Soppong, Thailand (aka Pangmapha)
Not many people make it to Soppong, which is a shame because it seems like a “real” Thai town. Soppong is a small town built along the highway. We took a minibus from Chiang Mai for 250B/$8. The price is standard even if we had gone all the way to Mae Hong Son from Chiang Mai… had we known this, we might have taken the bus and saved a few dollars.
The mass tourism machine isn’t in full force here, so finding a place to eat was a little problematic, but the food at Little Eden Guesthouse was incredible, authentic, and generously portioned. We stayed in a rustic little bungalow at Little Eden (350B/$11.40 per night). There was a swimming pool that was way too cold to swim in, although we did brave it a couple of times… an excellent way to cool down.
We rented a motorcycle (100B/$3.25), which was our first foray into this ubiquitous means of transport in Thailand. We rented a manual which all went fine until we reached a hill and, in an attempt to shift gears, Ryan popped a wheelie (and us nearly off the back too). Not the most comforting first time motorcycle riding experience.
With the crazy motorcycle stunts out of the way, we drove to coffin cave which required a bit of a climb up the side of a mountain via some helpfully placed but precarious metal steps. Around 2000 years ago an ancient civilization decided to bury their dead in massive teak coffins in these difficult to reach caves… an amazing feat. Archaeologists are trying to understand this mysterious ritual.
Soppong’s Hillside Tribes
We took a drive out to a couple of the hillside tribes, whose villages surround Soppong. We went to Ban Jabo which is a town where the Lahu tribe lives.
Tham Lod Cave – Soppong, Thailand
Later in the day we drove out to Tham Lod, which is a huge cave filled with wonderfully shaped stalactites and stalagmites.
Access to the cave is by bamboo raft on the river with a local tribes person guiding you. Tham Lod is one of Thailand’s excellent examples of sustainable tourism. The local tribes people are employed to steer the boats and guide you through the cave. A one-way ticket on the raft is 400B/$13 (return is 500B). Getting a one-way ticket allows you to linger at the exit and watch the many bats leaving the cave for the evening and the swifts returning for the night.
We were lucky enough to be in Soppong on Tuesday: Soppong’s market day. The hill tribe people come down from their villages and sell their vegetables and wares. People come from all over Thailand to shop there. The different tribes can be identified by the colours of their traditional clothing.
Our next stop is Mae Hong Son, Thailand!