Adventures in Tham Lod Cave

When traveling, I enjoy the unique delights of every city I visit, but it’s the cities located away from the concrete, in the farthest reaches of a country, which stirs curiosity the most.

These far reaches sometimes end with border towns. In my opinion, a border that separates two countries is like some sort of purgatory…the no man’s land between two countries that no one fully understands. This is where immigration officials gobble passports. They have the power to trap you between two countries, can be stressful, cause tears to fall, wallets to drain and curses to be uttered. You go to a border, cross your fingers and hopefully get a stamp in your passport hassle-free, then you get the hell out and into fresh territory. Besides the obvious immigration matters, what is there to see in border towns? What untouched beauty and discovery could there be?

These questions are exactly what make border towns so interesting. You have to go, explore and answer those questions yourself. You might find that some of the most stunning and thrilling parts of a country are in that no man’s land, where few tourists venture, except to get a visa stamp.

Recently, my friend Chris and I visited Tham Lod cave in Mae Hong Son province of north Thailand, which shares a border with Myanmar. We rented motorbikes and set off on a day trip from the mountain village, Pai. It’s amazing how once you leave a tourist laden town the roads become mostly empty and pleasantly quiet. It’s just one paved road and endless mountain wilderness.


On our way to Tham Lod cave, we lost internet, missed turns and at one point, drove a good bit in the wrong direction (thanks to my flawless navigation skills); but we didn’t care. To  fill our lungs with the crisp mountain air, to be engulfed in a bed of clouds and to feel rain droplets splatter on our faces as we wove around limestone karsts and hillside farms was glorious. The only problem was that we had planned a day trip. After backtracking, we found the sharp turn off that led to Tham Lod cave. It was evening time, and after delving deeper into the misty jungle, we found the secluded Cave Lodge; bamboo bungalows perched above a mountain stream where water buffalo graze and toucay geckos call across the canopy.

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We were not prepared to stay overnight, and had only brought the clothes on our backs. A day trip turned into an overnight adventure to explore Tham Lod. Luckily, the one item that was conveniently tucked into my purse was the The WakaWaka Power+ solar charger. Since it’s powered by the sun, it was readily available to charge my phone anytime, anywhere. Score.

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Despite our lack of supplies and a long day of biking, drinking loads of beer quickly numbed the discomfort of sweaty skin, greasy hair and dirty underwear. Laying back in a hammock, I was engulfed by the jungle. The sporadic rain showers strummed tree leaves and branches, soothing and sound. There’s nothing like being out there. The magic of wilderness is that you become part of a living system; the beating heart; a thinking brain. You become part of something so natural and your instincts tell you without hesitation that you are where you belong in the world. Stupid gripes and life bullshit fades, and you are treated to the joy that you once felt as a child discovering earth and savoring it, no strings attached.

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Tham Lod cave is an impressive sight to behold; an archaeological site that was once occupied by the Hoabinhian hunting tribe from 9000BC to 5500BC.

The mouth and ceiling of the cave is wide and tall, filled with large stalactites and stalagmites that have formed over thousands of years. Three caves are connected into one, with  prehistoric wall paintings and skinny, wooden coffins serving as reminders of an ancient past. A quiet stream runs through the cave, and visitors can snag a ride on a bamboo raft to explore every nook and cranny. Don’t forget a flashlight or headlamp! Once again, the The WakaWaka Power+ saved the day for us.

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Around 6pm each evening, the cave mouth spews hundreds of swallows and bats, as the nocturnal critters welcome the night and the insect meals it brings. You can view their evening departure from outside the cave, or inhale their ripe odors (and get doo doo’ed on) as they flit around their cavern mansion during daytime.

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If you’re an avid caver, besides Tham Lod, there are numerous caves to explore around Mae Hong Son. During certain parts of the year (depending on dry and rainy season) you can rent a kayak to paddle Tham Lod and visit nearby waterfalls. Unfortunately, we were unable to kayak, but the bamboo raft was a different experience that was also enjoyable.

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Driving a motorbike from Pai to Mae Hong Son is the definition of scenic and was my favorite part of the trip. You can also book a white water rafting trip the same way, but of course, conditions depend on the season. There is so much more to explore, more than can be done in a day. Caves, hill tribe villages, incredible wildlife and archeological digs- I’ll have to go back, but this time with a fresh pair of undies and a toothbrush.

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backpacking, Buddhism, Ruins, Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, travel

Sri Lanka: The Tale of Sigiriya Rock


Once upon a time, a powerful Sinhalese king felt a sudden pang of anxiety. He couldn’t understand why, because he had everything any man could desire. With his fervent will to survive and insatiable thirst for power, he had single handedly assassinated his father, King Dhatusena, chased off his brother, Mogallan- the rightful heir to the throne, and he had taken the island country of Sri Lanka as his own.

But, his acts were shrouded in evil, and when you are evil- you become anxious and you become paranoid. It is a curse, because though you succeed, you are haunted by your black acts and they gnaw at your brain like toxic parasites until you lose your beautiful mind. He knew his brother was still alive; he knew Mogallan would be back for revenge.

King Kassapa I took a quiet moment out of his royal life in the traditional Sri Lankan capital, Anuradhapura, and he thought about his exotic land, the pearl of the Indian Ocean.

Kings come and kings go on this chameleon island, leaving behind a fantastic history, with colors as deep and ever-changing as a mood ring. But, this king, he was determined. He was intelligent and imaginative. He did not believe his rule would end, as if he would ever let such a ridiculous fate come to be.

And so, he gathered his most trusted advisers, engineers and mathematicians, and he began to plan. He would move the capital city to the jungles of central Sri Lanka, to a sturdy rock. Brown, calloused hands lifting and sifting, pulling and pushing, climbing and hammering  and painting under the hot Ceylon sun. Sigiriya Rock would became a sacred haven, a dazzling pleasure palace and intrepid fortress unlike any the world had ever seen.


My friend Pazi from Hiking Sri Lanka and I had just hopped off the local bus on our way to climb Sigiriya, or Lion Rock. It was a sweltering November day as we embarked through the central Matale District near the town of Dambulla to explore this World UNESCO Heritage site. What a mind boggling place. We stopped for a coconut and I peeped above the thick foliage to where the great rock painted the sky. You can see the damn thing from miles around- a trapped beast dominating the relentless jungle from North, East, South and West. Its skin is flushed copper and milk, its granite spine protruding into pristine blue.

But, what really sets Sigiriya Rock apart from any place in the world, is the tale of its legacy: the horrors and grandeur events it witnessed centuries ago. There is a certain eeriness here; deep rooted, dark wisps of betrayal and murder, the stench of greed and the lingering remnants of arrogance and unspeakable wealth.


Towering, steep sides and a long, flat top allow for the perfect fortified chamber, and Kassapa I knew this. He moved the Sri Lankan capital from Anuradhapura in 477 CE and turned the monstrous plateau into a seemingly impenetrable kingdom. It was meticulously planned and laid out. When you arrive, you notice the long, rectangular pools, filled with white and purple lotus. Green mossy steps and gardens welcome visitors, with the Lion Rock looming ahead. Walk the path through the West side of the capital city, past crumbling columns, temples and withered water gardens; where bustling markets and shops once stood in another time.

Then, you begin to climb the rock, step by step, and you run your fingers along the cool granite surface and imagine what it was like to call this stunning place home.


“Here, I will feel infinite peace,” the nervous king reassured himself. And he focused his deep seeded anxiety into creating an architectural masterpiece. Day in and day out, this lonely rock in the middle of the jungle was turned into a bustling metropolis, a marvel that would stand the test of time. Artists clung to the rock’s sides, illuminating the drab walls with bright frescoes of wanton feminine faces, supple breasts and soft stares meant only for you. Painted hands extend, cradling tropical flowers and fruits, beckoning visitors through rock corridors to the mirror wall. It is slathered in thick coats of polished white plaster that shimmer so brightly, the king can see his reflection as he navigates the deep cut paths and steps of his spectacular abode.


Climbing still, Pazi and I are halfway up to the palace. We stop in front of a crooked grand staircase, flanked by two massive feline paws. It is the entrance to the top, where the royals lived and played with all of Sri Lanka spread for miles around them. This is an infamous gateway. This side of the rock had been carved into the shape of an enormous lion. Visitors climbed up the stairs into the gaping jaws, and through the cat’s throat to reach the magnificent plateau. Now, only the paws remain.

Finally, we reach the top. Pulling myself onto the rock’s flat shelf, I stand and gaze about. You can see clear across the country for 360 degrees.

“From here, I can see any advancing attack,” thought the King, a smug smile on his arrogant face. He turned and surveyed his new palace. Deep, long baths filled with clean water and elaborate rooms and gardens covered the flat plateau. The city below was an ant hill overshadowed by large, deadly boulders teetering on cliff edges. They were strategically placed and held up by thick logs, ready to be released upon the enemy at any moment. Despite the tropical heat, a light breeze calmed the king, and he was a god on top of the world.

One boulder still remains in place, perched and waiting
One boulder still remains in place, perched and waiting

Pazi and I spent some time on top of Sigiriya. The baths are still there, filled with green water. A band of monkeys scampered amongst the palace ruins. A few of the babies dove in and out of the biggest pool while protective mothers watched from the water’s edge. I had no idea that monkeys could swim so well. They were jungle mermaids, diving deep and disappearing beneath the emerald murk before resurfacing seconds later in a different spot.

“You know, they haven’t figured out the source of the water, or how it gets up here,” said Pazi. “In fact, only part of the ruins have been dug up. There is still a lot of land that needs to be dug and ruins that need to be discovered.”

I shook my head as I gazed out past the plains and wild jungle into distant cities, my imagination bursting at the seams. How can such a small island be packed with so much history, ancient tales, sacred hideaways and mysterious secrets?


A scream so shrill it could turn blood to dust and shrivel veins erupted deep from the throat of King Kassapa’s battle elephant. It was 495 CE, and Mogallan had indeed returned with a vengeance. Amidst the throes of a bloody battle for the throne, King Kassapa made a decision that would change his fate. Taking matters into his own hands, he urged his elephant in a much different charge than his army had anticipated. Confused and perceiving the impulsive move as a retreat, the King’s army abandoned him, and Sigiriya was in the clutches of his brother, the rightful King of Sri Lanka. Kassapa would never admit defeat, his pride was too great. Unsheathing his pointed dagger, he held the glinting blade up to the sun, and in one fluid movement, slashed his own throat.

*This historical information in this post is taken from the Chulavamsa, a Sri Lankan historical account compiled by Buddhist monks, which covers the 4th century to 1815.


An Ode to the Bum Gun


I would like to take a brief moment to pay homage to one of mankind’s most extraordinary inventions: the butt blaster, the bum gun, the incredible bidet.

We westerners sit daintily upon our porcelain thrones amidst the spicy aroma of potpourri bowls and lavish lemony sprays, quietly going about our most intricate business of the day. Each and every trip to the loo ends the same way- reaching for that thick, fluffy roll of toilet paper, swiping and wiping to no avail, and hopefully doing so from front to back.

In America, toilet paper is life. There is no other way to clean one’s tootie, and if there is another way….just, no.

Meanwhile, in Asia and Europe, the bum blaster stands tall and confident over its WC kingdom…a rather simple tool that reigns with an iron grasp and deftly conquers any booty no matter how big or how small. You find these nozzled hoses faithfully  positioned and ready for battle beside almost every squat and sitting toilet throughout Asia; a lethal cobra ready to nip at the dingiest behind with a most powerful and unrelenting water pressure.

You never forget your first time

My first experience with one of these mysterious contraptions was a mental challenge peppered with nerves and buts and what ifs. I eyed the leery pistol. It sat there, a beckoning metal mouth filled with multitudes of minuscule anticipating holes. I gulped. Coming from a country where toilet paper is seemingly the only way to deal with dirty matters down there, I was perplexed, my mind boggled.

“Nope, ain’t using it.” I thought, and reached instead, for toilet paper. Only problem is, 90% of the time you aren’t gonna find that powdery soft goodness at any restroom in Thailand. And when you have food poisoning from feasting on that suspicious street meat on a stick, things can get, well…shitty.

I eyed the butt blaster nervously. It looked like it would wrap it’s cold, plastic coils  around my neck and strangle me at any moment. This sitting squat position was starting to kill my legs. I needed to make a decision immediately.

Quickly, I glanced around, first right, then left, as if onlookers were hiding, watching, waiting for me to grab hold of the hose so they could jump out, point and laugh at me in my vulnerable state. This isn’t the norm, I don’t do this back home…no one does wtf.

But alas, I had no choice. After successfully avoiding every bum gun in the beginning of my travels through Asia, we finally met for the first time. Gingerly, I extended my hand in greeting, and took hold.

It was like two pimple-faced 16-year-olds sharing a first kiss on a first date. I pushed down on the nozzle and instantly lost control as an overwhelming jet of cool water coated the bathroom walls, my legs, and fuck…my pants.

“Easy girl…easssy,” I coaxed the bucking bronco, a single bead of sweat trickling down the side of my face. Now what. Do I stand? Do I lift one leg? If I do it this way, I soak my pants. If I do it that way…I soak my pants.

I won’t go into the nitty gritty details, but damn, was it awkward. After what seemed like ages, I flung open the tattered stall door in victory, gasping for breath. I had survived! I had succeeded in using the bum gun! The old Thai woman collecting baht at the restroom entrance just stared at me indifferently with pursed lips. Somehow, I had managed to soak my entire outfit.

But, it didn’t matter. I was reborn- a changed woman. A luminous beam of light descended down from the heavens upon my weary derriere and I threw up my hands in infinite glory. Like a caterpillar, I had shed the soft toilet paper skin I knew and loved to rise from the messy tissue scraps  a clean- a squeaky clean butterfly.

Where it all began…

The bum gun had revolutionized my life, changed my toilet escapades forever. Why the fuck don’t we have these in America? It’s a question I ask myself every time I experience the joyful cleansing of a butt blaster.

The original bidet was invented by the French in the 1700s. By the early 1900s, it had evolved from a crude hand pump and chamber pot to a tidy ceramic bowl with knobs and hoses. One simply straddled the thing like riding a pony, and washed away all of the day’s worries.

The Japanese further enhanced the bidet after WWII when they began importing sitting toilets from America. Modern plumbing brought the party into the bathroom, a hose attached to a nozzle.

Today, the modern bum gun is used throughout Asia and Europe, but hasn’t yet become a thing in the good ol US of A. Many Americans have never even seen one. The thought of a bum gun brings smirks and giggles- an alien idea. But, this is ignorance, because that damn water hose is a gift of the gods.

Besides the obvious sanitation benefits, the bum gun reduces the use of paper waste, saving money and the environment in the long run. It’s also handy for those with less mobility, such as senior individuals and young children.

It may take some getting used to, but once you embrace this foreign phenomenon you’ll never go back to toilet paper ever again. There’s nothing more exhilarating than walking out of the restroom with a bottom as fresh as spring daisies.

I’ve counseled a handful of westerners on my travels that confided their anxiety when it came to butt blasters, and I continue to offer advice to anyone that seeks it. Here are some of my personal tips for using the legendary bum gun. photo2

How to Become a Bum Gun Wizard

  1. If you’re sitting on a toilet seat, spread your legs. If you are using a squat toilet….hold that squat a while longer and work them glutes.
  2. Grab hold of the bum gun, right hand or left, depending on what feels most comfortable.
  3. Take a deep breath and get over the fact that you are spraying down your privates. There’s no need to be bashful.
  4. Hold the nozzle downwards from the front and position accordingly.
  5. Squeeze that nozzle like your life depends on it.
  6. Spray thoroughly. Get every nook and cranny. Take your time, pace yourself…slow and steady wins the race.
  7. Finished? Breathe easy, my friend. The hard part is over.
  8. Actually, now you have a new dilemma. I like to call this: Wet Butt Syndrome.
  9. Don’t fret! If you are one of those individuals that is prepared for any situation in life, you probably have some tissues handy. If you don’t give a fuck, you might use your socks. Or, you can just give your bottom a swift little shake to rid yourself of excess water droplets. Everyone has their own unique drying method- get creative and have fun with it.
  10. Rejoice! Your tush is sparkling like a fresh martini after a hard day’s work. Say goodbye to toilet paper fragments, and, well, pesky poop particles.

Now, you’re ready to conquer the world, one well-directed blast at a time!