Khorat Caving

One of the rewards of maintaining this website is the trickle of new 'volunteers' to help with the surveying and documentation work. Every now and again an e-mail arrives saying "I will be in Bangkok/Chiang Mai/Krabi for a weekend/fortnight/month – are there any cavers or caving clubs in this area?" These queries are easy to answer as there are no caving clubs in Thailand and only a couple of active ex-pat cavers. However, if the visitor is going to be in an interesting area I sometimes con them into some surveying and prospecting work by offering to meet up to do some caving. These trips are usually to a bunch of small temple caves or an undemanding relict system and not always what the victim was hoping for. However, a lot of very useful data has been collated on these trips and I'd like to thank those who have helped in the past: Steve, Dane, Jackie, Sarah, Ken, Eileen, Maz, Paul, Simon, Shary and Duncan.
The latest volunteer was Ken Aaron of the Auckland Speleo Group. Ken was in Bangkok on business, but wanted to get out of the city at the weekend to see some caves. The nearest limestone hills to Bangkok are in a string of hills from Lopburi, through Saraburi and into Nakhon Ratchasima about 100 km north of the city. Many caves are known in this area, the longest being the 2 km long Tham Lumphini Suan Hin, but few have been properly documented. This seem like a good opportunity to get some fieldwork done so a plan was hatched to meet up on Friday 24 August before driving out to the caves on the Saturday.
 The first cave was Tham Dao Khao Keao ถ้ำดาวเขาแก้ว (47P 751542 1645847 Altitude 476 m) which is in a temple to the north of Muak Lek. I had been here six years before, but hadn't surveyed the fairly long relict cave. A short concrete staircase (only 160 steps) leads up to the entrance which is gated, but not locked. Inside there is a skylight through which a large tree grows and a large shrine. Unfortunately they have tiled across the width of the passage so if there is anyone there it is necessary to take your boots off, walk the 5 m over the tiles and then put your boots back on. It was here we picked up our self appointed guide – an old Thai rastaman complete with waist length dreadlocks. In an unsuccessful attempt to shake off the guide we explored the cave first and planned to survey on the way back. The passage, about 10 m wide and 5 m high, has a couple of shrines built around old stal columns and after 100 m the passage is almost block by flowstone leaving what is by local standards a small hole through to the continuation of the cave. To the right there is 100 m of similar sized large passage which ends at a choke. Here we found a family camped out at the shrine at the end (it is the Buddhist rains retreat period so many of the temple caves are busy with worshippers). Returning to the junction with the entrance passage heading left soon leads to a large day lit chamber with a large Buddha statue. Concrete steps lead up the boulder collapse to the second entrance. We slowly surveyed back out, with cave being 440 m long.
At the entrance to Tham Dao Khao Kaeo there was a printed sign to another cave and a concrete path contoured up to the entrance. Our rasta guide led the way up to Tham Luang Phor Koon ถ้ำหลวงพ่อคูณ (47P 751640 1645872 Altitude 512 m) which has a collapse entrance into a small chamber. A substantial steel ladder gave access to the chamber which at one end had a tiled shrine area and at the other was choked. Luang Phor Koon is a very popular and slightly controversial monk from Khorat, but it is unclear whether he has actually visited this cave.
Back in the car it was time to deploy my usual cave finding tactics of driving randomly and seeing what turns up on the GPS or roadside. In this fashion, whilst taking a route towards that Pak Chong that was a little bit too rural for my comfort in a saloon car, we found Tham Puyarat ถ้ำปุญญรัตน์ (47P 747058 1625920 Altitude 341 m). The cave is in the grounds of what looks to be a new and rich temple, with the access path being clearly marked with the cave's name. A short walk ended at some steel barriers and another large steel ladder down through the skylight entrance. The ladder lands in a chamber about 50 m long which is being mined for guano. At one end there is a rift to a low section and then a couple of drops with ladders down them. At the other end of the chamber there are also a couple of holes down and a ladder up to a bat chamber. As we were incorrectly dressed for grovelling around in guano these leads were left for another day.

Tham Puyarat: Ken heading into the rift on the way to the grovelly bit
After a night in Pak Chong we were off cave exploring early the next morning. One of the disadvantages of my driving randomly towards a GPS point tactics is that sometimes the co-ordinates are wrong and the GPS tries to take you there rather too directly. This proved to be the case whilst trying to find Tham Pho Thong and we ended up in a very active quarry. However, it wasn't a wasted detour as the quarry has created an exposure of the limestone about 500 m long and 100 m high revealing thinly, subhorizontal bedded limestone, a fault, but no caves as far as we could see.
We soon found our first cave of the day, Tham Gai Kaeo ถ้ำไก่แก้ว (47P 754214 1620455 Altitude 405 m). To say that this cave has been developed as a shrine would be an understatement – it was more like visiting someone's living room. The 50 m long cave has a building built over the entrance, is tiled throughout and the shrine at the end even has carpet (something I have never seen in a Thai home). The cave is dry and bat-free making it a very pleasant place which is home to the temple's abbot who is a very jovial chap.

Tham Gai Kaeo: Ken admiring the expertly laid fitted carpet
Back in the car we continued heading south. Only a kilometre from Tham Gai Kaeo a sign saying "Magic Cave Land" caught my eye. There was no way we could ignore anywhere with a name like that so we headed into what seemed to be a temple. As we parked up a young lad wandered up to see if we were going to visit the cave. It turned out that "Magic Cave Land" is run as a show cave (80 baht per person plus 30 baht guide fee) and the lad was to be our guide. The Thai name for the cave is Tham Kaew Sarapat Neuk ถ้ำแก้วสารพัดนึก (47P 753593 1619271 Altitude 410 m) and it is nicely developed with good concrete paths and lighting.

Entrance chamber to Tham Kaew Sarapat Neuk
In the cave my role was to try to distract the guide while Ken poked about in all the side passages off the main tourist trail. However, I wasn't very successful and the guide made full use of English vocabulary to instruct Ken to "come back", "don't go", "this way", etc. At one point the lad warned that if Ken took seven steps into a low side passage he would collapse and die due to a lack of oxygen – perhaps it is fortunate that the passage closed down after six steps. One of the cave's main attractions is the skeleton of a '4,000 year old cave man'. I have my doubts about the age of this, not least as next to the skeleton were a couple of ostrich eggs which the guide tried to convince us were the eggs of a very large snake! I have also been unable to find any academic references to archaeological excavations in this area. From near the skeleton the tourist trail leads to a second entrance, about 100 m from the way in. In all, though, it is a good trip that is recommended to anyone the region. If our estimate of 400 m of passage is accurate this would be the longest known cave in Khorat province.

The young guide in one of the decorated chambers of Tham Kaew Sarapat Neuk
After Magic Cave Land our caving magical mystery tour continued and the next place to catch our eye was Wat Tham Khao Wong ถ้ำเขาวง (47P 752371 1614023) as the temple's car park was full with minibuses, pickup trucks and even a tour bus. We decided that the last thing all these people wanted was a couple of sweaty cavers poking about their shrine so we didn't stop.
The next place we did stop was the cave we had been looking for when we ended up in a quarry, Tham Pho Thong ถ้ำโพธิ์ทอง (47P 756965 1618618 Altitude 442 m). Like Tham Gai Kaeo this cave was very heavily developed as a shrine. The entrance was gated, to keep out bats, and had been built over. Inside the entrance opened into a chamber about 40 m in diameter with the floor covered in tiles and steps leading down into to the main floor of the chamber.

Entrance area of Tham Pho Thong
At one end of the chamber some steps lead up to a smaller side chamber which had a concrete, not tiled, floor and a small shrine. At the base of the steps up to this chamber some other steps led down into what was reported to be 100 m of passage, but as we were caving barefoot this was not explored.

Main chamber of Tham Pho Thong
From Wat Tham Pho Thong we got onto the highway from Pak Chong to the Khao Yai National Park and headed south towards the park. It wasn't long before there was another emergency stop and a quick U-turn as we had gone past another 'Wat Tham', this time Wat Tham Phet Phi Man. Parking up in the temple grounds we asked permission from the abbot who informed us that as well as the small cave near the car there was a larger cave a bit further round the hill.
As it was nearest we decided to do the small cave first: Tham Phet Phi Man Lek ถ้ำเพชรพิมานเล็ก (47P 758462 1613664 Altitude 427 m). A few steps led down into a small chamber with a shrine where we disturbed a monk sat in the dark having a smoke. After a quick apology he 'guided' us past this chamber, through a short crawl to a rift where you could stand up. The way on was up through a boulder and dirt squeeze so Ken, being keen, changed into a boiler suit and headed off. He was soon back as the cave soon ended in a chamber where the three small ways on all closed down.
Our monk then guided us up to the big cave: Tham Phet Phi Man Yai ถ้ำเพชรพิมานใหญ่ (47P 758479 1613393 Altitude 435 m). Although the cave had a building over the entrance and steps down into a tile floored chamber with a shrine it had slightly fallen into a state of disrepair as the bats inhabiting the cave had crapped everywhere. From the shrine chamber a passage on the right soon ended in a small bat chamber. However, just before the end a 2 m climb up to the right led into a horizontal, guano coated passage that was explored for a few dozen metres until crawling was necessary.
The third cave in this temple is Tham Kaew Thep Nimit ถ้ำแก้วเทพนิมิต (47P 758402 1613552 Altitude 448 m) which is a short distance up the hill from Tham Phet Phi Man Yai. The entrance is an 8 m deep rift, but we declined to descended the rotten wooden ladders that were there. Our guide reported that the cave occasionally had pools of water about 0.5 m deep, but not a flowing stream. At the entrance there is a marble plaque with the caves name and the date 2508 BE (1965 AD).
It was getting close to the time to start heading back to Bangkok so we took the back road from Mu Si to Muak Lek. A couple of large cave entrances can been seen in the hills to the south of the road whilst to the north we noted the huge entrance of Tham Sisiat A ถ้ำสีเสียดย้า (47P 741305 1614940 Altitude 450 m) at the end of a hill to the north of the road. We both chickened out at the thought of walking up to the entrance, which was just as well as Alice Latinne had already been there looking for cave rats and her blog reports that the climb up takes an hour and there is no cave, just the big hole you can see from the road.
The final cave of the day was Tham Charoen Tham Wanaram ถ้ำเจริญธรรมวนาราม (47P 746356 1612663 Altitude 370 m) which seems to also go by the name Tham Phra Photisat. The temple is on the north side of the road and a naga staircase leads up the side of the hill. These steps are still under construction so it is necessary to continue on up using the old concrete steps. These end at a large cave entrance, but after 40 m the cave chokes.
For further information on the caves of this area there are draft guidebooks to Saraburi and Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat) available on this website.