So you want to go caving?
FOR some adrenaline-junkies, scaling a couple of feet up a limestone cave wall isn’t enough to call it an adventure.
Because the idea of being inside a cave exploring its every nook and cranny and perhaps discovering some treasures sound a whole lot more exciting.
Still, there are a lot of things to consider before you lace up your hiking shoes and attempt to crawl around in a cave to gawk at rock formations and underground rivers.
Asia is home to a handful of spectacular caves, such as Hang Son Doong in Vietnam, Ryusendo Cave in Japan, Mulu Caves in Malaysia, Jomblang Cave in Indonesia, and Puerto Princesa Underground River in the Philippines.
However, one labyrinthine cave complex in Thailand recently gained international recognition when 12 boys and their football coach were trapped underground for 17 days.
Tham Luang Cave is located in the Doi Nang Non (Mountain of the Sleeping Lady) mountain range.
The cave complex has a very long cave system with numerous stalactites, stalagmites, and branches that go on for several kilometers.
The boys, known as the Wild Boars, entered the Tham Luang Cave in Chiang Rai province on June 23, just after practice had ended. Although they had explored the cave before, they never went too deep or faced wet weather conditions.
As the Wild Boars made their way deeper into the cave, the weather outside Tham Luang Cave changed rapidly, causing a flash flood and leaving them trapped underground.
They were stranded in the cave for 10 days without food before they were found by British A-team divers John Volanthen and Rick Stanton.
It was a rescue mission that involved more than 1,000 people from all over the world – Thailand, the UK, the US, Belgium, Australia, China, Japan, Sweden, Myanmar, and Laos.
That miracle of a story sparkled a worldwide interest in Tham Luang Cave and it’ll potentially be getting two movies.
Chiang Rai authorities are set to turn Tham Luang Cave into a living museum as well to showcase how the operation unfolded.
More importantly, the event has spurred an interest in spelunking, also known as the exploration of caves. But not many people know how to do it safely.
Here are some tips and safety advice to make sure you minimize the risks of your cave adventure:
Do your homework
As with any adventure, you need to do your research and read up about what you’re going to be doing.
Is the cave mostly dry and dusty? Will it require you to go cave diving (which cannot be done with just a scuba diving license alone)?
If you’re claustrophobic or afraid of bats or snakes, you’ll need to know the characteristics of the cave you’re going to.
Check the weather report
If there was one lesson that the Tham Luang Cave incident can teach us is to always check the weather report.
This is because there’s a chance that you might get trapped inside the cave when it pours down outside and the water levels rise.
Avoid caving during the rainy/monsoon season at all costs.
Ensure it’s an established cave
Don’t just saunter into any random cave. Sign up for an organized cave tour (at an easier cave) with a licensed guide.
Organized cave tours usually mean you’ll be guided by good lighting and staircases, and someone who is familiar with the cave you’re exploring.
Also, ensure that your guide knows how to handle emergencies.
Be prepared for just about anything
Going into a dry cave? You’ll need a mask to block out all the dust. Is your adventure going to be in a soggy cave? Then put on some waterproof clothing.
No matter what, you’ll need to be prepared to climb, crawl, wade, and squeeze your way through.
Must-have items include a helmet (preferably a hard hat), a headlamp and waterproof flashlights, hiking shoes, gloves, knee and elbow pads, and food and water.
More importantly, leave the cave the way you entered it.
This means no prodding and poking around the natural cave sculptures, no vandalism or graffiti, and strictly no littering.