asking for directions.
Tham Pha Wiang ถ้ ำผาฮาง (COT NA 1)and Tham Ammarin – a blue tourist sign indicated that these caves were up a track to the northwest of the H1026 at 47Q 0681207 2041064. Clarac & Pagau-Clarac states "At km 18 from leaving [Wiang] Sa, near the village of Ban Pha Wiang, a track on the right leads in less than 3 km to a cavern composed of many chambers (Tham Pha Hang)." This information is repeated in Munier who says the cave is 18 km south of Wiang Sa and has several chambers. We drove 3.5 km along the track and ended up in an active limestone quarry, but couldn't find the caves. It would appear likely that the caves are close to the quarry, perhaps on the other side of the road. There is a police station at the start of the track where directions could probably be obtained. An internet reference also mentions a Tham Pha Mong near Tham Pha Wiang and that the access road is only 300 m long.
Clarac, A. & Pagau-Clarac, H. (1985) [Tham Pha Wiang]; Cummings, J. (1999) [Tham Luang Sakern & Tham Pha Tup]; Cummings, et. al. (2003) [Tham Lawng, Doi Phuka NP]; Goodden (2000) [Tham Pha Phenug & Doi Phuka NP]; Munier, C. (1998) [Tham Pha Wiang]
Chiang Rai Province
Amphoe Mae Suai
Tham Mae Suai
Approx. 47Q 0554000 2178100 COT CR 18
This cave is marked on the Northern Thailand tourist map and is mentioned in Barlow's online guide to caves in Chiang Rai. On a day trip over the hills from Fang we spent several hours driving around trying to find this cave. The reference described the cave being about 5 km north of the town of Mae Suai. There is a signpost to the cave off the H109 a few hundred metres before the junction with the H118 indicating that the cave is to the north along a dirt road. Going along this track brought us to a new dam and we could see a large limestone outcrop on the other side of the lake created by the dam. Whilst surveying the lake from a temple that was under construction a monk overheard us wondering about the cave’s location and confirmed that the access road was now flooded. The cave can now only be reached by boat and the monk gave us the telephone number for the boatman if we wished to pay a visit (01 9605671)
Amphoe Wiang Chai
Tham Mae Ook Roo
Downstream entrance: 47Q 0610999 2199149 Alt.: 385 m
Length: estimated to be 3,000 m of which we saw about 300 m. VR: ~3 m
This cave is located in a limestone tower near the village of Ban Rong Ha. This area has several limestone towers and is marked as 'beautiful landscape' on tourist maps. When traveling from the Chiang Rai along the H1152 towards Phaya Mengrai the towers are first seen near Ban Pa Bong. Following the road through Ban Pa Bong a quarry is passed on the left and soon after there is a road on the left, near km 26. If you reach Ban Rong Ha you have gone to far. Heading down the side road a tower is right in front of you. At the foot of the tower there is a T junction where you turn right and after a couple of hundred metres in obscure resurgence is on the left at the foot of the tower. There is a spirit house, a small parking area and some of the trees are wrapped with orange cloth (the orange cloth is an attempt to show that the trees are holy and so protect them).
This cave made it into the Thai national press in July 2003 due to an environmental dispute between local farmers and the quarry company. Expansion plans by one of the local quarrying companies, who have almost completely removed two neighbouring limestone towers, threatened the hill with Tham Mae Ook Roo which is an important source of water for farmers during the dry season. Local villagers protested against the quarries' plans and the National Human Rights Commission visited the area and explored what they estimated to be 3 km of passage in the cave. There are two known stream sinks on the other side of the mountain, but an estimated ten times more water resurges from the cave and the stream also resurges in the dry season when the sinking streams are dry. In December 2002 the assistant village headman who had been leading the protests was shot and killed. This understandably frightened many of the villagers into withdrawing their protests.
We asked for directions to the cave at a noodle store in Ban Rong Ha, but the lady claimed not to have heard of the cave. After driving around in circles we ended up back in Ban Rong Ha and we asked for directions again, this time at the village shop. The lady here kindly found us a guide who took us to the resurgence entrance. After scrambling down through boulders you end up in an active streamway that starts off about 1.3 m high and gradually diminishes as you progress with the water and mud getting deeper. A passage on the right, said to extend for about a kilometre, was soon passed. After a couple of hundred metres the roof gets a lot lower and the mud deepens to about 50 cm which makes the going very difficult. Eventually you reach a T junction with the stream coming in from the right. We headed left towards another entrance and then walked back around on the road to the resurgence.
This is a squalid cave – wet, low and muddy. We got very damp and covered in mud, much of which is grey dust from the nearby quarries. However, our guide, who did the trip without a light and mainly barefooted, only got wet up to mid-thigh and didn't appear to be particularly dirty after the trip. Surveying this cave will be a lot of fun, but at least the water is warm and there wasn't much wildlife. Whilst changing after the trip we had a visit from a couple of quarry workers. Despite the history of trouble these two gentlemen we simply amused that four foreigners had bothered to travel so far to get wet in a cave.
After the trip we were invited back to Ban Rong Ha were we where fed beer and offered a shower to clean up after the trip. Amongst the people we met was the daughter of the villager who had been murdered.
Chiang Rai References
Barlow, J.J. (n.d.) [Tham Mai Suai]; Janchitfah, S. (2003) [Tham Mae Ook Roo]; Wongruang, P. (2004) [Tham Mae Ook Roo]
Chiang Mai Province
Amphoe Chiang Dao
Tham Chiang Dao ถ้ ำเชียงดาว
47Q 0492800 2144300 Alt.: 455 m
Length: 5,170 m VR: 70 m COT CM 1
Tham Chiang Dao has to be the best known cave in northern Thailand. It is mentioned in all the guidebooks and marked on most maps. From Chiang Mai city take the H107 north for about 60 km to the small town of Chiang Dao. At the northern end of the town the road to Tham Chiang Dao is on the left and is quite obscure despite the road signs. Doi Chiang Dao (also known as Doi Ang Salung) is the impressive limestone mountain in front of you and the road leads you to the large wat at the entrance to the cave. Many of the guidebooks quote a length of between 10 and 14 km, but the French survey carried out in 1983 and 1985 showed that the cave is about half this length.
There is a charge of 10 baht per person towards the cost of the electric lighting and this allows you to explore those areas of the cave that are lit. Just inside the entrance there is a large statue of the Buddha and here guides are waiting to escort you round the parts of the cave that are not electrically lit. They charge 100 baht per group and use only a single parafin lamp so you may wish to bring your own light. This extra guided tour is recommended and you get to see a lot of the cave. You start by ascending into Tham Mah (Horse Cave) which is a dry upper series with some large chambers and speleothems. There are also a couple of small sections to duck through to make it a bit more interesting. According to Cummings (2002) Tham Mah is 7,365 m, but on Deharveng's survey, calling it Reseau Superior, it is only about 700 m long. This wouldn't be the only time that Lonely Planet have been out by an order of magnitude with a cave dimension (see the description above for Tham Luang Sakern in Nan province). Clark (2004) gives a more realistic length of 736 m for Tham Mah.
In Tham Mah you only explore the western branch and then retrace your steps and drop down into the start of Tham Kaew (Reseau Guano to the French). Tham Kaew is not explored, but the French survey shows it extending for around 600 m to the west before reaching a sump. It is also linked to the overlying western branch of Tham Mah by a couple of 14 m pitches. In Tham Kaew you soon reach the metal walk way through Tham Seua Dao (Reseau Touristes) which is electrically lit. This can be followed past a couple of religious images to a very old Buddha at the end of the tourist section. Beyond here is the Tham Nam (Water Cave: Reseau Actif) which is a separate streamway to that seen in Tham Kaew and can be followed for about 600 m to an upstream sump.
The cave has been known for hundreds of years and is a very holy site with some ancient Buddha statues and chedis. It also has many legends associated with it including one that the Lord Buddha himself visited the cave. Perhaps the legend most relevant to cavers is that you must not remove anything from the cave or you will be lost in the caverns for ever.
Chiang Dao National Park
It is slightly confusing that this national park does not cover the town of Chiang Dao, Doi Chiang Dao or Tham Chiang Dao. The national park was established in November 2000 and covers and area of 1,123 km2. Most of amphoe Chiang Dao north of the H1322 and the triangle between the H1178, the H107 and the boundary with amphoe Fang is within the park apart from the cultivated river valleys. To the north the park joins the Mae Fang National Park in amphoe Fang.
There are extensive areas of karst in the national park. Expeditions by the French in 1983 and 1985 and by the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society in 2000 and 2003 have explored two long caves, Tham Kleab Yai and Tham Tab Tao within the Chiang Dao National Park.
There are still large parts of the park that haven't been explored by cavers and there are reports of several caves that have not been investigated. One example is a news story in the Bangkok Post of the 20th October 2003 which reported that a 200-strong force of Thai soldiers and border patrol police had clashed with 50 United Wa State Army soldiers on the 15th October. The soldiers were attempting to close a smuggling route over the mountains near Arunothai and it is reported that "The Thai force found a cave big enough for 100 people”. Arunothai is an interesting town only a couple of kilometres from Myanmar. The residents of Arunothai are ex-military personnel from the former Kuomintang Party from mainland China. They served in the 3rd Army Region’s 93rd Division led by General Lee Wern Phan and first arrived in Thailand in 1961. At that time, Ban Arunothai was known as Ban Nong Ook. Today there are 1,137 households in the village which has a population of 12,207. The town still has strong links with Taiwan and mainland China. The townsfolk have long derived a healthy income from smuggling and this part of Thailand has only come under the control of the Thai government in the past 10 years. The inhabitants could best be described as 'tolerating' the strong army presence in their town. A hotel has just opened in Arunothai and we were the first guests to stay, obtaining a discount because of the ongoing building work.
Tham Muang Na Nuea ถ้ ำเมีองนะเหนีอ
47Q 0489700 2183960 Alt.: 750 m (car park)
Length: ~20 m
The village of Muang Na Nuea is about 3 km from the Myanmar border to the north of Chiang Dao. In Christian Gooden’s very informative book, Three Pagodas, a cave is marked near the village on one of the maps and it is also marked on the Royal Forestry Department website map. Like Arunothai this village is in an area which has only recently been opened up to tourists.
From Chiang Mai take the H107 north. A few kilometres beyond Chiang Dao there is a major road junction with the H1178 on the left. Take the H1178 and keep following it north. Eventually you reach an army checkpoint. Having negotiated your way through the checkpoint there immediately is a junction. Right leads to Arunothai and eventually to Doi Ang Khang. Keep following the road to the left and you reach the village of Ban Muang Na. Whilst driving through the village the cave was sign posted to the north. Following this road, taking the left hand fork, the road degenerated into a dirt track. We were very wary about driving too far north and finding ourselves in Myanmar. We decided to turn into a large monastery compound and discovered that this was were the cave was.
Unfortunately the main cave was short, with a large Buddha and several shrines. It was also busy with worshippers which made it difficult to investigate properly, but the cave did not appear to extend behind the Buddha. A steep flight of steps led up the hill. Contouring round to the right and ascending some short wooden ladders led to a small cave. After a couple of metres this opened into a collapsed cavern in the top of the hill. This was being used as a retreat by monks and a couple of short passages led off from the open area. From here a Myanmar army observation post could be seen about 2 km to the north.
The unpublished guidebook to the caves of Northern Thailand (Smart, et. al.) mentions several caves near Muang Na Nuea, including a stream cave that was heading towards the Myanmar border. A sketch map on the Royal Forest Department website shows a Tham Chueng-Pha Hok ถ้ ำแจ้ง-ป่าหก between the road and Tham Muang Na Nua. A brief visit to the village was made in March 2005 with Dean Smart who speaks Thai, but the one person we asked (in a noodle shop and who didn't speak very good Thai) knew nothing about caves in the area. There is no accommodation available in this village though the noodle lady was willing to rent us a spare room.
Ban Tham Ngop and Ban Sinchai
From Arunothai the road winds up into the mountains and passes several large depressions. This area has several Kuomingtang Chinese villages. The first village reached is Ban Sinchai (47Q 0504260 2180650), where a couple of deep, conical dolines were seen beside the road. At the T junction in Ban Sinchai one road continues in the mountains to Ban Tham Ngop while the other road drops down to the plain. This down hill road goes past Wat Tham Pha Phueng, through the Kuomingtang Chinese town of Mai Bong Nua to join the H107 to the south of Fang (see below for a description of Tham Pha Phueng.
Staying on the road in hills you reach the village of Ban Tham Ngop (47Q 0502650 2183550), which used to be home to a famous Kuomingtang general. Having driven through the village several times no caves were seen, but we didn't ask for directions and there is limestone. The next village to the north of Ban Tham Ngop is Ban Pha Daeng, but this is in the Mae Fang National Park and is described below.
Tham Tab Tao ถ้ ำตับเตา
47Q 0512700 2173650 Alt.: 620 m
Length: 1,685 m VR: 65m COT CM 28
Tham Tab Tao is at the foot of a limestone mountain on the north-eastern edge of the Chiang Dao National Park. From Chiang Dao take the H107 northwards. 40 km beyond the junction with the H1178 there is a police checkpoint with a turning on the left. There is a small sign with the cave's name. Follow this road for about 5 km. If you miss this turn the cave can also be reached via a couple of other small roads which head west from the main road. Tham Tab Tao is open as a show cave and is located within a large monastery complex. Although it is marked on some tourist maps be warned that in the Lonely Planet atlas and on the Rough Guide map the cave is marked 20 km from where it really is. It is correctly positioned on the Berndtson & Berndtson map.
Inside the monastery grounds there is a large fish pond fed by a resurgence. Two flights of steps, complete with nagas, lead up to the two entrances. The left hand entrance has a very large Buddha, a reclining Buddha and is a major shrine. The small right hand entrance leads through the smaller passages of the electrically lit show cave, known as the Light Cave, to meet the larger passage that extends to the Buddha entrance.
From the junction the path goes round to the right and up a series of steps to a small opening. A ladder leads up through this squeeze to open out in the Dark Cave. To the right a loose scree slope ascends steeply and is choked at the top. To the left a couple of short ladders allows you to follow the large passage where some stalagmites have been turned into shrines. Pressing a coin into the soft calcite of the stalagmites is meant to bring good luck.
The Dark Cave ends at a large stall choke. This can be climbed to reach a pitch down the rift at the end. This was first explored in December 2003 and the 5 m pitch is quickly followed by a 14 m pitch. This lands in a chamber with another pitch in the floor. The floor, covered in very slippery mud and moonmilk, funnels down this pitch which was estimated to be about 10 m deep.
Back in the Light Cave, below the squeeze up into the Dark Cave, a 1 m high passage leads to a boulder choke. Following the obvious route through the choke, which descends a couple of drops (a handline is useful on one of these) and then up a climb, brings you to the large passage of the Lower Cave. After a couple of hundred metres you reach a very large chamber, up to 45 m high and 60 m wide. This chamber has large slopes of very corroded boulders. The rock is very loose, friable and crumbly so care is needed. By descending at the other side of the chamber the passage continues for another 100 m before dropping down to a flat mud floor. A small passage between calcite walls opens out after a few metres. However, the air here is very bad with over 5% carbon dioxide.
Our visits to this cave were to help two cavers from the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society use oxygen rebreathers to explore the open way on beyond this small passage. After several trips the equipment had been carried to the end of the cave. They passed beyond the small passage to find a large passage that ascended steeply, but the boulder floor was covered in knee-deep guano. The air was still unbreathable at the point where they turned back. Only about 100 m of passage was explored, but the end of the cave is still wide open.
As with Tham Chiang Dao this cave has been known for a very long time. Tham Tab Tao was already a sacred cave when visited in 1876 by Hallett. Hallett describes a trip into the cave and mentions the large reclining Buddha so this statue must be over 130 years old. There are several legends associated with the cave including one in which the Lord Buddha is said to have rested in the cave after eating "a surfeit of pork which caused his death".
47Q 0511150 2172900 Alt.: 660 m
Length: 110 m VR: 50 m COT CM 29
This cave is a couple of kilometres to the west of Tham Tab Tao. A road that takes you through a couple of villages to the south of Tham Tab Tao becomes a dirt track and ends at a car park. From the car park you have to take a path up the hill to a religous building at the entrance to the cave. This large building was been extended during our visit and payment for visiting the cave was to carry a bucket of sand up to the cave.
The wide entrance opens onto a steeply descending chamber. There is a wooden platform with a shrine built out over the boulder slope and a concrete path leads to this platform. The chamber slopes at 45° and extends down for 60 m to end in a boulder choke. By contouring to the left it is possible to follow the bedding plane for a few more metres to eventually end at another choke.
Tham Ngam is an impressively large chamber. Just before the track reaches the car park there is a large resurgence which is used as a water supply.
Other Caves In Chiang Dao National Park
Of the other caves recorded from the national park Tham Kleab Yai (COT CM 35) is the best known. It was explored by the French and is 2.2 km long. National park literature also mentions a Tham Pha Chan ถ้ ำผาชัารู which is shown to be just to the east of the H1178 and a Tham Rom.
Mae Fang National Park
The Mae Fang National Park covers a mountainous area along the border with Myanmar. The second highest mountain in Thailand, the 2,285 m high Doi Pha Hom Pok, is within its boundaries. The park was designated in September 2000 and covers an area of 524 km2. Access to the mountainous areas near Doi Ang Khang and to the Tham Huai Bon area are free of charge. However, we were charged the full 200 baht foreigner entry fee to the geysers and park headquarters.
Doi Ang Khang Area
This high mountain is on the border with Myanmar to the west of Fang. Until a few years ago this was a very wild part of Thailand. The Myanmar side of the border was held by Shan separatists whilst the security on the Thai side was provided by the remnants of the Kuomintang. In recent years the Myanmar junta has regained control of their territory by using the Wa in the battles with the Shan. The Thai army and border patrol force have taken over from the Kuomingtang mercenaries and poppy growing is a lot less common, on the Thai side at least.
In 1984 a team of American cavers visited the Doi Ang Khang massif. This must have been an interesting trip. They were based in Ban Kum and explored several caves nearby including Big House Cave (190 m deep and 585 m long), Dead Robber Waterfall Cave (167 m deep and 570m long) and Cricket Cave (105 m deep and 347 m long). As the potholes near Ban Kum were not developing into going caves they walked south for a day about 500 m from and parallel to the international border. This hike was through an area "not populated with normal families", passed burnt out heroin factories and they encountered "some very unsavoury men". They stayed for a couple of days at a lone farmhouse on a ridge above a doline. For their own safety the farmer locked them in the house every night. Below the house was a cave called Ma Phong Sui Tung (Horse House Water Cave) by the farmer. This cave was of great interest as it seemed to be gathering water from multiple inputs and getting larger when the team ran out of rope at a depth of 134 m.
Our first visit to this area was in December 2003 as Dean Smart had asked us to have a look at Doi Ang Khang to assess the ease of access and the security situation. We found that Ban Kum is now a large hill resort with a market selling hilltribe produce, a few guesthouses and an expensive hotel. It is a popular destination for hiking and several walking trails are marked. On the drive up from Fang we only had to go through one army checkpoint at the junction with the road leading to Ban Pha Daeng and there was one other army camp, with an occasional checkpoint, along the road to Ban Pha Daeng. A third, small, army camp and checkpoint is in Ban Pha Daeng at the junction with the track down into the doline with Tham Pha Daeng.
We returned in March 2005, this time with Dean who speaks Thai so we could explain what we were up to at the army checkpoints. An army patrol and a local farmer guided us to a choked stream sink and the blocked entrance to Ma Phong Sui Thong in one doline. In the doline to the south near Ban Pha Daeng we were shown the large entrance of Tham Pha Daeng.
Most of the area around Ban Kum and for a few kilometres to the north appears to be excluded from the national park. However, those caves visited by us are inside the park boundaries.
Ban Luang Sink
47Q 0504850 2197300 Alt.: approx. 1400 m
From the main resort of Ban Kum there are two roads south towards Ban Pha Daeng, The upper road has a junction with a road leading very steeply down to Fang while the lower road goes through the village of Ban Luang. In Ban Luang several dolines were seen at this choked stream sink was at the bottom of one of them. There is also a small guesthouse in the doline.
Ma Phong Sui Thong
47Q 0504312 2191089 Alt.: 1130 m
Length: ~450 m VR: -166 m
Other names: Horse House Water Cave
From the army camp and checkpoint on the road between Ban Luang and Ban Pha Daeng go northwards (towards Ban Luang) for about 100 m and take the track on the left. This is a 4WD track and in places it is steep, rough and narrow (it is too narrow for the army's Humvee patrol vehicles). The track can be followed for about 1 km, past the choked stream sink, to a farm. The track continues for another 200 m beyond the farm, passing Ma Phong Sui Thong, before it becomes a footpath.
As already mentioned this cave had been explored to -166 m by the American team in 1984. On our trip in March 2005 we were guided to the entrance by a farmer who remembered the previous visit by the Americans. The entrance was a seasonal stream sink at the base of a cliff. However, in the 21 years since the Americans had explored the cave there must have been a rock fall from the cliff as no way in could be found between the boulders.
47Q 0504150 2190450 Alt.: 1060 m
Length: ~5 m VR: ~2 m
An army patrol from the camp on the road above the Ma Phong Sui Thong doline guided us to this large stream sink which is at the southern end of the doline. It is to the east of the track and the stream flows along an overgrown channel through the fields. Unfortunately it was choked with mud after 5 m.
After the disappointment of this choked sink we had a look at the limestone cliffs to the south-west, on the western side of the doline. No caves were found here.
Tham Pha Daeng ถ้ ำผาแดง
47Q 0502000 2187335 Alt.: 1000 m
Length: 250 m + VR: 84 m surveyed plus 21 m undescended pitch
This was the most promising cave we found in the Mae Fang National Park during our trip in in March 2005. At the northern end of Ban Pha Daeng there is an army checkpoint (usually with traffic cones in the road). Beside the checkpoint a track descends down into the large dry valley below the limestone cliff to the north-west of the road. This valley follows a south-west to north-east trending fault and has several stream sinks in it. It is on the same trend as the large doline containing Ma Phong Sui Thong. Following the fairly good dirt track leads to a farm. We spoke to the farm manager who mentioned three caves: one that was small and not very pretty located on the hill above the road, a second cave down the valley to the south-west and a third cave, Tham Pha Daeng, to the north-east of the farm which was a stream sink.
From the farm you can drive along the track for a couple of hundred metres to a reservoir. You have to walk from here following a good path down into a doline and then follow the stream bed to the main sink. On our visit the stream was completely dry. There is a dry entrance a few metres up to the left of the stream sink. This descends steeply (follow the left hand wall) and reaches a 3 m drop which we rigged with a ladder on the right hand side. The large passage continues with a couple of routes round and over the boulders. Care is required as they are slippery with guano. After about 50 m you reach the junction where the remains (ash and tin cans) of an old heroin factory are seen.
Continuing straight ahead over boulders goes for 50 m until it chokes. There are various holes down through the boulders in the floor and this area has not been completely explored. Back at the 'factory junction' a passage descends to the left and soon reaches two pitches. We descended the 5 m pitch on the right which allowed us to cover a short length of passage to a 20 m pitch. As this pitch is broken by a large ledge 10 m down we ran out of time to rig it safely and descend. The large passage can be seen to continue westwards towards Myanmar. Above the 20 m pitch there is a narrow rift on the left that was descended for about 20 m, but was very tight and not fully explored.
This cave has great potential. The resurgence is not known, but must be at least 4 km away as there are no contours on the map within 4 km of the entrance equal to the depth of the cave. The cave felt like it was part of a large system and had a good draught despite the large passages.
Main Entrance: 47Q 0519642 2209501 Alt.: 700 m
Upper Entrance: 47Q 519430 2209657 Alt.: 732 m
Length: 535 m VR: 48 m
Other names: Tham Raud Tira ถ้ ำรอดติร
Tham Haeng is located in the Mae Fang National Park to the north west of Fang town. We were looking for Tham Huai Bon which is shown on maps in the park headquarters and we reached the cave by driving through Ban Huai Bon. An unpublished guide to caves in Northern Thailand names the cave Tham Haeng, but the name painted in the entrance to the cave which we found can be transliterated as Tham Raud Tira.
From Fang head south on the H107 and then take the bypass and follow the road to the north west. Go past the turning to the national park headquarters and turn left at a crossroads. There is a sharp bend to the right in the first village where a track continues straight on and is sign posted to Ban Huai Bon hill-tribe village. Take this track through the forest and the village until you reach a barrier across the track. About 5 m before the barrier there is a turning to the left which leads across the dry stream bed and into a monastery complex. At the back of the monastery a path leads up the hill towards a col. Just before the col a path branches off to the right and leads to the cave entrance.
Tham Haeng is a pleasant little cave that descends gently to a large, level passage with formations. It then ascends steeply to a second entrance. Across the top of the steep slope from the second entrance a short bit of passage leads to the base of a 5 m pitch. Daylight can be seen at the end of the passage at the top of the pitch.
The unpublished guidebook to the caves of Northern Thailand (Smart, et. al.) mentions a Tham Nam near Tham Haeng. The description says "close to the left exit of Tham Haeng" which would be the upper entrance on the survey of Tham Haeng. The cave descends to a stream which is said to continue for a considerable distance.
Tham Huai Bon ถ้ ำห้วยบอน
47Q 0519600 2209500 Alt.: 620 m
Length: 25 m VR: 4 m COT CM 34
Deharveng describes Tham Huai Bon as being a 20 m by 20 m shelter with rock paintings and a Buddha. This shelter was possibly behind the monastery buildings. The co-ordinates given by Deharveng are the same as our co-ordinates for where we parked the car in the monastery. However, the Royal Forest Department website description for Tham Huai Bon is "a big cave, 20-30 metres wide, which consists of many wonderful stalagmites and stalactites. There are two entrances 150 metres apart from each other, no dangerous areas for the traveller and also many small caves, about 10." It is possible that Deharveng also missed the true Tham Huai Bon. This area near the monastery needs to be looked at properly.
Tham Pha Phueng ถ้ ำผาผึ้ง
47Q 0509519 2182233
L: c. 20m COT CM 27 / 40
The cave is found in the Wat Tham Pha Phueng monastery near the village of Ban Mai Bong Nua. From Ban Mai Bong Nua head north towards Doi Ang Khang, passing the thermal springs. It is only a very short cave that has been developed into a shrine complete with concrete floors.
Chiang Mai References
Benedict, B. (n.d. [1985?]) [Ma Phong Sui Thong]; Clark, S. (2004) [Tham Chiang Dao]; Deharveng, L. & Gouze, A. (1983) [Tham Chiang Dao & Tham Tab Tao]; Deharveng, L., et. al. (1986) [Tham Chiang Dao & Tham Klaeb Yai]; Deharveng, L., et. al. (1988) [Tham Huai Bon]; Goodden, C. (2002) [Tham Muang Na Nua]; Farrant, A., Flower, S. & Lee, S. (2001) [Tham Tab Tao, Tham Ngam, Tham Pha Phueng]; Hallett, H.S. (1890) [Tham Chiang Dao & Tham Tab Tao]; Khuenkaew, S. (2003) [Cave near Arunothai]; Munier, C. (1998) [Tham Pha Phueng & Tham Tab Tao]; Nicholl, C. (1988) [Ban Tham Ngop & Ban Sinchai]; Smith, S. & Telling, J. (2004) [Tham Tab Tao]; Swearer, D. et. al. (2004) [Tham Chiang Dao]; Thikakhayano, M.S. (n.d.) [Tham Chiang Dao]; White, A. (1988) [Tham Tab Tao]
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