The caves of Thailand number in the thousands, although only a handful have been developed as tourist attractions. They consist mostly of limestone caves, especially in the North. One of the most well-known examples is Chiang Dao Cave in Chiang Mai Province. In the South are more limestone caves but many are along the coast and are considered sea caves, like the well-known Viking Cave at the Phi Phi islands.
Expect the Unexpected
Show caves in Thailand are quite a bit different than what you find in Western countries. First of all, many of the caves are used as religious centers with shrines and various forms of Buddha statuary. The reason being is that caves are usually quiet, provide shelter from the elements and are often cooler than the outdoors. These features make an ideal location for prayer and meditation and so they have been used throughout history as centers of worship.
Sojourning monks have used caves as shelter and some monks actually live in caves, even to this day.
For those of us who are used to cave conservation efforts, touring a cave in Thailand can come as quite a shock. If you’ve ever been on a cave tour in the USA for example, you were admonished at the beginning of the tour not to touch any of the formations. The reason for this, beyond the possibility of damage, is that the oils in our skin can stop the growth of a formation in an active cave.
However, on many cave tours in Thailand, not only will you not get this admonishment but the tour guide herself may be touching the formations and encouraging visitors to pose for photos among them.
Where the Caves Are
Many of the caves of Thailand are located in National Parks and don’t necessarily have regular guided tours. You are usually free to enter any caves that you may find but be aware that it can be dangerous. You should have proper equipment to enter any “wild” cave, including a helmet, proper lighting and footwear. If you have climbing experience and gear, you can use that in a Thai cave but never do it alone.
You don’t have to go a long ways out into the country to find caves in Thailand. Only about a half hour drive East of Chiang Mai is Muang On cave. It’s a popular tourist attraction and can be toured alone or with a guide.
Very near Muang On cave is Anxiety State Crisis Cave. This is not so well known and it’s not developed beyond some trails going to the entrances. The rock face is popular with climbers.
A man climbing alone in the cave died here, so once again, that’s not something you want to do.