Get off the bike for a few days and explore Soppong in northern Thailand. From simple hikes around the river, to a multitude of caves, to trekking through ethnic minority villages, there’s tons to do here.
A few days into the famed MHS motorbike loop of Northern Thailand, we were ready to get off the bikes for a while. The first day took us from Chiang Mai, through Doi Inthanon National Park, to the small town of Mae Chaem. Next up was another long ride up to Mae Hong Son, where we spent an evening strolling around the town. In the morning it was back on the bikes for a few pit stops on the way to our next destination – Soppong (สบป่อง). Having heard lots of good things about Soppong from fellow travelers and various websites, we decided to slow down a bit and spend three nights there.
On our arrival in the evening, we checked in at the legendary Cave Lodge. This was the first guesthouse built out here by John (Australia) and his Shan wife back in the ’80s, and it continues to attract adventure travelers from all over the world. The guesthouse features a variety of rustic bungalows and even has dorm beds for solo travelers. Set on top of a hill overlooking a river, it’s a great place to return to after a day of trekking and caving.
John and Co. have been exploring the area’s many caves for the past 30 years, and they have made some amazing discoveries in the process. They have found and named hundreds of caves, including the fascinating Spirit Well – a 100m deep and 100m across collapsed cave with an untouched forest at the base. Not far from the Lodge, you can explore Tham Lod Cave by having a guide pull you along on a small bamboo raft. Inside, you’ll find 1,700-year old log coffins, which the local people believe were used by lurking cave spirits. In the evening, you can stick around to watch the show as thousands of swifts return home and just as many bats head out for the night.
After watching the bats for a while, we headed back to the Lodge for a delicious Shan style vegetarian dinner. At night, fellow travelers gather around a bonfire and share stories over a few Chang beers.
During the day, there are plenty of options for hiking and trekking. As the Cave Lodge folks know the land like the back of their hand, they have plenty of detailed maps on the wall to guide you should you choose to hike on your own. We attempted to follow a few of their maps and naturally got a bit lost – oh well, it was still nice walking out in nature for an afternoon.
We would have loved to do some kayaking while in Soppong, but since we visited during the dry season it just wasn’t possible. Instead, we signed up for a 1-day trek to another cave, through the countryside, and to a Karen village.
Our group met up with a local guide who handed us each a light and guided us through the cave. After walking around in the hot sun all morning, the cave was a nice bit of natural air con to cool us down. If you’re really into caves, there are tons more you can explore in the area (hence the name for the lodge).
Our last stop of the day was a small Karen village. As we visited in the afternoon, all of the men were out working while the women of the village weaved colorful scarves and took care of the kids. Naturally, the scarves and other handicrafts were all set up on display for passing trekkers to browse. This particular village has obviously developed quite a bit – roads, motorbikes, phone lines, and satellite dishes. In my experience trekking, you can visit much more interesting and far out there villages if you sign up for 2 or 3-day excursions.
It had been a great couple of days exploring Soppong and spending some quality time in nature, but our trip had to roll on along the 1,864 curves of the loop. Next up is the hippie-Mecca of Pai, a town known for its vibrant arts & music scene, natural beauty, and bumping nightlife.