Without a doubt, Lod Cave was one of the highlights of our visit to Northern Thailand. It is a magical place with glittering rock formations, murals, an underground river, huge catfish and centuries-old coffins. This day trip is part of the spectacular Mae Hong Son Loop (800 km), which takes about a week. We visited Lod Cave from Pai, a cute village 2.5 hours northwest of Chiang Mai.
Sai Ngam hot spring
First stop on the way to Lod Cave is Sai Ngam, the best hot spring around Pai if you ask me. Right after taking the exit you pay the entrance fee at the check point and drive a few kilometers to the parking lot. Tricky with scooter due to steep hills.
What a beautiful, peaceful place is this! 08:20 am and the hot spring is deserted. Just the cleaning lady and us. So serene it feels magical. The water is crystal clear. My feet enjoy the hot water. The environment is simply eye candy. Dressing rooms and toilets available.
Visiting Sai Ngam hot spring
- ± 16 km northwest of Pai, ± 25 min by car (for location see map below)
- Open daily 08:00h – 18:00h
- Admission 200 THB per adult, 30 THB per car
Between Sai Ngam hot spring and Lod Cave you will pass Doi Kiew Lom Viewpoint, which is worth another quick stop before heading further west to Lod Cave. Check both sides of the road. There are few stalls that sell some water, fruit, etc. See map below for location. Hereafter we drive by some traditional wooden houses on poles where Karen tribe people still live.
Lod Cave is short for Lod Pang Mapha Cave, also known as Tham Lod or Tham Lod Cave, like the cave’s neighbor the Tham Nam Lod Wildlife and Nature Education Centre. Tham is actually the Thai word for cave. After getting your entrance tickets, the local guide awaits you and walks you to the entrance of the cave (5 min walk). You also pass the so-called Happy Bridge that leads to a bamboo temple, and some locals hanging around in hammocks stretched between the trees. If you want you can visit it on your own after the guided cave tour.
The mandatory local guide barely speaks any English but he smiles friendly and carries the petroleum lamp that is a must have here since the cave is not illuminated electrically. We follow our guide over the bamboo path and bridge into the limestone cave. It feels like an adventure already and this is exactly what makes this tour such authentic, cool experience! Just don’t expect stories in English with more background information about the cave. The information boards along the route are not much help either. But what you see is spectacular enough (but not easy to photograph).
Lod Cave is definitely the most impressive cave I have ever seen. An absolute must do when visiting Pai and/or driving the Mai Hong Son Loop.
3 for 1
Lod Cave is 1.666 meters long and consists of three parts:
- Big Column Cave The first cave has a big column of 21.45 meters in the middle of the cave. The column has developed beautifully from stalagmite stalactite converging that sprout from the floor and ceiling.
- Doll Cave This cave has beautiful stalactites and stalagmites in the shape of ‘dolls’ and flow stones that look-like frozen waterfalls.
- Coffin Cave Locals say this is the most famous cave in the Pang Ma Pha district. It has evidence of the settlement in the past, potentially of the Lawa tribe, based on the teakwood coffins and ancient human corpses found here.
The Doll Cave of Lod Cave also features a pre-historical mural (wall painting) of a deer, an arrow and a sun. This painting was made at least 2,000-3,000 years ago, according to some sources even 5,000BC-9,000BC (Stone Age), by a hunting tribe called Hoabinhian. Unfortunately, the wall painting is blurred because it has been touched too often.
The pre-historical mural (left) and can you spot the crocodile on the right photo?
A unique feature of Lod Cave is the Long Nam Lang River that streams through the cave itself. During the tour you can make a bamboo raft ride over the river that leads to this spectacular gap view of the jungle outdoors and to the 3rd part of the cave. The raft fits max 3 people plus the guide and skipper. The catfish swim along with the raft. You can buy one or more bags of fish feed at the parking lot. The raft ride ends up at this breath-taking opening where sunlight peaks in and the surrounding trees.
Huge catfish jump up out of the water looking for food, noisy swifts and bats flying around at the ceiling… wow!
We walk around the huge Lod Cave complex for about 1.5 hours including several steep stairs, some covered with bat poo on the steps and railing. The guide points out fabulous ancient formations (locally known as ‘dolls’) that look-like for example Shrek’s head, a crocodile, UFO, snake head, a woman’s breast, etc. We even spot a real-life green/yellow snake! Impressive.
Visiting Lod Cave
- ± 49 km northwest of Pai, ± 1 hour drive by car (for location see map below)
- Open daily 09:00h – 18:00h
- During rainy season (Jul-Oct) Lod Cave may be accessible only partially
- Admission 450 THB cash for 1-3 people incl. bamboo raft
- Bag of fish food 50 THB
Lod Cave is the most spectacular cave out of the approximately 80 (!) caves in the Pang Ma Pha district. Should you be in the mood to see more or another, I would suggest to check out Mae Lana Cave for example.
Quickly after exiting the road from the cave, back on the 1095 main road, we pass by this village called Pang Mapha, where a small hospital is located. There is also a pretty big market where almost anything you can imagine is for sale; from food to clothes to electronics to car components. When we pass by a group of bicyclists I feel so glad we are driven around in our convenient air-conditioned SUV! And it is not even 30 degrees Celsius yet…
Ban Cha Bo
In about half an hour we drive from the cave to Ban Cha Bo (sometimes spelled as Banja Bo, Ban Ja Bo or Ban Jabo), a small village at the 1226 road with a jaw-dropping panoramic view! The village is home to the Black Lahu tribe community. The village includes wooden houses on poles, some small restaurants and coffee places, local shops and stalls, locals drying red chilies in the sun… Oh, and a tricky wooden observation platform.
Our diver drops us off and we walk into one of the small local restaurants with view on the mountains. The locals consider these eateries like their home, and are often intertwined, so please take our shoes off. We order and enjoy a simple, healthy and delicious lunch of Thai soup and some drinks at Saolahu Cafe Jabo for only 175 THB (2 persons). What a delight this tranquil place. I could stare at that view for hours.
We visited Ban Cha Bo late December on a pretty clear day. June should be a really good time to visit Ban Cha Bo, when everything is more lush green. I also heard about the stunning sunsets here, but it will require getting up very early (departure from Pai around 5 am) or spending the night nearby.
Visiting Ban Cha Bo
- ±55 km northwest of Pai, ± 70 min drive by car (for location see map below)
- ±63 km northeast of Mae Hong Son, ± 80 min drive by car (for location see map below)
- Open 24/7
- No admission
More to see
If you start the day early, like 7 am, you will have time to do more on this day trip than Sai Ngam hot spring, Lod Cave and Ban Cha Bo. You could either:
- drive further west to Mae Hon Son and continue the so-called Mae Hong Son Loop, or
- drive back to Pai and visit some other places in/around the village (like we did), for suggestions see the article Pai: my 10 favorite spots in a relaxed Thai backpackers’ village
If you wish to add Mae Hon Son to the day trip from/to Pai count on a long drive (more than double distance) and at least double price with a private driver (THB 4000 or more).
How to get there
Lod Cave is located ±8 km north of Pang Mapha (previously known as Soppong) which is about halfway between Mae Hong Song and Pai, part of the Mae Hong Son Loop. There are a few options to get to Lod Cave and its surrounding sights like Sai Ngam hot spring and Ban Cha Bo:
- Rent a scooter in Pai
- Rent a car in Chiang Mai
- Hire a private driver
- Take a group tour with Pai Expert Travel. Unfortunately they are not on Get Your Guide, Viator or that kind of platform yet. You can contact them via Facebook Messenger. Do this at least a few days before as it may take them a day or so to respond. This group tour is from 10:00-19:00h for 500 THB, the cheapest guided option.
For more information on 1, 2 and 3 see the article Pai, Northwest Thailand: a practical guide for first-timers.
With regards to flights, the most logical airport to fly into Northern Thailand is Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX), with many national flights to for example Phuket and Bangkok.
Mae Hong Son also has a small regional airport (HNG) with direct flights 3-6 times a week twice a day to Chiang Mai with Bangkok Airways for around EUR 38 single trip. There are also direct connections between Mae Hong Son airport and Bangkok (DMK direct) for about 3 times a week with Nok Air. BKK only indirect. Pai used to have a daily flight but currently no operators.
Chiang Rai also has an airport (CEI) but it is at least 3 hours drive east of Chiang Mai while Pai and Mae Hong Son are west of Chiang Mai. So when focusing your trip on northwest Thailand (Pai, Mae Hong Son) using Chiang Rai airport is not logical.
From Chiang Mai airport to Pai you either go by public minivan (bus), private driver with car, rental car or scooter. For more information see the article Pai, Northwest Thailand: a practical guide for first-timers.
Local people at Lod Cave (left) and Ban Cha Bo (right)
This mobile friendly map includes most things mentioned in this article and is smartphone friendly. You can use it easily via Google Maps. Click on the top left icon to open the menu. You can (un)select categories/areas to customize the map to your needs. Via Google Drive you can copy it to your folder of My Google Maps.
Where to stay
We stayed at Rim Pai Cottage in Pai and loved it! For more information see the article Pai, Northwest Thailand: a practical guide for first-timers
Should you prefer to spend the night close to the cave and/or be hungry, check out Cave Lodge or Pencave Homestay. Those are not only cozy accommodation but also small local restaurants and organize for example rafting trips over the river. For location see above map.
Have you ever been to Lod Cave, Ban Cha Bo and/or Sai Ngam hot spring? Or will you visit Pai soon? Please feel free to share your comments or questions below. I hope this article was helpful for you. Enjoy your trip!
Please check out my other Thailand articles in the Thailand Blog Archives.
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