Off to the jungle in a mini bus, staying in a little piece of heaven, and watching half a million birds fly past.

Day 179: Pai & Soppong, Thailand. Today we were up and about early to finish packing and catch yet another bus, this time to Soppong, an hour west of Pai.

The minibus left a little late; three people who’d booked tickets for the trip did a no-show (possibly too hungover to face an early morning rollercoaster ride over the mountain). We had pre-assigned seats, and Jim got the passenger seat right up front – a blessing given he never feels car sick there. The guy next to Lil, however, lasted 10 minutes before diving on the pile of plastic bags tucked into a seat pocket, and barfing badly.

When we got to Soppong, we had coffee in a spectacular little cafe looking out over the jungle and river. It was really good coffee too.

Then we headed back across the street to try and find someone to drive us to our accommodation, 9km away in a small village called Ban Tam Lod. The guy at the bus ticket office ran up the street and found someone, who unlocked a garage and drove us to the village in his truck.

We’re staying three nights at at an awesome place called the Cave Lodge, which was set up in the 70’s by an Australian guy who is an avid caving enthusiast and trekker. It’s a spectacular place to a stay – a cluster of small rustic cabins surrounded by jungle, and a huge wooden open sided house with lots of chairs and tables, a massive central fire pit, a table tennis table and a great library of books. It’s very tranquil and feels like a little piece of heaven.

Maps and information are posted around the walls, with details of local hikes, caves and wildlife. Apparently there are snakes in one of the local caves, which aren’t venomous, but do bite, and climb over the roof of the cave by flexing around stalactites. Yikes.

We spent the afternoon relaxing and reading our balcony, looking out over the jungle and river.

Late afternoon we walked through the jungle and across a bamboo bridge, to the exit of Tham Lod cave, to see the sunset spectacle of half a million swifts entering the cave for the night. We sat on a rock by the river to wait for the show.

It was like nothing we’ve ever witnessed before – at about five o’clock Lil spotted a few birds, and a few minutes later a swarm of swifts began swirling high above, before diving down and shooting past us and into the caves behind. They were difficult to photograph with the speed and the fading light.

Then we walked back into the village through the dark jungle (thankfully we remembered to bring a torch) and had dinner at a small restaurant called Nong Luk. Wonderful food, cooked by a lovely cheery lady. Three local guys were enjoying a Saturday evening chat – they had 18 empty beer cans lined up between them by the time we left.

Hot showers at the Lodge are only available between 5pm and 8pm, so we headed back for a shower then went and sat in the communal house to catch with with stuff online, have an icy cold beer and listen to some very chilled music. A lovely finish to the day.

Tomorrow we’re planning a long hike on one of the many local trails. And we may even visit one of the caves – though hopefully we won’t encounter any roof-climbing snakes.

More then.

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