Some Caves in Thailand II

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This is the second part of a series of reports which detail the results of the SMCC's numerous explorations in Thailand. This second part includes caves from Kanchanaburi (western Thailand), Chiang Rai (northern Thailand) and the central provinces of Saraburi, Uthai Thani, Nakhon Sawan and Phitsanulok.  The caves included in this report were visited in December 2003, January and April 2004 and July 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.

Kanchanaburi Province
Amphoe Sri Sawat
 
Chaloem Rattanakosin National Park
 
This is Kanchanburi's smallest national park covering an area of 59 km2and was designated in February 1980. The forested, limestone mountains of the park are the watershed of the Mae Nam Mae Klong and the highest peak is the 1,260 m Khao Kam Paeng. The park is located 18 km from Ban Nong Pru which is on the H3086.  You will be charged the full 200 baht foreigner price for entry (20 baht for Thais).  The national park is included in most guidebooks, though the cave descriptions are not very accurate.  The caves have been surveyed and described in Deharveng (1986).
Tham Than Lot Noi  ถ้ ำธารลอดน้อย
47P 0533251 1620721                Alt.: ~300 m
Length: 290 m                                                   COT KA 155
 
This through cave is near the park headquarters buildings.  You enter the resurgence entrance and follow the river passage to the sink entrance.  The passage is about 10 to 15 m wide and 5 m high.  The survey in Deharveng (1986) shows unexplored high level passages near the upper entrance.  A path has been constructed through the cave and there is electric lighting.  The electric lights are turned off at 16:00. A Cave Racer snake was seen along with at least two species of bats.
Tham Than Lot Yai  ถ้ ำธารลอดใหญ่
Approx. 47P 0531426 1621458   Alt.: 530 m
Length: 50 m                                                     COT KA 156
 
From the upstream entrance to Tham Than Lot Noi a path follows the river for about 1.5 km to a waterfall.  A series of wooden steps and handrails have been constructed to help the ascent of the tiered waterfall.  At the top the river is followed for about 200 m to Tham Than Lot Yai.  This cave is a very large natural arch, the cliff being 60 m high and the hole 20 m high.  Archaeological remains have been found under the arch
 
Kanchanaburi References
 
Anon. (2004); Deharveng, L., et. al. (1986)
 
Map: 1:250,000 ND47-07 Changwat Suphan Buri
 
Chiang Rai Province
 
Amphoe Phan
 
Tham Pha Rhong
                                                                        COT CR33?
A blue tourist information sign to this cave was seen pointing to the west of the H1 at a crossroads to the north of Phan at 47Q 0578680 2161421.  The cave is probably in the Doi Luang National Park.
 
Amphoe Muang Chiang Rai
Tham Phra  ถ้ ำพระ
47Q 0582822 2202258                Alt.: 410 m
Other names: Buddha Images Cave
Length: 40 m                                                     COT CR41
This very well known cave is in a karst tower just north of the Mae Kok river in a small park about 5 km upstream from Chiang Rai town.  The cave is signed as 'Buddha Images Cave' and appears to be on the itinerary of many package tours.  A flight of steps leads up the 5 m to the entrance.  There is a large Buddha statue ahead of you and a second chamber, with more images, is on the left.  This second chamber doubles back to a second entrance about 10 m from the first entrance.
 
The cave has been known since ancient times.  In 1484 a governor of Chiang Rai, Thao Mui, made a Buddha image in the cave and provided eight families of slaves for its service and a regular income for its upkeep.  This image may or may not be the brick-and stucco image that is seen in the cave at present while the inscribed stone slab which records the event is in the National Museum in Lamphon.
 
Tham Tu Pu
47Q 0584574 2203058                Alt.: 406 m
 
Mediation wat at the base of a limestone tower on north side of Mae Kok river.  A couple of cave entrances seen and there is a bas-relief Buddha image in the cliff.
 
A cave entrance was seen at the base of another tower behind a police post not far from Tham Phra and Tham Tu Pu, but further upstream. The exact location is unknown, though it is probably the 'Loi Kong Kao' mentioned by Barlow as he describes the police post and a wat on top of the hill.  'Loi Kong Kao' is most likely a phonetic spelling of Doi Khang Khao (Bat Mountain).
 
Chiang Rai References:
Barlow, J.J. (n.d.) "Chiang Rai Guide – Caves" [Tham Phra & Tham Tu Pu], Penth, H. (1989) [Tham Phra]
 
Map: 1:250,000 NE47-03 Changwat Chiang Rai
 
Saraburi Province
Amphoe Kaeng Khoi
 
The three caves described are all in the same monastery complex to the east of Saraburi town.  Take the H2 from Saraburi towards Nakhon Ratchasima.  After going through Kaeng Khoi and after passing a large cement works on your left take the U turn bridge and head back the way you came.  Then take the first road on the left which goes for a couple of kilometres, past some shops, to a crossroads.  Turn left and follow the road east past a monastery (with a cave) at the foot of an isolated hill.  The road then trends south and ends at the Wat Tham Phra Phothisat monastery where there is an unusual round temple, the usual temple dogs and lots of monkeys.
 
The limestone in which the caves are formed is of Early Permian age. Recent studies have placed the limestones at Wat Tham Phra Phothisat in the Phu Phe Formation of the Saraburi Group. The Saraburi Group also contains several other younger limestone units which are exposed to the north and east of Wat Tham Phra Phothisat.  These limestones are the southernmost outcrop of Upper Paleozoic carbonates which extend for at least 400 km northwards into Laos.  In this area the limestones are exposed as a chain of hills, ridges and mounds to create a classic 'tower karst' scenery.
 
Tham Lumphini Suan Hin/Tham Mathat
Tham Lumphini Suan Hin Main Entrance 47P 0731706 1611876    Alt.: 245 m
Tham Mathat Entrance 47P 0731727 1611946      Alt.: 244 m
Tham Lumphini Upper Entrance 47P 0732209 1611771  Alt.: 275m
Tham Lumphini Suan Hin Stream Entrance 47P 0732234 1611692  Alt.: 253m
Length: 2,019 m VR: 56 m                                                          COT SA 22 / 19
 
This cave has four entrances and is the longest known cave in the province.  Tham Mathat is reached by a good concrete path and steps leading up the hill from the monastery.  It has an unlocked gate and a steel ladder down into the cave.  The main entrance to Tham Lumphini Suan Hin is not signed and the path up to the entrance is slightly overgrown.  This is because some foreigners had to be rescued from the cave a few years ago and access is not encouraged.  From the temple follow the main path to Tham Phra Phothisat and Tham Mathat. At a tree with a signpost turn right and cross the stream. Look for a gully after the stream and a path which leads steeply up to the main entrance.  The sink entrances are at the other side of the hill and are best reached through the cave.
 
Tham Mathat is a large fossil passage about 600 m long that ends in a choke. This choke is close to the end of the fossil passage in Tham Lumphini Suan Hin and a connection may be possible.  From the steel entrance ladder there are a couple more wooden ladders up and down allowing progress along a boulder filled rift passage to a junction after about 50 m.  Daylight is visible to the right and can be reached by scrambling through the boulders to reach the Tham Lumphini Suan Hin main entrance. From this junction going left leads under a boulder and up a wooden ladder and then a fixed chain to a sub-horizontal phreatic passage which ascends gradually.  Towards the end a decrepit wooden ladder doesn't help a climb down and then you soon reach the end of the cave where there is a shrine.  The air is fresh throughout, but gets noticeably warmer and steamy towards the end. The cave does not have much wildlife, just a few bats and crickets were seen.
 
Tham Lumphini Suan Hin is a large and impressive stream passage.  In the wet season swimming is required in places, but in the dry season it is possible to traverse the cave and keep your feet dry.  At the upper end of the cave there is a dry entrance or the stream can be followed through a very wet and unpleasant section to the stream sink.  Care should be taken if the cave is explored in the wet season as the cave floods. As well as the rescue mentioned above another group of cavers is known to have had to sit out a flood in this cave.
 
Tham Lumphini Suan Hin was surveyed by Dean Smart and Phil Oakley in 1998.  In December 2003 Tham Mathat was surveyed by the SMCC and linked to Tham Lumphini Suan Hin, though this link had been suspected by Smart.
 
Tham Phra Phothisat
47P 0731786 1612062    Alt.: 260 m                               
Length: 150 m VR: 3 m                                                                          COT SA 18
Other names: Tham Boddhisat, Tham Phra Ngam
 
This cave is a gated shrine, though we found it to be unlocked.  A well maintained and signposted (in Thai) path leads from the monastery up the hill to the cave. The cave is famous for the 7th or 8th Century bas-relief carvings from the Dvaravati period which are up on the left as you come through the cave entrance.  Below the carvings there is a large shrine and much of the cave has been floored with concrete.  The passage to the left leads to a choke, while to the right the passage ends just after a small shaft entrance.
 
The abbot of the monastery showed us a book in Thai and English on the archaeology of the cave, but unfortunately we didn’t note down the details.
 
Tham Sa-Ngat Chedi  ถ้ ำส้งดเจดีบ์
47P 0731637 1611801    Alt.: 245 m
Length: 30 m VR: 0 m
 
To find Tham Sa-Ngat Chedi start by following the path to towards Tham Lumphini Suan Hin from the monastery past the resurgence and stream.  At an area with a couple of huts a path contours up the hill to the cave entrance. This is a small gated shrine cave to the south of Tham Lumphini Suan Hin to which we couldn’t obtain access.  It didn’t appear to continue beyond the shrine.
 
Although this is the closest caving area to Bangkok very little work has been done in Saraburi province apart from at Wat Tham Phra Phothisat.  Many caves in this area are threatened by quarrying. The Caves of Thailand lists nearly one hundred caves, temples and hills in Saraburi that have not been properly investigated. There is an old report of a 3 km long stream cave (Tham Sunyataram) which was said to be 10 km from Tham Lumphini Suan Hin and which has not been relocated.  A recent study by Dean Smart on the caves of Khao Tham Erawan in Lopburi province (40 km to the north-west of Tham Lumphini Suan Hin) revealed many caves up to 500 m long in an area similar to that of Wat Tham Phra Phothisat.
 
Saraburi References
 
Blick, T. (2000) [caving in Saraburi]; Chutakositkanon, et. al. (2000) [geology];  Munier, C. (1998) [Tham Phra Phothisat bas-reliefs]; Niyamabha, V. (2002) [caving trip in Tham Lumphini Suan Hin]; Smart, D. (2005) [caves at Khao Tham Erawan].
 
Map: 1:250,000 ND47-08 Changwat Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya
 
Uthai Thani Province
 
Amphoe Lan Sak
Tham Khao Kwang Thong ถ้ ำเขากวงทอง
47P 0581257 1728810    Alt.: 135 m
Length: 80 m VR : 20m
 
This small cave was found in an isolated limestone hill to the north-west of Uthai Thani town. This hill is 1.5 km long and reaches an altitude of 356 m.  It is part of a north-south line of limestone hills which are of Triassic age.  There is another north-south line of Triassic limestone hills to the east of Khao Kwang Tong.
 
Heading north-west from Uthai Thani town we were attempting to follow the blue tourist signs to caves and while driving west on H3456 a small, hand-painted sign was seen indicating the track to this cave. The cave is also marked on a Uthai Thai province tourist information map. The track led round the eastern side of the hill to a small monastery at bottom of the limestone hill. Many monkeys were in residence. Some rough steps led for 20 m up the side of the hill to the wide entrance.
 
The entrance has the usual Buddha. Round the back a rift passage leads to a junction. To the right a small crawling passage leads to two small entrances whilst to the left a passage climbs to reach a large rift – 8 m wide and 15 m high.  This had another entrance to the right whilst to the left ascends to a choke.
 
The Caves of Thailand lists a Tham Nam Phu (UT 4) as being in Khao Kwang Thong which is described as being a small decorated cave.  As we did not explore the hill, or even drive all the way round it, it is possible that there are other caves nearby.  However, a Tham Nam Phu was sign posted 3 km from H3282 at 47P 0574938 1703583 which is 25 km to the south of Khao Kwang Thong.
Tham Khao Phraya Phai Rua  ถ้ ำเขาพระยาพายเรือ
47P 0561275 1712447
Length: 1,500 m
 
This is another cave located in an isolated limestone hill surrounded by the alluvial plane. It is about 18 km to the west of the line of Triassic limestone hills and has been given a Permian age.  However, a re-evaluation of this dating is needed as the recent work on the limestones to the east has shown they are of Triassic age rather than Permian.
 
The cave is sign posted in the village of Lan Sak from the H3438 just to the west of its junction with the H3473. The monastery with the cave is 4.5 km north of the H3438. It is located in a  low, isolated, limestone hill and the length of the cave is a surprise considering its location. For a fee of 50 baht each the monks (accompanied by small boys) will guide you into the cave which has electric lighting in parts.  It is a real labyrinth and we were grateful to have the guides.  After one and a half hours we had to curtail our visit as we had to get back to where we were staying. However, the monks informed us that a complete tour would take in twelve "chambers", includes crawling and would take twelve hours!  In July 2003 a French group surveyed the cave to a total length of 1.5 km. However, the monks claimed that the cave extended for 3 km.
 
Amphoe Ban Rai
 
Tham Khao Wong Forest Park
 
This forest park was created in December 2001 and covers an area of 1,300 hectares.  Its key features are the Khao Chong Lom and Khao Roop Chang hills with the highest peak being 637 m above sea level.  As well as Tham Phu Wai, which is described below, the park contains Tham Khao Wong Yai (to the east of Khao Chong Lom and with four chambers), Tham Khao Wong (to the west of Khao Chong Lom and about 100 m from the road with a dozen smaller caves nearby), Tham Pra U Bosod (a big cave to the south of Khao Roop Chang with one large chamber and several smaller ones) and Tham Tep Malee (to the west of Khao Chong Lom and about 50 m from Tham Phu Wai). To get to the park take the H3011 eastwards from Ban Rai for approximately 6 km to where a  road on the left (with the cave sign posted) leads past the Wat Tham Khao Wong monastery and Khao Roop Chang and up the hill to the car park for Tham Phu Wai on Khao Chong Lom.
Tham Phu Wai  ถ้ ำพุหวาย
47P 0547990 1659420    Alt.: 400 m
Length: ~200 m                                                 COT UT 2
Other names: Tham Phet
 
Tham Phu Wai is marked on most of the tourist information brochures and maps. This small cave is run as a show cave by the National park service. The fee is a bargain at only 10 baht each and includes a guide. The guide will show you the large chamber which is 200 m in diameter and has some big formations.  The path winds between the formations before you exit from a second entrance.  The path leads back to the car park via a couple of smaller collapse caves. In July 2003 the same French group that surveyed Tham Khao Phraya Phai Rua also surveyed Tham Pu Wai.
 
Other Caves
 
Uthai Thani province has many of the blue tourist signs for various caves and a few other caves are mentioned in the tourist brochures and maps.
Tham Khao Khong Chai ถ้ ำเขาฆ้องชัย COT UT 5 – the cave is signed at 47P 0563384 1707505 on the H3438 between its junctions with the H3473 and H3282 roads.  A large monastery has been built at the entrance. There are some reports that access to the cave has been stopped to protect the large colony of bats. A 310 m long cave, Tham Phon Sawan COT UT 33, has been explored on the summit of Khao Khong Chai at a distance of 1.5 km from the monastery.
Tham Khao Tap Hap ถ้ ำเขาตะพาบ COT UT 6– this cave is signed along a turning off the H333 at 47P 0573411 1687408. This is a well known cave, reported to be full of bat guano with a large associated fauna.
Khao Pla Ra Forest Park เขาปลร้า COT UT 16 – the main entrance to the park is at 47P 0558860 1704196 on the H3438 between Lan Sak and Nong Chang.  In the park there are prehistoric cave paintings are to be found in various small caves and rock shelters.
Tham Nam Pu – the cave is sign posted as being 3 km from the H3438 at 47P 0574616 1703784, approximately 6 km to the east of the Khao Pla Ra Forest Park.  Nam Pu is marked as a hot spring on a tourist map. In The Caves of Thailand a Tham Nam Pu is described as being at Khao Kwang Thong (see the entry above for Tham Khao Kwang Thong).
Tham Ket Dao  ถ้ ำเกร็ดดาว – this cave is shown on a tourist map as being to the south of the H3011 road which leads from Ban Rai to a checkpoint (47P 0541584 1671728) at the edge of the Huai Mae Dee National Park.  The map indicates that the cave is along a footpath or dirt track on the left just past the junction with the road that heads north to the Paromyen waterfall.  We had a quick look for the cave, including asking at the checkpoint, but did not find the cave.
 
Uthai Thani References:
 
References: Fontaine, H., et. al. (2000) [geology]; Jarlan, P. (2003) [Tham Khao Phraya Phai Rua & Tham Phu Wai];  Munier, C. (1998) [Tham Khao Tap Hap & Khao Pla Ra]
 
Map: 1:250,000 ND47-03 Changwat Nakhon Sawan
 
Nakhon Sawan Province
 
Nakhon Sawan has several ranges of limestone hills which outcrop on the alluvial plains.  The highest of these is the 20 km long Khao Luang (772 m).  Khao Chon Kan is also 20 km long, but only 400 m above  sea level.  Two other ranges are Khao Kala (495 m) and the spectacular Khao Kaeo (341 m).  In the south-eastern part of the province there are also numerous isolated limestone hills. Amphoe Ta Khli and Amphoe Tak Fa in particular have many limestone hills.
 
Amphoe Banphot Phisai
 
Khao Kaeo
47P 549600 1760500
 
When heading northwards from Nakhon Sawan town on H1 towards Kampheng Phet a very impressive razor-backed, 2 km long  ridge is seen to the north of the road.  Although caves are reported in the ridge it has not yet been visited by us.
 
Amphoe Tak Fa
Tham Kuha Sopon  ถ้ ำคูหาโสภณ
47P 0655995 1689980    Alt.: 170 m
Length: 50 m     VR: 11 m                                                                      COT NS 38
The cave is sign posted to the south of H1 a few kilometres from Tak Fa when travelling towards Ta Khli.  This small side road passes between two low hills and after a couple of kilometres you reach a monastery on the left.
 
The cave is in the hill above the monastery. Follow the track a for a few metres beyond the monastery and then take a footpath up the hill on the left.  The cave has been heavily modified and has a steep set of concrete steps leading down into the single large chamber.  There is the usual Buddha and shrines in the cave.
 
Amphoe Ta Khli/Amphoe Tak Fa
Tham Phet - Tham Thong Forest Park   วนอุทยานถ้ ำเพชร-ถ้ ำทอง
47P 0650006 1692160 (car park)
 
This 480 hectare Forest Park was created in January 1998.  It is found a few kilometres further along H1 from Tham Kuha Sopon in the direction of Ta Khli. It is indistinctly signposted down a road to the right (north) of the main road, on a sharp left hand bend between kilometre 247 and kilometre 248.  The park is centred on the low limestone hill Khao Chon Dua (375 m) and is surrounded by a flat alluvial flood plain. 
 
It has several caves of which we were shown two by our guide. The management and guides working at the park were very friendly and helpful (the guide would not accept any payment). There is an interesting little museum with rocks, fossils, photographs of cave animals, etc. from the park. The Caves of Thailand lists eleven caves from the park (COT NS 22 – 32).
 
Tham Wung Kai Mooถ้ ำวังไข่มุก
Length: ~100 m
 
This was the nearest cave to the park headquarters buildings.  A series of steps leads through several tall rifts with a few formations.  It was not a long or particularly pretty cave, but it was noticeably warm.
 
Shrine Cave
Length: ~30 m
Just beyond Tham Wung Kai Mook we were shown a large shrine cave consisting of a single large chamber.
 
In the small Park brochure and on the Royal Forest Department website a further five caves are mentioned: Tham Boot Sa Rah Kum ถ้ ำบุษราคัม , Tham Phet Nang Uay ถ้ ำเพชรนางอาย, Tham Dawdung (northern part of the park with large chambers that can hold 400-500 people), Tham Phra Dap Phet (southern part of the park with four decorated chambers) and  Tham Phra Kai (western part of the park, 50 m deep with 5 huge decorated chambers).
 
Nakhon Sawan References
Ogle, D. (1986) [Khao Kaeo]
 
Map: 1:250,000 ND47-03 Changwat Nakhon Sawan
 
Phitsanulok Province
 
Amphoe Nakhon Thai
 
Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park
 
Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park covers an area of 307 km2 in amphoe Dan Sai of Loei province and amphoe Nakhon Thai in Phitsanulok province.  The park is located on a mountain range whose highest peak is 1,820 m.  The H2331 road goes through the middle of the park and links Nakhon Thai to Lom Kao in Phetchabun province.  However, the park authorities will attempt to collect the 200 baht foreigner fee if you try to drive through the park.
 
From 1968 Phu Hin Rong Kla was a major stronghold of the People's Liberation Army of Thailand (the military arm of the Communist Party of Thailand). In 1972 the Thai army mounted a major offensive to defeat the PLAT by force, but were unsuccessful.  The communists were joined by Thai students and radicals following the military crackdown in October 1976 and by 1978 the PLAT had 4,000 people on the mountain.  The Thai military made little progress in removing the guerillas from their mountain bases until the early 1980s.  A new task force was set up and in 1982 there was an amnesty for the students, a road was constructed into the mountains and a hearts and minds programme removed the support of the Hmong hill tribe people which resulted in a relatively bloodless defeat of the PLAT.  The bombing and shelling during these battles could be heard 30 km away in Lom Sak (friends in Lom Sak described the battles as being between Thais and Laos, not as a Thai civil war).  Unfortunately the 15 years of war, construction of roads and settlement by the Hmong have resulted in a lot damage to the forest and drove away most of the large mammals, though tigers are still reported from the park. 
 
Geologically the mountains are sandstone and the caves reported from the park are either crevice caves or pseudokarst.  The pseudokarst has been studied by Odell and Doerr, but these references have not been seen by the author.  Although only one of the sites has been visited by the SMCC all the sites in the park have been included.  Caves of Thailand places the caves in Phetchabun province, but they are all in Phitsanulok.
 
Air Raid Shelter Caves No. 1
47Q 0714650 1879650                Alt.: 1,290 m
Length: ~20 m                           COT PE44
 
These 'caves' are just to the north of the H2331between the old Communist School of Politics and Military Tactics and the turning to the Flag Raising Cliff and Communist Party Headquarters.  The caves are a series of gaps between and beneath large sandstone boulders.  Wooden walkways and ladders have been constructed.
 
Air Raid Shelter Caves No. 2
Length: 50 m                             COT PE45
 
The caves are close to the old Communist Party headquarters to the south of the H2331 and on the southern edge of the mountain.
 
Lan Hin Pum Crevice Caves
                                                COT PE11, PE12, PE13 & PE14
 
This area of sandstone pseudokarst is called Laan Hin Boom in Caves of Thailand (NB: the grid references in Caves of Thailand are wrong).  It consists of an area of exposed sandstone with the surface characterised by 'button' rocks of eroded sandstone.  The rock field is accessed from the same parking area as the Flag Raising Cliff and is close to the southern edge of the mountain.  The crevices are described as being deeper than those at Lan Hin Tak and appear to carry drainage from several square kilometres.
 
Lan Hin Tak Crevice Caves
                                                COT PE51
 
This another area of course sandstone pseudokarst located at the edge of the plateau about 300 m west of the Than Pacharin army headquarters.  It covers an area of 6.5 hectares and is at an altitude of around 1,100 m.  The bare surface follows an apparent dip of about 5° and is dissected by a series of major crevices about 5 to 40 m apart, 0.5 to 2 m wide and up to 10 m deep.  In internet reference states that from several of the crevices the loud, echoing sound of running water can be heard.
 
Amphoe Noen Maprang
 
Thung Salaeng Luang National Park
 
Thung Salaeng Luang is a large national park on the north-eastern edge of Phitsanulok province, extending over the border into Phetchabun province.  The park headquarters are on the main H12 road, but the area of interest to cavers is on the western edge of the park near the villages of Ban Chomphu and Noen Maprang.  This area was first visited by cavers in 1997 and it already has the longest known cave in Thailand and five other caves over one kilometre long.  Exploration in this region has only just started and has been concentrated on the edges of the limestone outcrop. Access to the top of the mountain or onto to the limestone plateau appears to be very difficult, but domestic rubbish was found in the Tham Khang Khao streamway suggesting that there are some villages on the plateau. There is still plenty of potential for further major discoveries and most of the caves have not been fully explored. 
 
The middle of the area is a mountain capped with sandstone which creates an impermeable catchment for several streams.  These streams sink when they reach the limestone that skirts the sandstone and forms a plateau.  This limestone plateau only extends for a couple of kilometres before it ends with a long cliff which borders the flood plain of the Mae Nam Nan river.  The limestone and sandstone appear to be sub-horizontally bedded.  Tham Phra Wang Daeng has a 10 km streamway that runs up the spine of the sandstone mountain.  There are plans to build a dam across the mouth of the valley with Tham Nam Dan and Tham Pha Kaeo which would almost certainly block access to these caves and possibly flood Tham Phra Wang Daeng.
 
Hotel accommodation is not available close to the caves.  We stayed with the Ban Chomphu village head lady (in a rice whisky distillery) and previous expeditions have been based at the nearby Ranger Station or further south near Noen Maprang.  As it is a national park permission to go caving should be sought from the Royal Forest Department in Bangkok.  However, a small group wishing to have a one-of trip to the caves would almost certainly be able to gain access. To reach Tham Phra Wang Daeng, Tham Nam Dan and Tham Pha Kaeo you have to enter the national park via the Ranger Station near Ban Chomphu and there is a checkpoint here.  Tham Khang Khao and Tham Kheo are in the long limestone scarp that forms the park boundary so access to these caves is a lot easier.
 
Tham Phra Wang Daeng
Length: 13,634 m VR: 114 m
 
This is the longest known cave in Thailand and still has many leads.  The main streamway is about 10 km long, very large and ends in an upstream sump.  Only one group of cavers has been to this sump on a two day trip. However, there was evidence to show that monks had been to the end of the cave. To reach the entrance you need to go through the Ban Chomphu checkpoint and follow the track to where it opens out in a cultivated area.  Take a track on the right (south) before you reach the small shop and village.  This track leads to a large monastery at the base of the mountain.  A rough track leads uphill past the monastery (4WD cars only) to reach a parking area after a couple of hundred metres.  The cave entrance is a short downhill walk from here.
 
The entrance is a section of large collapsed passage and contains a shrine.  Access to the main cave is down some steps towards the right and through a door.  More steps, including some made of concrete, lead you down to the main streamway.  It is possible to follow this stream for about a kilometre in the downstream direction to the resurgence.  It is not possible to exit the resurgence.
 
Upstream follows a huge passage, averaging 15 to 20 m wide and 20 m or more high.  Progress is made by a never ending sequence of wading, walking and scrambling over fallen boulders.  At one section you have to ascend over a collapse and then regain the stream.  On our visit in April there were a couple of short sections of swimming.  At wetter times of the year more swimming may be required.  At various places there were signs of a high level system above the streamway, but these have not been explored.  Cave fish, mainly Schistura and a larger species, were numerous in the pools and stream and were very inquisitive, coming up to nuzzle your wellies.
 
The object of our trip was to explore and survey four inlets on the eastern side of the main streamway which were about 4.5 km into the cave.  It took our large party 3.5 hours to reach this area.  Unfortunately all the inlets closed down into squalid flat-out bedding planes or ended at tall inlet avens after one or two hundred metres.  The trip out of the cave took the author longer than the 3.5 hours to get in.  Although the streamway is mainly easy going care should be taken not to over exert yourself as it is possible to go so far into the cave you struggle to get back out again.
 
This is an impressive cave and there is still plenty of exploring to do.
 
Tham Nam Dan
Length: 2,102 m
 
Tham Nam Dan is a resurgence cave located to the south-east of Tham Phra Wang Dang and part of a different hydrological system.  Instead of taking the turning to Tham Phra Wang Daeng continue past the shop and village and take the right hand fork at a Y junction towards some limestone outcrops.  This track crosses cultivated fields and to describe the route to the cave is difficult! The best advice is to head towards the left at any junctions and eventually the track ends at the base of the hill.  A footpath leads for about 100 m uphill to the large rift entrance.
 
The stream flows along a fairly large passage with some short cascades and swims to pass.  We went as far as a chamber where an oxbow, exposed by the low water levels, was surveyed.  The cave extends to about a kilometre further upstream from this point.  On the way back to the entrance an inlet passage at the top of some dry gours was looked at.  By digging out a gravel bank it was possible to pass a low duck into 100 m of passage.
 
An Orpheus Caving Club expedition in November 2004 extended the cave to its current surveyed length.
 
Tham Pha Kaeo
Length: 1,217 m
 
This seasonal resurgence cave was first explored on the April 2004 expedition.  It is located between Tham Nam Dan and Tham Phra Wang Daeng on the eastern side of the mountain.  As with Tham Nam Dan a description as to how find the cave is difficult and we were guided there by a park ranger who lives close by.  Instead of turning left at a T junction in the fields towards Tham Nam Dan turn right and then take the left hand fork at the Y junction after only a few metres.  This track gets rougher and eventually ends at a shack in a clump of trees just before you reach another field.  To get to the entrance cross the field heading slighty to the right and then go down a gentle slope before entering the jungle.  There is a very rough path, but we had to cut our way in. The path ascends and you reach a limestone cliff.  The entrance is a few metres higher up.
 
On our visit the streamway was dry.  A large entrance chamber soon closes down and it is necessary to crawl through a low sandy passage on the left.  Following the stream passage to the right enters a maze of small passages that wasn’t properly explored and leads back to the entrance chamber.  After crawling through the sandy section there is a short walking section to reach a boulder choke.  It is possible to bypass this either on the right through a low crawl and tight squeeze up through boulders or by going left and climbing through and over the boulders. 
 
After the choke the passage is of reasonable dimensions and the next feature of note is a stal bank made of pure white calcite.  This can be bypassed on the left hand side to regain the passage (there is also a way through on top of the stal bank).  The passage continues as a roomy streamway with static pools as you approach the upstream end.  We turned back at a swimming section with low air space after about 800 m.  A small side passage on the left not far after the stal bank led to some muddy crawls which eventually choked.
 
An Orpheus Caving Club expedition in November 2004 extended the cave to its current surveyed length.
 
Tham Khang Khao
Length: 3,725 m
 
This cave had been surveyed to a chamber about a kilometre into the system via a very tall vadose streamway.  Two inlets joined at the chamber and had been briefly explored.  As this previous trip had been made in August water levels were high.  We had a single trip in April 2004 when the water levels were much lower and two teams surveyed the two inlet passages and extended the cave to over 3 km. Tham Khang Khao is located in the limestone cliffs to the south of Ban Chomphu which mark the boundary of the national park.  We are unable to provide a precise description of its location.
 
From the chamber the left hand inlet was surveyed for 750 m through some very wet passage to a duck.  There was not enough time to finish the survey, but the passage was explored past the duck, through a large chamber and some wide passage to end at an upstream sump after an estimated 250 m. Domestic rubbish was found in the streamway which suggests that it might be possible to reach the stream sink by going over the surface. The right hand inlet was also surveyed for several hundred metres.  The surveyors took the right hand passage at a junction which got smaller and wetter.  They felt that the left hand passage might have been the main way on, but they didn’t have enough time to explore this branch.
 
The survey of both branches was completed by the Orpheus Caving Club in November 2004.
 
Tham Kheo
Length: approx. 200 m
 
Tham Kheo is also found in the cliffs to the south of Ban Chomphu.  It is further south than Tham Khang Khao and has several shrines nearby.  Again it is not possible to give a more detailed description. The cave had been explored in the rainy season for 65 m to a sump.  In April 2004 the sump had dried up to leave a sandy crawl.  Once through the short crawl about one hundred metres of small, muddy passage was followed to a muddy pool and a small chamber with a sump.  This is not the nicest cave in Thailand.
 
In addition to these caves two other caves were found in monasteries just south of Ban Chomphu (but north of Tham Khang Khao) at the foot of the limestone cliffs.  Both of these caves were draughting outwards, but were not pushed to a conclusion due to a lack of caving kit and enthusiasm.
 
Phitsanulok References
 
Brooks, S. (2002) [Thung Salaeng Luang]; Brooks, S. (2003) [Thung Salaeng Luang]; Cummins, J. (1999) [Phu Hin Rong Kla]; Doerr, S. (2000) [Phu Hin Rong Kla]; Kaufmann, G. (1997) [Thung Salaeng Luang]; Odell (1985) [Phu Hin Rong Kla]; Smart, D. (1997) [Thung Salaeng Luang]
 
Map: 1:250,000 NE47-16 Changwat Phetchabun
 
References
 
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