DIY Guide to visit Tham Lot cave (Lod Cave, ถ้ำลอด)
Tham Lot, also known as Lod Cave is magnificent cave just an hour away from Pai, the popular touristic yet charming city.
If you are in Pai, you will see dozens of travel agents and taxi stands selling tours to Lod Cave. It is certainly possible to go wander at this amazing cave by yourself, and here is quick write-up how to do so.
How to get there
Lod Cave is about 50KM North-West from Pai, and is on the way to Mae Hong Son. Most people, including myself, visit Pai as part of the Mae Hong Son bike loop. This was the case for me, so I already had my motorbike with me.
From Pai, you can rent a motorbike from the numerous vendors in the city. A 110CC bike would set you about 100-150฿. For the return trip, you will need about 4 liters of petrol.
You can also hitch-hike your way. Pretty much every vehicle that takes the route 1095 will take you there. However, note that the cave entrance is about 8km away from the main road, so you will need to walk the rest of the way or convince another vehicle (which likely would be another organized tour) to take you there. I personally don't recommend hitch-hiking there.
Alternately, you can catch a bus. There were a few buses on this route and tell the driver to drop you off at the junction where the road towards the Lod Cave starts.
With all things considered, a bike is your best bet. The road is not up to the otherwise better road standards in Thailand, and two people can take a bike easily there.
Entrance to the cave complex is at 19.568895,98.279453, and any mapping app you have with Open Street Maps (such as Maps.me) can get you precise directions.
What to bring
If you go inside the cave and turned off all your lights, it will be pitch black. It's a bit of disappointment that this cave isn't lit inside. Having been to Paradise cave and many other caves in Vietnam and Borneo, the first thing that came to my mind was how awesome if would be if this cave was well-lit.
The cave is massive by any standard, and your phone's flasher won't even reach the ceiling. Try to take a good flash-light with you to experience the sheer scale of this cave.
The Nam Lang river flows through the cave, but there are no water crossings. However, the floor is moldy and slippery, so wear appropriate shoes. You will also be climbing several steep wooden ladders. So again, appropriate clothes.
You can find potable water from the nearby temple and at the cave exit (more on this later), but a 500ml bottle of water will help.
Hire a guide or not
From the entrance to the visitor area, you will see a small hut that asks you to hire a guide. I personally prefer to wander through caves by myself without anyone pushing me to keep going forward, and I did not hire a guide. You can negotiate to hire a guide for about 200฿ per person.
The cave complex consists of 3 caves: The first and second are accessible without a boat, but the third one, as they claim, will need to be on a bamboo raft. You can negotiate this at this counter, or even go to the cave entrance and negotiate with some of the guides waiting there.
Expect to pay around 400฿ for a return trip for a group.
Even though the guides claim you need a boat, the third cave is accessible on foot. You just have to walk around the cave and enter from what it would be the exit of the cave.
The guides will have a large lamp with them so you can have a good view. If you bring your own flash light, you are golden.
Explore the caves
From the entrance, walk all the way forward, and you will see signs showing the way.
Give your eyes a couple minutes to adjust to the dark, and have your lights on. There will be no natural light at all, and all caves have quite confusing walking paths, so be mindful of your way.
Immediately from the entrance, you will see the water going inside the cave. There is small bamboo bridge to cross the river. Before you cross it, to your right side will be the first cave.
This first cave has quite a high ceiling, and there is a massive pillar that is the highlight of the cave. If you walk forward, the path will circle back to this pillar.
On your way back, cross the river over the bamboo bridge, and to your left would be a steep ladder that takes you to the second cave.
In most cave systems, the higher the cave is, the older it is. The second cave indeed appear old, and there is a prehistoric painting that you can see well even today. Unfortunately, it is being faded away, and there doesn't seem to be any protection to prevent people from touching it. If there's sign that says "Don't touch", the first thing people do it touch it.
While you are up there, there is a small wooden deck that you can see the cave entrance and see the sheer scale of the cave entrance.
Walk your way forward, and there are two small and final ladders that take you to the actual cave. They both lead to the same place, and you can use either of them. The floor is a bit slippery.
Inside the second cave, you will find a lot of formations and there are English explanations given for most of them. This is the longest cave within the complex, and you can walk quite a lot. While I was there by myself, I spent 20-30 minutes, but a guided group only spent about 5-10 minutes there.
This cave roof is quite low and mind your head. It's not fun to hit your head on a bunch of Calcium that has been accumulating for thousands of years.
From the place you took your first set of ladders, a guided tour group would be taken to the next cave on a bamboo raft. For the rest of us without this boat, you can walk all the way outside the cave, and cross the river on a small fragile bamboo bridge that's about 100m upwards the river.
Right after the bridge, this cave leads to a small temple. Just before the temple, there is small road that goes right, and it will take you to the cave exit. Guided visitors on bamboo rafts are taken here to visit this third cave.
If you look up, especially in before dusk, you will see hundreds of bats flying over. This cave is named Coffin Cave, after the number of coffins found inside the cave. This cave isn't lit inside either, and wooden ladders will take you up and inside.
The cave opening here is huuuuge! It's so wide, that I had to go back a little bit to capture the entire opening to a single photo frame!
From inside, you can find the coffins and a small English/Thai description on them. This cave doesn't go as deep as the second cave did, but it's worth a visit, nonetheless.
If you get lost on your way, try to find the small thread that goes at the head level, which takes you to each cave entrance, more or less.
Things to think about
That's about it! I spent 3-4 hours there, and I could easily spend even more. There's so much to see and learn from Lod Cave, and there is a nice charm and eerie feeling at the same time. Pay attention to signs that warn about low oxygen levels in some areas of the cave, and trying to climb the rock formations could be fatal.
Most of the guides are villages and they make a living from it. If you are inexperienced with such expeditions, I highly recommend (contrary to my general suggestion to DIY everything) you get help from one.
Outside the cave entrance and a few shops selling snacks and well-maintained toilets.
As always, please be mindful of things you bring. Don't throw garbage into the river or inside the caves. I was pleasantly surprised how clean everything was inside, and let's try to keep it that way.
I hope you'd enjoy your visit to Lod Cave as much as I did!