Quite some people ask me about outdoor/adventurous traveling destinations in the region. Here a caving adventure to start a dedicated section.
- Beauty/fun: 9.5/10. If you like caving, hiking, photography and little adventure you will definitively love it.
- Difficulty: 2/10. You can only access it within a tour provided by Oxalis, which includes speleologists, guides, porters, cooks. The hike in the jungle and caves, as per this web’s standards, are not complicated at all. Follow their instructions and enjoy!
- Vietnam. Main airports in the area are in Hue and Danang. Minimum time required would be a full week. In my case I took some days extra just in case there was any delay due to bad weather and to enjoy Hue and Hoi An. The expedition itself is expensive (USD3k). All the additional traveling can be arranged easily and cheap.
- My route included.
Hang Sơn Đoòng was discovered quite recently and tourists have been allowed to enter there only since 2013. The number allowed yearly is reduced and the site remains completely pristine. I was quite lucky to be one of the first there. Here some of what I saw and what you could expect to see if you go.
Arrive at Dong Hoi train station and from there I was picked by a car to Phong Nha Ke Bang.
A really cute town full green, water and karsts
perfect environment for the caves to be formed. You can find tons of them all around the area. With tours to visit quite some of those, including this where boats go into.
After spending the day visiting around evening meeting with the main guide and speleologist. They would explain us all the main things to remember: security, schedules, some pics and videos of what we were going to see. Sleep in the hotel provided by them and the next morning, after a short minibus ride, start walking in the jungle.
For the next 4 days you will be crossing rivers non-stop, so get ready for it. Goretex shoes are not an option and your feet will be wet almost continuously. You will need to prevent blisters and the most dangerous thing in this case: fungus. Everything is clearly explained by the staff there and with a bit of care (baby powder every night in the camp, etc) there should not be a problem.
Start with a downhill into the valley, visit a minority village, couple of hours more within the good looking jungle on easy paths and arrive at the first cave (Hang En) entrance.
Time to get your helmet and headtorch on! They provide full professional gear, so very powerful light, even if it does not look like in the pic as soon as we start getting into the darkness.
The way in is short. 20-30minutes to get your first glimpse of what you will be enjoying in the next days. Arrive at a section where a huge opening lets the sun in.
And below our “private” beach, lake, river and campsite!
Enjoy the bath. Check if there was any leech on us (a real jungle has them… part of the adventure!). And time to have some hot lunch.
The food was simple but quite tasty all the trip through.
After the sunset time to sleep in your tent, maximum occupancy of two people, for couples. In my case on my own.
Wake up and boulder around a bit to try to see the sun beams getting into the cave. We were not lucky. but the views are really impressive with a massive dome where common swifts have nets all over it. We were surprised when we were explained that local people climb those walls, with no security gear, to try to get the eggs from them. Definitely an expensive delicacy. Pic provided by Oxalis.
After breakfast we continued our journey.
Up to the photogenic exit.
It was hard to think that this was the “small” cave that we were leaving behind, way to the real thing.
40 minutes of hiking in the jungle and time to get our harnesses and security briefing.
Ready to go underground. Ropes set in the “difficult” sections. Funny to see the local guys with sandals all the way vs the fully geared team.
Funnily the entrance to the biggest cave in the world is quite narrow.
The descent is quite steep, but there are lines set all around and customers are handle with care 😛 No real abseiling or rapelling required.
Soon the entrance started to look really far up there.
Waist/knee deep rivers to cross.
And arrive at several super photogenic spots. To get these kind of pictures (from Oxalis again this one although we got similar ones) the group needed to spread and use all our headlamps and extra torches to illuminate different sections.
Arriving at the second campsite next to the first doline, several throughout the route.
Where to spend the night before going up to “Watch Out for Dinosaurs” jungle and go back down
to see it from another angle. May be one of the most magical moment lived ever. The hole above is relatively small (everything is massive in reality in this cave). And the light comes in through it letting you see quite clearly below.
But in an exact moment, the sun gets in the perfect position and
a sunbeam gets into the cave moving slowly, heating the area and moving all the fog around
till you are able to see the double waterfalls, over 100 meters tall.
Actually, they are the reason of the “hills” below. Kind of massive stalagmites, terrace size. And when we thought that we had seen it all it became even more memorable, when Jarryd (one of the guys in the tour) proposed to Alessa (his gf and fellow traveler). Pic by Chris.
Last view of the magical place
Climbing to the second doline.
Full of rice terrace looking ground.
Arrive at the third campsite where we left the backpacks before going for some more photographic sessions. Pic again by Chris. If you like photography remember to take a good tripod with you. I did not…
I have not mentioned yet, but on our way we were finding new species of animals around. We were still one of the first people venturing there and we have a wonderful spotter, Jim, who was able to find tons of insects and other creatures completely adapted to the lightless environment.
We could see fossils. And also huge “cave pearls“.
Before venturing to the great wall of Vietnam. Supposedly on rafts, but finally the water was not enough and we needed to walk within the river and swim up till there. Video of the adventure.
Go back to the campsite. Play bit more with the cameras, tripods and torches.
Sleep and start the trip back till campsite number 1.
The logistic required is significant. All the material and food needs to be carried in and out by the porters. The water is filtered from the sreams.
The latrines are quite ingenious eco-friendly too. Some years ago they discovered that the rice shells are really good for covering the waste, avoiding bad smell and can be used as fertilizer out later. So do your thing and throw a cupful of them once finished.
Back under the sky.
And up the jungle, with Chris and myself.
Apart from the adventure itself Hue has quite some spots to see
with clear Imperial Chinese influences.
Hoi An is even more picturesque.
With its famous bridge
& very colorful river and nightlife.
If you want you can also enjoy bit of sun and beach.