Dive Journal: Cave Diving In Thailand
By Bruce Konefe
While Pattaya offers divers of all skill levels a great selection of dive sites, those looking for a bigger challenge may want to look north to Thailand’s inland lakes which are dotted with underwater caves just waiting to be explored.
Cave diving, while exciting, is not for everyone. You’ll need considerable training and discipline and hard work. But if you’re not afraid of getting your wetsuit dirty, then expeditions like the one below to Northwest Thailand may be just your thing.
Next Stop: Northwest Thailand
On this trip our goal was a set of cave systems in northwestern Thailand. Our two trucks were loaded up with nitrox tanks and other equipment and off we went, albeit slowly, through Bangkok on a holiday weekend and northbound. We arrived around 6 p.m. and were able to hire a boat and captain, who actually seemed eager to find these caves himself.
Day 2 started at 6:30 a.m. Equipment was assembled, tanks analyzed and supplies procured. We loaded up the “long tou” boat and started on the half-hour trip to the first dive site.
While it was still early morning, it was already hot and after one miscue, the captain finally found the entrance to the first cave system. Hitting the cool water was actually a relief from the hot morning sun and thick wetsuits.
Our equipment familiarization checks were completed then we headed for the entrance to the cave. The water level was about 5 meters lower than average, so we could actually see the cave entrance from the surface. Once underwater, we completed our checks, looking for bubbles and making sure our lights worked properly.
The First Dive
There were not many places to make our first tieoff, but finally we found one just outside the cave not far from the surface. This would almost guarantee us a direct ascent to the surface. Not laying a line is one of the most common reasons divers die in caves and wrecks. While some agencies teach overhead environment diving teach using only “progressive familiarization” but at Aquanauts we never do that. We teach both lines and progressive familiarization during cavern and wreck courses.
Visibility was about 3-4 meters, which was quite normal for Pattaya area divers. Looking for our second tieoff was a bit more of a challenge since most everything in the cave was composed of large boulders.
Swimming slowly using frog kicks we managed to reach near the bottom at 12 meters. The bottom was quite silted, so extra care had to be taken not to stir everything up and destroy visibility. This is another area were proper equipment selection is important. In this case, we used jet fins with spring buckles so we would not get snagged on anything. At the bottom we were able to see quite a few catfish swimming around, not something normally seen in Pattaya’s ocean sites.
About halfway through the dive, the cave started getting brighter again and we could see the other entrance. As we approached the other end we found some tree stumps and swam around them. This was the turnaround point, and so we began heading back the way we came. By now, it was quite cold thanks to the thermocline inside the cave and we were glad to have the thick suits.
Back on the boat we went over the dive and where quite happy with it. Everything had gone exactly as planned.
The Second Dive
The second dive site was even more beautiful and looked even more promising. We were able to pull into the cave and out of the sun to prepare. It was actually slightly spooky, with bats flying overhead. As we got kitted up and into the water, we were filled with excitement over what we might find.
Our first objective was to find our primary and secondary tie-offs spots. Once we had, we set out to explore the many passages underwater. Many were quite small so we continued in single file. It was like a maze with and it felt as if we were sometimes going in circles.
In one passage, we saw one of the weirdest fish we’d ever seen. Some were blue and others were blue with black spots and all had reddish eyes. One of our divers waved his hand in front of the fish and they didn’t move, showing they were nearly or completely blind.
With the blind fish and small passages, the dive felt creepy and I was glad to have an extra “bailout” cylinder, as some passages were so small it would be easy to break off a hose connection.
Once we were out of the maze we heading for the entrance. But just as we got almost to the end of the line I noticed another entrance so I signaled over to the other divers. We checked our air, which was fine, and headed off to the new passageway. We found a room quite a bit larger than the others; just what we’d been hoping for.
Once inside I led the way reeling the line out, The others followed with their lights shining on mine so I would know where they were at all times. There was plenty of room for us to swim quite comfortably and after about 5 minutes I decided it was time to turn around and head for the entrance.
Once back onto the boat I was totally wiped out; it seemed like we had been in there for hours swimming through the passageways, although it had been only a fraction of that.
Now It's Your Turn
In all, it was an exhilarating trip and one that we can do for divers any time. You can check out all Aquanauts ANDI and PADI tech diving courses here. And when you’re ready for the adventure of cave diving, contact us and we’ll set up a trip for you!