We didn’t know what to expect when we finally reached our teak wood hut in Tham Lot village (about an hour outside of Pai). As with most of our travels we didn’t really research the place, or how far it was from the airport (6 hours up a very windy road), or what there was to do there. We always figure when we get there we’ll figure it out and make the best of whatever it is. What we got this time was a handful of once in a lifetime experiences!
Most tourists don’t make it this far out of the city into untouched hill tribe villages and jungles. Here we got to really see ancient Thailand where life is very simple, people still live and work together in villages and not much of the western world has made its print (except for the abundance of cel phones of course). We stayed in a hut in a beautiful, lush, organic garden with Pen who is the granddaughter of the village’s founder. The accommodations were very scarce but it was perfect for where we were. The birds and roosters “sang” all night long and the village chief would wake us at sunrise with his daily announcements. Most of Pens family still lives in village and were kind of enough to invite us into one of their homes so we could play with the kids and see how they live. Charlotte even made friends with the girl next door (a cousin of course!). They spent two days playing and coloring even though Mole spoke no English and Char speaks no Thai. It was really a special thing to see.
By the time we arrived Monday night, the village was pretty much asleep. After a long days drive, the kids were happy to stay in and catch up on electronics time so Michael and I headed out, flashlights in hand, to explore the neighborhood. We stumbled on a backpackers homestay lit entirely in twinkle lights. It was a great place for a welcome drink and a bit of peace and quiet. The next morning Pen escorted us into town for the market that takes place only on Tuesday. The local villagers all bring there goods to town to sell and it’s the day everyone can do their shopping. We got to enjoy strolling around and seeing the ladies in village dress selling their crops and handicrafts.
Tham lot is famous for the massive Lod Cave. We took a lantern-lit tour through the three huge caverns. At one point we hopped on a bamboo raft through a chamber with millions of bats hanging above and huge fish your able to feed leaping from the water below. After the tour, we were able to hike to a cave opening and watch the sunset while millions and millions of swifts fly in a gorgeous swirling pattern into the cave. We stood mesmerized for at least 20 minutes and watched as the birds kept coming and coming and coming. I’d love to have stayed later to see the millions of bats head out for the night but with only one cel phone to light our path we decided we’d better head home while there was still a shred of light. This was definitely a once in a lifetime sight most people will never have the opportunity to see.
A trip to northern Thailand wouldn’t be complete without a visit to an elephant reserve. We struggled to find one that cares for the elephants instead of chaining them up and forcing them to give rides to tourists or perform in some show which is so prevalent here. We found a conservation project in Pai that recently rescued a mama and baby elephant, both pregnant from a tourist camp. It was such a treat to get to feed these amazing creatures and even to hop in the river and help bathe them. They’re such beautiful creatures and we felt blessed to get a chance to see them up close and support a group trying to help them repopulate.
Michael and I got the chance one day to sneak off and explore the nearby hill tribes. Luckily we had rented a 4-wheel drive truck because the roads are rough and very steep. Us Westerners scarcely made it up the winding hairpin turns as granny’s passed us up bopping along on scooters. We even passed by a scooter with 5 little girls packed on, the driver not more than 7 years old! The villages were very primitively, but as with the rest of Thailand, the people seem very content. They have learned to live off the land and care for each other. They don’t seem to have much but they also don’t seem to need much. Kids run around the village along with dogs and roosters and piglets. There is no crime and a real sense of family. Seeing this way of life was such a contrast to what we’d seen in Africa where people are alienated and suppressed.
Our last night in Tham Lot we celebrated with a New Year’s Eve feast. Pen prepared pumpkin soup, sticky rice and baked chicken for all the guests. We had a gift exchange, gave each other well whishes for the New Year, and sat around a bon fire enjoying visiting with the locals and the other guests.
New Years morning we woke to a flat tire which set us back a bit but also gave us a chance for one last visit with our new friends. We loved getting to see this part of northern Thailand and will cherish the memories we made here forever.