Spelunking Decoded: Into the Dark We Go

This week, TheVibe leads you to the world beneath our feet.


Fear of the dark is a curious thing. On the surface, it seems as primal as our fear of the unknown. Perhaps because they are related. After all, the dark is the embodiment of the unknown in the physical realm. Even more curious are the select few who leap head-first into the dark.

To these people, the promise of the wonders that lie in the dark far exceeds the dangers that may await them. Their paths are illuminated by the spirit of exploration, and a few heavy-duty flashlights couldn’t hurt. Especially if the dark you intend to confront lies in myriad, unexplored caves of the world.


Caving, Spelunking or Potholing is considered to be the brain-child of Édouard-Alfred Martel, born after his exploration of the Gouffre de Padirac in the South-West of France, during the 1880s. But let’s face it, humans have been exploring caves for as long as caves have been encountered. They’ve been central features of our development as a species. You needn’t even go that far back, you can still rent a cave by the night in some pretty incredible spots around the world.

Martel’s contribution is invaluable in that his techniques and exploration are what turned Caving into an organized sport. In the decades that followed, various Speleological associations were formed taking the sport to unexplored locations both within and outside their respective national borders.


As with most sports that are based in conjunction with nature, a basic knowledge of cave formation and foundations is a requirement. In Thailand, many of the limestone cave systems are over 400 million years old and have been eroded into existence by rainwater, rivulets and streams. In effect, these caves have been painfully crafted by the elements into inexplicably beautiful and labyrinthine works of art. Stalactites and Stalagmites adorn cave walls, transforming them into strange, miniature cities. Both formed by unabated, mineralized drips of water from cave ceilings.

It is vital that you explore caves with well-experienced companions, even if you aren’t a novice. Ensuring that you have the right people is just as important as having the right gear. A hard hat may protect your head, but it makes no difference if there’s no one to grab the rope. Besides, you need an expert set of eyes to judge the structural integrity of the spaces you explore. Your only sources of light are those that you bring along. If the light fails, you will be introduced to veils of darkness so thick that it almost hurts to keep your eyes open. Be prepared to crawl through narrow bends, ascend and descend through pitches and remember to practice your knots. If you’re set on all these fronts, all that remains is to find your first site and begin to explore the worlds that await you far beneath our feet.


Caving in Thailand will present you with innumerable options. Will you choose to make your way through Crazy Horse Cave? Or perhaps Anxiety Crisis State Cave is more your style? (We promise we’re not making this up) Your choices are limited by your age, experience and tools but you are sure to find something to tickle your fancy. Many caves in Thailand like the Tham Khao Luang Cave, were converted into Buddhist temples and monasteries centuries ago, many of which are inhabited by monks and pilgrims to this day. Exquisite statuary aside, you can see how life was adapted to the cave rather than the other way around. These temple caves don’t allow for a tremendous amount of exploration on account of them being hallowed ground. Some caves even have rivers running through them; they will limit or increase accessibility and your range of exploration depending on the cave. Tham Lod cave has a river that can be navigated on bamboo rafts. If the prospect of making your way through a regular old pit of darkness is too vanilla for you, take up cave deep diving in the Song Hong caves near Thung Nai in the Nakhon Si Thammarat. A pure caving experience can be had in Sop Pong in the Mae Hong Son Province, featuring almost 200 caves, all within arm’s length of each other.

As solitary as this activity can seem, there is a dedicated community from all across the globe that keeps Caving cultures going strong. You get a taste of it even on your initial expeditions, and some caving groups are even tighter than blood families.

Over the next week, we feature the caves of Thailand and the secrets they hold, followed by the food and culture of the Kingdom of Thailand.

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