Monday, 14 February 2011

The Grand Whoop Whoop Spa and Resort ...

The Wild Times keep rolling for John Spies
When the owner of the hotel serves your morning coffee in a mug that reads 'The World's Greatest Pervert' you know you're not staying at the Grand Hyatt.

But such is the down-to-earth tone at Cave Lodge (, owned and run by John Spies and his wife Nung. Apart from being the hotel's GM, he's the maitre d', the gardener,  bar-tender, and driver, too.

Perched up on a hill overlooking the Pai River in Pang Ma Pa, Spies set up this popular backpacker haunt in the mid 80s.  "We trekked all over northern Thailand, saw this spot and said 'This is it'," the avid trekker tells me over a beer Singha in between serving happy hour cold ones to guests with a myriad of international accents.

"The people, the culture, the river ... the caves -- we knew the caves were going to be huge." Cave Lodge is, not surprisingly, perched just a few hundred metres from massive limestone caves dating back millions of years. There's Lod Cave, Tukata Cave and Coffin Cave. And many, many others off limits to tourists.

John's knowledge of these cavernous attractions is second to none. He's even shown members of the Thai Royal family through here (although I doubt the he gave the Princess the same mug).

The valley where gibbons and backpackers make whoopee
The cabins themselves are comfortable and clean with proper sit down toilets and everything, and balconies that look down to the gurgling river, where the whoop-whoop-whoop of garrulous gibbons can be heard most mornings (and the whoop-whoop-whoop of amorous French backpackers can be heard heard most nights through the thin bamboo walls.)

Breakfast, lunch and dinner, the kitchens are kept busy building up and replacing energy lost by the strenuous activities of the day: Trekking the mountains. Visiting remote hill-tribe villages (in this border region, many are Shan, but there are also Lahu tribes folks cultivating these mountains), and of course caving. A special Cavers Breakfast, including eggs and fresh crusty homemade-bread, is available.

Shortly after, this lobby furniture was used for firewood ...
And the Cavers Dinner seems to be beer, beer, and more beer. Amiable laughter around the campfire, which roars inside the main bamboo-and-wooden building (just next to the No Smoking sign).

John tells me the resort has only burned down once before, jing jing.

Keeping the lodge supplied is a full-time job in itself, with John and Nung driving to Chiang Mai once every 10-14 days to resupply. "I must have done that trip about 6 or 700 times ... I could do it with my eyes closed." (With precipitous gorges and few safety railings, probably not advisable for those readers considering trying this themselves.) Still, the drives better these days. Before about 1990 when the tar road went in, it was a 10-hour drive in his "decrepit" Land Rover. Now it's about 3 or 3.5. That's good going on the notoriously windy road.

Rooms cost about 500-700 baht in the high season, with dormitory accommodation available, too.

There's also complimentary use of the rustic herbal steam sauna out the back, replete with special Shan herbs.

You can't get that at the Grand Hyatt.

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