by Bruce Konefe
After months of talking and research we got enough information gathered to make our next exploration trip. We wanted to explore some cave systems in the Northwestern parts of Thailand. If any of you diving enthusiasts are looking for some new challenges, cave diving just might be the very thing for you! But it’s not for everyone: it takes discipline, special training and a lot of hard work.
For example, we recently explored some cave systems in northwestern Thailand. After months of research and preparation we were finally ready to make our next exploratory cave diving trip. Two trucks were to provide our transportation, one for all the nitrox tanks and equipment, the other for the divers.
Our arrival time was about 6:00 p.m, which, it has to be said was a bit later then we planned. The first thing we needed to do was go down to the lake and find a reputable captain, and tell him what time we wanted to leave and where we wanted to go.
It appeared that the boatmen where more then happy to help us out and were as excited as we were to find out what was really down there.
Day 2 started at 6:30 a.m. The equipment was assembled so everything was as streamlined as possible. A couple of stainless steel clips were replaced with string, since there should be no metal to metal connections when entering in a cave. The tanks were analyzed and everything was ready to go. Now there was just time to check on the other team members.
Our boat captain, or should I say longtail boat driver, was waiting for us to arrive. We backed up the trucks and got everything loaded and ready to go. We instructed the boatman where the first dive site was and off we went. It was about a 30-minute boat ride.
When we where not far from the entrance of the cave we got kitted up and ready to go. (getting into the water was a big relief since it was, as always, hot, and the thick wetsuits weren’t exactly helping matters!). Our equipment familiarization checks were completed and we headed for the entrance.
Once underwater, we completed our checks, looking for stray bubbles and making sure all our lights worked properly. As it happened there were not many places to put our first tie-off but finally we found one just outside the entrance not far from the surface that would almost guarantee us a direct ascent.
Not laying a line is one of the most common mistakes for divers when entering caves and wrecks. I have heard that some agencies that train in overhead environments teach only progressive familiarization during the course. I prefer have the addition of lines during my cavern and wreck courses. Proper selection of equipment is another important factor and we both used jet fins with spring buckles so we would not get caught up on anything.
The visibility was about 3-4m which I felt quite comfortable with since the viz. around our local dive spots is not much more! Looking for a second tie-off was a bit more of a challenge since all we could see were large boulders. Frog-kicking slowly and trying not to stir up any silt, we approached the bottom at 12m. At the bottom we saw quite a few catfish swimming around, not something we normally see in the ocean around Pattaya! At first, the cave was quite dark, but it soon started to get light again and we could see that we were heading to another entrance. As we approached it there were some tree stumps and as we swam around them we noticed that we had reached our turnaround point, I signalled my buddy, Mike, to re-trace our route and we headed back to the entrance of the cave.
Back on the boat we went over the dive and we were happy that everything went exactly as we had planned it. We arrived at the second site and thankfully, were able to pull into the cave and out of the sun to get ready. This spot was a bit more spooky since we could see the bats flying around overhead, but none of them bothered us. We kitted up and got into the water. All the equipment checks were completed and down we went.
The first objective was to find where to place the primary and secondary tie-offs. Once this was done we continued on, to find many passageways, a lot of which were quite narrow, so we continued in single file. I led the way with my buddy close behind. It was like a maze, and sometimes I thought I was going round in circles. I felt more comfortable in the fact that I was carrying an extra cylinder in case of bail out, some of the passages where very tight and I could have very easily broken off a hose connection.
Once we were out of the maze we started to head for the entrance. Just as we reached the end of the line I noticed another exit, so I signalled Mike. I checked our air pressures: we had plenty of air and time left, so we headed to the other entrance. I could tell the room was larger then the other ones and that is what I was hoping for. Mike could see the smile on my face as I entered.
Once we were both inside I continued to lead the way, reeling the line out, and Mike followed with his light shining on mine so I would know where he was at all times. There was plenty of room for both of us to swim through quite comfortably. After about 5 minutes I decided it was time to turn around and head back.Once back on the boat I was totally wiped out, it seemed like we had been swimming through those passageways for hours!
During the dives we discovered some weird looking fish that I have never saw before, some were completely blue and others had black spots and red eyes.
Later Mike said he waved his hand in front of them and they did not move, as if they were blind. Another thing I noticed was that unlike most ocean diving there were some pretty impressive thermoclines in this lake.
On the way back to Bangkok I wanted to check out another site I want to do dive, a sunken city where there is a temple, a hotel and a school. However when we arrived the area was closed off and we could not enter after dark. I am hoping to get this dive in before the end of the year. It will be to about 120m and each diver will have to carry 6 tanks to complete it safely. The dive time will be around 3-4 hours, depending on how long we decide to spend at the bottom.
We will be running an exploration trip to two different wreck diving sites later in the year. One wreck has a 100m hull and is in about 75m. The second is a drill ship, sunk during typhoon Gay back in 1988. All divers need to be fully qualified Trimix divers in order to participate. If you are not already qualified, we do offer the full range of technical courses at Neptune Dive Center. All follow the ‘American Nitrox Divers International’ (ANDI) system, one of the leading technical diving agency’s in the world.
If anybody would like to join us on a cave exploration trip, or take a cave diving course, you can contact me.
Special thanks to Mike Doyle who bought along some excellent diving lights from “Ocean Management Systems” of Southeast Asia to help us find our way through the dives.
WARNING: Cave Diving is dangerous and requires extensive training and experience. Do NOT enter caves unless properly trained by a certified agency