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Distance: 50km from Nakara Villa through pleasant countryside. Journey time about 50 minutes.
Finding the cave is not hard - a pleasant drive from Udon Thani up the Nongbua Lamphu 4-lane highway 210 in the direction of Loei. After 50 km a well sign posted right turn takes you to the parking lot in front of the stairs to the cave.
Erawan cave is also known as Tham Chang, or Elephant Cave, as the outcrop is said to resemble a kneeling elephant and the entrance to resemble the fore-head of an elephant. Erawan is also the name of a mythical three headed elephant (Airavata) from Thai mythology. There is an impressive statute depicting this elephant at the entrance to the site as the stairs are approached.
Like many places of natural phenomenal in Thailand, the site has taken on a religious significance to the Thai people. At the base of the outcrop, before the stairs and the elephant statue, is a Wat and immediately at the entrance to the cave is a large statue of Buddha. Throughout the cave there are also many further images of Buddha. In this respect it is necessary to treat a visit to the cave with the same respect that is shown when visiting a Wat.
The cave itself is located about halfway up one of the limestone hills, which extend from the otherwise flat landscape seemingly out of nowhere into the sky. To climb to the cave, you should be equipped with reasonably healthy knees and a stout pair of shoes. 640 steps lead to the cave entrance, there's no way around this climb if you want to visit the cave. But the steep and strenuous climb is well worth the effort! The cave is huge and can be walked for its entire length needing a good hour or more to explore.
At the entrance to the cave is a huge Buddha guarding it and warding off evil spirits, and you can only marvel at just how much work must have been involved to make this, and especially where it was made. Inside the Erawan Cave, as you might reasonably expect are a whole load of odd shaped formations, created by the limestone and the elements it comes in to contact with, including one well-known and somewhat rude shaped structure!
The inside of the cave has electric lighting installed, making everything clearly visible to the naked eye, and you could easily spend a couple of hours taking everything in. On arriving at the cave entrance, you can be fooled in to thinking there is not a great deal to see, as the immediate view is quite limited, but just keep going and gasp at the size of it.
Looking back the cave also offers a dramatic views across the North East of Thailand - in fact one of the few places with a genuine view over the region given that the region is quite flat.
Most people find a visit to Erawan Cave is the memorable part of a visit to Isan perhaps because of the climb, perhaps because of the views though also prehaps because it is such an unexpected and magical find.