Underground in Thailand †††† 4/5th July 1992.

The closest I could get to caving was to explore an underground tunnel complex dug out during times of political change. We planned the trip one Sunday over a particularly large lunch that lasted all afternoon. The following weekend saw eight of us, bleary eyed sat in a mini-bus at 6.OOam on a Saturday morning. We set off for Betong which is just across the border in the centre of the peninsula. Stopping for Tim Sum or Chinese breakfast consisting of many fish balls, rice, steamed bread with meat filling and Chrysanthemum tea.

Crossing the border into Thailand there is a sharp contrast between rich and poor countries I was reminded of crossing from East to West Germany, the same disparity in quality of roads, buildings and din The Malaysian customs is a smart building, very efficient and took no time at all. Thailand is not worried about immigrants so we had to drive into town to find the customs house and request to have our passports stamped. We had to repeat this process on Sunday otherwise Malaysia would not have let us back in! With reams of paperwork complete we looked around for a hotel. Talk about prostitution being obvious. The hotels were happy to let us four girls share two double rooms but wanted each of the lads to have a room with a girl. Eventually we found somewhere that would take us and checked in. I have never seen a room so obviously dirty (not even Bullpot !?? Ed.), all of us would have rather camped outside however Thailand around Betong isnít such a safe place for sleeping out either. We left the mini-bus in the police station car park and misted it to good luck overnight Hang on Iím supposed to be telling you about the underground bits!

The communist community that once inhabited the tunnels for over twenty years is now living in a friendship village and is managing the tunnels as a tourist attraction. The tunnel complex is set high in the hills amongst tropical forest, the walk in was fascinating purely to see the gigantic, enormous trees with the forest canopy so far away above our heads. The booby traps and pits are all well sign posted and a map of the system showed tunnel entrances and exits all over the hill. We spent over two hours wandering around photographing the wildlife which now inhabits the dry earth tunnels. Bats, spiders, (pigmented and white) lizards and some other things I have forgotten. There are two levels to the system and many features such as sleeping rooms, stairs and storage areas to explore. Only a few areas have been shored up and although dug in dry earth seemed very stable.

Covered in sweat and dust we left the darkness and opted for a swim in a waterfall another half hours walk further on. Not really big enough to swim in we all went in anyway to cool off. I was a little apprehensive - leaches? but apparently none in fast flowing water. Back at the bus and the next stop was five kilometers away at some hot springs. Lowering a bag of quails eggs into the 79 degrees Celsius water we went off to bathe our feet while they cooked. Boiled eggs for tea - delicious but something more substantial was still required. A Durian feast followed by rice porridge. Sunday morning was reserved for shopping, bargain of the day was a stainless steel carbide lamp for only £2. Thin gauge metal, but caves here are so large that you are riot constantly scraping the lamp against the rock so its life duration should not be too bad.

After this we had had enough of the dust and dirt and headed back for Malaysia. Back on home turf we had the leisure and inclination to explore real caves, limestone blackened with the smoke of ages past and no entrances seemed to go further than 100 metres. All the formations were old and crumbly - ghost like shapes indicating what they may have been in past glory. The entrances were at the base of a fantastic limestone cliff, probably never climbed before; it was a perfect site. Unfortunately the others had had enough so we went for dinner and finished the long drive back.

Elizabeth Daniels.

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