As we round the corner to the pier, I see an immense expanse of water painted crystal blue by the sky above. Hopping aboard a long tail boat, we depart for the floating raft house where we will spend the night. Though moving at high speed, the expanse of water lined with gigantic limestone cliffs seems to stretch lazily in the distance; there is only the splash of the water to remind us of our velocity.
Arriving at the raft house we disembark to find the refreshing waters of the chiewlarn lake ready to cool us from our journey. After this, a prepared meal of freshly caught fish and seasonal vegetables blend eloquently with exotic curries and local spices to sate our hunger for the journey that lies ahead. Conventional wisdom says that swimming after a meal is folly, but I can’t resist.
A short boat ride later, we are at a trailhead where we disembark once again to begin our hike to the river cave. Winding trails criss cross the river and bring us through the jungle past sun dappled pools and clouds of mating butterflies. The guide tells tales of how these woods were once the setting for a bloody conflict between communists, the indigenous people and the government. We see blast holes that confirm the bombs of the past, and if you are quiet, you can almost hear the turbulence of days gone by echoing of the walls of this ancient forest.
A few clicks more, and we come upon the mouth of a giant cave beckoning us with its enormity. As if swallowed whole, soon we are engulfed in pitch black rivaling the darkest night, and leaving only our head lamps to guide us. Bats, who are dormant during the day, sleep by the hundreds above our heads. The caves walls sparkle from river to stalagmite which stretch 50 feet up in some places, the river deepens. Soon we are chest deep wading in darkness through this invisible habitat, the water rushing past is cool and refreshing and penetrates the jungle heat in my skin.
Daylight is a welcome sight to my straining eyes, but the cave remains with me in smell and aura as we make our way back to the boats. The rain has no intention of allowing us to return unscathed and a downpour ensues pelting us with increasing rhythm as we race to the boats. As we make our way through the narrow canal, our boat catches on a sand bar and we must all disembark temporarily to dislodge the craft…great screams of joy and jubilation as she is free to speed us on our way.
On rapid approach to the raft house, we are overwhelmed with the urge to dive into lake’s inviting waters. The guide encourages us to indulge our inclination and we are warmed by chiewlarn lake which is a welcome warmth by comparison to the cool tropical rain which has soaked us thoroughly. Exhausted but thoroughly relaxed we watch the rain pour down and await a moonlit dinner and tomorrows return.