Caving Near Chiang Rai
"Tham" in Thai means "cave" in English. For anyone particularly fond of caves then head for Tham Pla Temple in Baan Tham (Cave town) in Chiang Rai Province, about a three-hour drive from Chiang Mai.
Most notable features of this area are its temple, it's natural cave system, weekend food festival, and the fact it's a Chinese town with strong Burmese undertones.
Just outside the temple grounds are hordes of swinging primates that harass the many visiting tourists for food, available from many surrounding vendors despite a conspicuous sign in three languages urging people not to give monkey handouts.
So if you're up for a spot of recreational caving after feeding the monkeys then take a short walk to the nearby cave mouth called Tham Ku Kaeo.
It's easy to find because its tucked away opposite a very old chedi (a pyramid-like structure) that looks like a multi-tier cake. It is also popular with visitors (there are kids selling cheap flashlights) but nowhere near as circus-like as around the temple, largely due to a shortage of monkeys.
So attach that fancy Petzl mining lamp to your brow and venture into the unknown depths. Actually, the cave is very well known. If you hear noises inside don't worry, it's probably just people like yourself checking things out.
To be honest the cave is by no means difficult to get through, but do be prepared for a few tight squeezes and some crawling. That's important to keep in mind if you are not overly keen on getting dirty.
You can keep going for about half an hour, quite far as most caves go, before you come to a crack that is a bit too small for the average person to get through. At that point you really ought to turn back and reward yourself with a celebratory beer, since legend has it that the cave route actually stretches for well over a hundred miles and takes over a month to reach the other end.
Apparently the only person to traverse the whole route was an old Burmese monk. The story smacks of mythical folk tale, but then who knows? Burmese monks of old were known for their un-human-like feats of endurance.
For anyone that is really into caves in a big way then head a bit further north and check out Tham Luang (Great cave) which nestles in the border town of Mae Sai (still within Chiang Rai province).
There you will find the 5th longest section of navigable cave in Thailand. Good luck and don't forget to slip a few spare batteries in your back pocket for that one.