Soppong & Pang Ma Pha Tourist Guide

Inside Lod Cave
Inside Lod Cave

It’s worth stopping off at Soppong en-route to Mae Hong Son, or at least visiting overnight from Pai. Once you come over the pass, you descend into one of the most important and little explored karst regions in Southeast Asia.

The Pang Ma Pha district of Mae Hong Son province perhaps has the greatest concentration of caves in the world, and boasts numerous limestone pillars that are older and more lushly covered than similar topography on the Krabi coast. Not surprisingly, it hosts numerous caves, underground rivers and trekking trails, but is probably most famous for the many coffin caves that have been discovered here, with teak casks inside that are reckoned to be about 1,700 years old.

Soppong is an excellent trekking and nature base and can be reached in less than a hour on a rented bike. Lahu and Lisu hill tribes mainly inhabit the area, along with Thai-yai (Shan) and even some Karen. Several local guesthouses can arrange multi day trips through this unique landscape, with the added bonus of some caving and overnight stays among the hill tribes.

Planning your own journeys can be tricky, as timings are never absolute in Thailand especially during the peak season. It’s a must to check up-to-date information as well as booking in advance. 12Go Asia is a leading transportation search engine in Thailand and Southeast Asia. They are providing e-tickets for trains, buses, ferries and flights.

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The biggest attraction of the area is Tham Lot; a cave through which the Lang river flows for 700m. Blackwater kayaking is offered by Cave Lodge, or you can use one of the local guides to travel down the shallow river on skiffs and reach the recesses of the cave. It can be touristy at times, but there are plenty more caves to be explored (with the help, of course, of a guide and headlamps). At dusk as many as 300,000 swifts descend on the cave’s exit in a remarkable and noisy display of nature.

If you’re into ‘spelunking’, Cave Lodge can arrange trips to a large variety of caves. Some have rivers flowing in them, others have barely been entered by humans, while others still are vast sinkholes into which you can abseil.

Coffin Caves

Over the years, more than 200 of these have been identified by local explorers and Thai archaeologists. The coffins inside are believed to have been left by an ancient Mon/Lua group who originally inhabited the area. Known locally as pii maen (spirit cases), the teak casks have been dated from about 300 AD and are in remarkably good condition. Considering that the best examples are raised on stilts, they count themselves among the oldest standing wooden structures in the world.

There are a few accessible caves through which numerous tourists have tramped.but with a guide and some hiking you can reach others which have been barely touched.

There are about five bus departures a day to and from Soppong towards Pai and Mae Hong Son. It’s more practical to rent a bike in Pai and drive one hour to get there, though. The main road passes through the central village, while the turnoff for the 5km road to Tham Lot and Cave Lodge is marked just before.

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Recommended Accommodation in Soppong:

Little Eden Guesthouse: Sits in Soppong, 69km from Mae Hong Son and 50km from Pai. Features an outdoor pool, garden, massage service, sauna treatment and tour desk. All rooms come with basic facilities like a fan or air conditioning, TV, refrigerator and a private bathroom. The on-site restaurant offers local and western dishes as well as drinks at the on-site bar…more details and booking

Soppong River Inn: Situated in Pang Mapha. It’s 10 km from Lod cave and 75km from Mae Hong Son Airport. Each room is equipped with a private bathroom with shower facilities. A shuttle service can be arranged upon request. An ideal for travelers seeking for a private and peaceful stay…more details and booking

Cave Lodge
The original trekking base in the area – a rustic place above the banks of Lang River near the Lot cave. It’s owned by an easy-going Aussie, John Spies, and his wife Nung. He’s the sort of guy who sits around the lodge’s campfire with guests and buy him a few beers and he’ll tell you some intriguing stories from 30 years of trekking in the area. It’s all in a fascinating biography he has on sale, including world firsts such as mapping the coffin caves, week-long underground trips to follow subterranean rivers and even discovering a new genus of waterfall climbing cave fish! The lodge is an ideal nature venue to arrange trekking, caving, kayaking, mountain biking and bird watching among other things.

Further reading…