Others may take to the colourful lighting, but to me dressing Tham Le Khao Kob in such light seemed bizarre, if not outright stupid.
The cave system is Trang’s hidden gem, said our guide paddling the boat, me among his passengers. I dipped my fingers in water to feel the temperature, and it was indeed cold. We’re paddling through a stretch of a canal flanked by towering limestone cliffs.
“Khao Kob, rising to a height of 200 metres, is fed by three canals, two on the sides and one snaking underneath it for a distance of four kilometres, before exiting on the other side,” said my guide, pointing to the lush forest cover that extended from the water’s edge to the top of the mountain and beyond.
He then steered our boat to a small opening in the mountain, our gateway to Khao Kob. Entering it, we’re enveloped by darkness until my guide turned on his flash light. When visibility returned I found that it was not exactly pitch dark inside, after all, for the cave had spotlights allowing me to follow the course of the underground stream.
Tham Le Khao Kob is an amazing cave system. Though dimly lit, tourists can easily find their way around as the canal winds past caverns big and small, or walk the well-paved footpaths that connect them.
Amazing rock formations grace the cave’s ceiling.
Floor to ceiling the caverns are adorned with countless stalagmite and stalactite rock formations of various shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, the lighting was a bit shoddy: the choice of colour – shades of green, red and orange – failed to reflect or bring out the true beauty of these naturally forming crystals, given fancy names depending on whims or imagination of the cave’s founders and early visitors.
“This is the raak sai chamber,” said my guide, pointing to one that resembled the roots of a banyan tree. There was no talk of geology or how the crystals came to form, but as the guide rattled off the names the rock formations had been accorded, I let my imagination fly rather than question him, for I clearly wasn’t seeing things the way he did.
There’re variously a “bundle of straw”, a “roasted duck”, and so forth, until we arrived at the “bride’s chamber”. Its entrance was adorned with crystals of fine sheen, like a curtain, and inside it had bed-shaped crystalline deposits where, according to the guide, young women came to make a wish for their loved ones. Altogether there are five caverns that merit visiting.
Accessing the cave is quite easy compared to exiting it.
Khao Kob mountain is surrounded by two canals, boats the only mode of transport.
“Lie down on your back,” barked the guide as the boat passed the “dragon’s belly”, a narrow tunnel-like stretch where the cave’s ceiling was perilously low, almost touching the water’s surface.
Water here was shallow. The guide pulled back the oars and, using his hand to grip the ceiling for support, propelled the boat forward. Slowly, the boat inched toward the cave’s exit, at some points the ceiling almost kissing my nose. The dragon’s belly gradually gave way to light and eventually bright sunshine as we exited.
This is how low the ceiling can get during passage through the ‘dragon’s belly’.
All the while we’re inside the cave the going was slow, the distance covered just 300 metres, but emerging from it into bright sunshine seemed as if we had travelled a few kilometres. Negotiating the dragon’s dark belly had indeed been a challenge, but an experience worth savouring, nonetheless.