The caves of Chiang Mai
Some people dismiss caves as sterile holes in the ground of no further interest or importance. In fact, a visit to a cave with a learned guide is quite an experience, and you realize Thai speleology (cave science) offers satisfaction to anyone with interests in biology, geology, art, religion, archaeology and adventure.
Yesterday we visited the Chiang Dao cave situated 100 km north of Dokmai Garden. Normally we focus on the amazing flora here at Thailand’s third highest mountain, but a visitor requested seeing the cave and so we did.
Although seemingly commercial and worn and torn, I think this cave can still offer some interesting sightings to the general public. Culturally, Thai caves differ from other caves in that they are often religious places, old homes of hermits and monks, often associated with temples. Caves would traditionally be quiet and dark places for contemplation.
Biologically, caves are not that sterile, at least not near the opening. We saw huge spiders, probably of the Heteropodidae family, crickets with exceptionally long and thin antennae and microlepidopteran moths whose larvae may feed on bat guano. We are not sure about the bat species, but due to presence of a partly free tail and absence of eye-brow we think it is a member of the short-tailed bats (Emballunoridae), possibly the long-winged bat (Taphozous longimanus).
Geologically, this is a limestone cave created when water seep through cracks and erodes them mechanically and chemically when gravity pulls the water downwards.
The carbon dioxide in the air is dissolved in the rain water making carbonic acid, dissolving calcium from limestone. The vegetation on the surface also creates organic soil layers with complex humic acids which also adds to the acidity. Deposits of calcium carbonate (calcite) result in very interesting cave formations (speleothems), such as stalagmites and stalactites (formed by water droplets depositing calcite as they drip from the ceiling), draperies (formed by water depositing calcite as it runs along a wall), flowstones (formed by water depositing calcite as it flows over a rock) and pools (initially created in depressions where calcium deposits line the sides).
Airflows, temperature and presence of other chemical elements may influence shapes and colours.
The undulating floor indicates the floor is sometimes the bottom of a stream. Such waves of dirt are formed due to the movements of water, similar to the sand waves you feel under the feet when walking in sea water at the beach.
If you wish, the cave demands a bit of crawling, so leave backpacks and use appropriate clothing and shoes with a good grip. The cave goes on far beyond the touristic route.
Since books are not available at the cave, and since the on-site guides hardly speak any English and/or have no scientific knowledge, you should order books and establish contacts with knowledgeable people before visiting Thailand.
Text: Eric Danell, Dokmai Garden
Photo: David Fielder