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  1. #1
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    Mae Hong Son, caves discovered, 10,000-year-old

    Exploration uncovers 176 caves, which can provide answers about life in the North



    Scientists have recently made significant cave discoveries in the Pang Mapha district of Mae Hong Son.

    They are excited about the geological, ecological and archaeological importance of the finds.

    A few of the caves will be opened to tourists but most will be preserved for research.

    While the discoveries are naturally beautiful and hold tourism potential, they are important archaeologically - they were formed an estimated 10,000 years ago and can provide answers about life in the North. Geological data is abundant, too, researchers said.

    The discoveries are the result of nine years of exploration by a team of 50 geologists, archaeologists and other scientists. The work was supported by the Thailand Research Fund (TRF).

    The new sites will not be opened to the public immediately. Experts fear tourism will damage their fragile nature.

    "Without proper management we could easily lose these treasures," TRF senior officer Dr Suchata Chinajit said.

    The uncovered caves are among 176 surveyed in Pang Mapha and will be entered into a national database ensuring access for research, management and tourism.

    The caves were discovered in a 1,200-square-kilometre limestone area of Pang Mapha. It is one of two significant sites for caves in the country - the other being in Kanchanaburi, Suchata explained.

    The caves are home to diverse ecological systems and new species, said Dr Kasem Kulparadit of Mahidol University's environment and resource studies department.

    "Living in the dark world of the cave some water species are blind. Biodiversity includes snails, crabs, shrimp, bees, moths, frogs and birds and bats," Kasem explained.

    The natural beauty of the caves amazed geologist and cave surveyor Dr Chaiporn Siripornpibul.

    "Cave pearls, draperies, canopies and flowstone deposits. It's all beautiful and geologically significant," he said.

    Silpakorn University archaeologist Dr Rasmi Shookongdej said finds from the caves and their surrounding areas were important. After three years the team still has much to study.

    "The traces we found tell us how people in the area used caves in their age, which is more than 10,000 years ago. We found burial sites, skeletons and stone and iron tools," Rasmi said.

    The 176 caves have been divided into three categories - tourists can visit 15, 112 will be saved for research and 49 have yet to be classified.

    The 15 tourist caves have been divided again - seven are for adventure tourists, four for general tourism and another four have religious significance.

    Of those set aside for research, dozens could be opened to visitors later, Kasem added. But, priority was study.

    Caves are threatened by tourism and the poisoning of underground water from the leaching of toxic agricultural chemicals, Kasem said.

    "To prevent a flood of tourists into the area we are not revealing the location of this discovery just yet. We are in the process of ensuring the proper development of the area with the participation of local communities," TRF's Suchata told The Nation.

    One option is to promote some caves as tourist destinations for niche tourists - those interested in nature or history. Their management may be put in the hands of local residents, she said.

    "Tourism can have either positive or negative affects on caves. It should be positive," Kasem added.

    Panot Prakhongsap of Tour Moengtai in Mae Hong Son agreed with the cave-management plans.

    "To make it possible cooperation among government authorities, researchers, tour operators and local communities is needed," he said.

    Panot said that big tour companies drove cave tourism in Pang Mapha. They were interested only in volume and unconcerned about saving caves from damage. "How do we control them," he asked.

    Eco-tourism activist Pongphiphat Meebenjamas said local participation was doubtful because only a handful of villagers were aware of the caves. Most knew little of the scientific discoveries.

    "It's a difficult process but we must deal with local communities first. Then, other sectors can follow," Suchata said.

    "This is the first time scientists have conducted such a systematic research effort. We hope it will be really useful to people in the area rather than shelving it in a library like in the past," she said.

    TRF director Piyawat Boonloeng said the fund intended to conduct similar studies in all Northern provinces, which should result in better tourism management in the long term.
    Thailand has 2,000 discovered caves nationwide, of which 450 are in the North, including the 176 in Pang Mapha.

    Kamol Sukin
    The Nation

  2. #2
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    Pang Mapha district of Mae Hong Son.

    = More commonly known as Soppong, between Pai and Mae Hong Son proper.

  3. #3
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    Does someone knows more details about exact location ? Any map ? Did they put any signs along the road ? I really like to visit those caves.

    Thanks
    Tuk

  4. #4
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    ^ No, sorry.

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