One of the things that drew me to staying on the island of Koh Lanta, Thailand was the hiking. There are 3 cave hikes on the island that are easy to get to. Unbeknownst to us, none of these hikes are easy like the guide books promise. I will describe the details of the Tiger Cave hike called Tham Seua.
We initially wanted to go to the southern most cave on Koh Lanta because it is very close to where we were staying, it is in the Mu Ko Lanta National Park and it has a waterfall along the way. But, after talking to a local at breakfast that morning, we changed our mind. He said the path was not well kept and it would be difficult to find the trail. The cave at the north end of the island sounded the coolest but a guide and climbing experience were recommended. So it was decided that we would check out the cave in the middle of the island called Tham Seua – the old tiger cave.
We stayed at Katiang Bay near the south end of the island. There are several moped rental places so we got some wheels for 250 Baht / day (less that $10 CAD) to take us to the trail. It is pretty awesome to drive a moped on the Island. I had never successfully driven a moped before – I rented one in San Fransisco once but I was too scared to turn so I could only go straight! But on Koh Lanta I felt comfortable turning and driving on the wrong side of the road with a kid holding on to me and laughing along the way. We even had to take a rocky, hilly road to get to the hike. We were all pretty stoked when the road ended and there was a sign for the tiger cave hike.
The information I had about this hike was:
Located just south of Khlong Nin, this cave is accessible by 30 minute walk from a clearly signed trail starting at the end of a dirt road. The cave is supposedly occupied by tigers in the past.
So we found the end of the dirt road and we saw a sign but we were unsure about which way to start the hike. After a few minutes of debate, a man walked out of the jungle drying himself off with a towel. He immediately told us he would guide us to the caves but we had to leave right away because it would be dark soon. We thought we would just do the hike unguided but he didn’t really give us an option. The next thing we knew, we were paying him and following him through the forest. His English was minimal so we just followed and didn’t ask too many questions.
The first 5 minutes of the hike was a rocky, loose dirt downhill walk with a rope as a handrail. We passed a thin green snake slithering along in the trees. The trail ended at a river and started again on the other side. We carefully stepped over the rocks to cross the river and continued our hike on the other side. The further we went, the thicker the branches and vines seemed to get. We crossed the river again with the guide holding our hands so we can walk over the slippery rocks. More jungle, vines and branches. Cross the river again. More jungle vines and branches. Cross the river again. This time, Blake slipped and got a soaker on one of his feet. We all cheered and laughed at the poor kid for getting his foot soaked in the water. At the next river crossing, the rocks were pretty big and far between. We tried jumping onto big slippery rocks and crawled over them with the help of the guide who stood in the water holding our hands as we jumped. Finally at the next river crossing the guide simply said “go through the water now”. There weren’t rocks to step on, we had to walk through the river. It wasn’t very deep, so we rolled up our pants and walked through the flowing water. I couldn’t help but wonder why we tried to avoid getting wet on all the previous crossings.
When we got to the cave, our guide distributed the headlamps and disappeared down a ladder into a cave. One by one we followed down a ladder into a narrow opening, through the bottom of a crevice, up a ladder. We needed our lamps on because it was dark in this cave. The thought that tigers used to live here added to the already scary atmosphere. We had to navigate some ladders that also had low clearance above and a few of us banged our heads. In the cave, we had to crawl along the floor for about 20 meters to get to a lookout and another ladder. In this area, you could bang on the stalactites to make a beautiful drumming sound.
The next section of the hike was very precarious. There was a rickety ladder that went across a deep crevice, the rungs were not close enough together to make the trip appealing for most of our group so we waited as the guide and Darren did a little loop around.
On the way back, we simply walked through the river and didn’t bother to jump over rocks. At one point along the way, our guide reached down and pulled a leach from one of the kids ankles. He told us there were leaches in the water. We walked much faster now and made it back to our mopeds in no time.
I was amazed that the website stated this was a well marked trail. We certainly would not have found it had we not been with our guide. The entire hike took about 1.5 hours to complete.