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The Goodheart and Whitecorn Adventures "I see my path, but I don't know where it leads. Not knowing where I'm going is what inspires me to travel it." Rosalia de Castro

Phong Nha and the caves

VIETNAM | Saturday, 4 April 2015 | Views [476]

So…these friends of ours that we met on the road once again posted really cool pics of a place we had on our original plan but taken off because of time constraints. These pictures intrigued us so we did a little googling and…decided to do something a little crazy. See, this place they made look so magical, Phong Nha, is known for its caves. Perhaps you have heard of a little cave called Son Doong? And by “little” I mean the largest cave in the world. No, we did not go to that one, because, let’s face it, we don’t have $3000 each to drop on a whim. However, Son Doong’s little brother (and by little I mean 3rd largest cave in the world)- Hang En is much more reasonably priced. And by reasonably priced I mean we had to cut Sapa and Ha Long Bay and Hanoi from our trip. But you know what? IT WAS WORTH IT.

 

Phong Nha is arguably the most beautiful place we have seen in Vietnam. Green, green, and more green with limestone mountains and caves and crystal clear blue/green water. It’s a photographer’s paradise. Perhaps if the tiny town wasn’t so strange we could have settled in for a longer stay. Alas, Phong Nha feels like a town that hasn’t quite figured out how to deal with the tourist boom (the first caves only opened to the public 4 years ago) and is awkwardly comprised of what feels like more tourists than residents. I would wager a bet they have more guesthouses per capita than Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. It’s weird. But the caves are NOT weird.

 

We took an early morning bus from Hue and, after checking in, found our dear friend Caroline happily chatting with two new friends at a café across the street. We met Caroline in Cambodia and were delighted she decided to join us for a couple days in the caves. Especially since she usually doesn’t like them. But she’s also friends with the above-mentioned photo takers who got us excited by the caves. Clearly, they are persuasive. Catching up was really nice especially since, to be honest, none of us were doing so hot. We’re still not entirely sure if it was the country or the amount of time we’d all been away but none of us could get excited about planning anything anymore. It was really nice to know we weren’t alone.

 

The next day we visited Paradise Cave and Dark Cave. Paradise is HUGE and gorgeous with tons of stalactites and stalagmites and really cool rock formations. In fact, of the caves we visited this is the only one that had such formations. After Paradise and lunch we went to Dark Cave. Dark Cave may not have the look Paradise does but it is FUN. The shoes come off and bathing suits go on! The tour of the cave starts with a ride on a zip line to a spot near the entrance of the cave. From there you swim (in very cold water!) to the entrance. Upon entering we shed our lifejackets, turn on our headlamps, and are led through very muddy passageways. Now, there is no way we could’ve taken our phones in and have them survive so there are sadly no photos of what ensued but I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard the entire trip. The mud on the ground gets thicker and squishier as you get deeper into the cave. The mud on the walls gets thicker and feels like wet clay. There is a lot of slipping, inappropriate sounding noises, squeals of surprise and “that feels weird” groans. When the mud began to resemble brownie batter in color and consistency the mud flinging began. Without much warning you are suddenly slipping down a 3 foot slope straight into a mud lake and it is amazing. You can float simply by lifting your legs up. There is mud on (and probably in) every single part of your body and you don’t care because it feels amazing. Our guides let us hang out in the mud lake for a bit than took us out by a different route, having us swim to the far end of the cave and back…with our headlamps off. EEK. That part, not so much fun for Whitecorn. We left the cave, hopped into kayaks and paddled back to the bus.

 

Between this little adventure and the Hang En tour we had a full day of nothing. We thought about exploring on bicycles but ended up plotting out the next step of our trip instead. Having to weigh so many different aspects, it was difficult to make a decision. If you don’t know yet what we decided you can find out in the next blog entry :)

 

We said goodbye to Caroline which was sad and prepped ourselves for the awesome trek ahead! The Hang En trek is a two day, one night tour where you get to spend the night on a beach in the cave. If you haven’t done so yet go look at the pictures NOW. They don’t do it justice of course, but they are far better than anything either of us could ever write. The trek to the caves is fairly easy- a lot of downhills and flat land mixed with plenty of water crossings (over 40 of them). You are in real true jungle. We were fortunate enough to have good weather the first day- a reasonable temperature and sun. The trek passes through a tiny minority village (with a school whose enrollment is a grand total of 7!) and through some of the most incredible looking valleys you’ve ever seen. The entrance we take into the cave is small and unassuming but it opens into something GRAND. The real entrance to the cave is higher up and difficult to get to but lights up the inside and our campsite nicely. Dinner that night wa absolutely amazing. Our porters prepared a true feast. The one downside of the cave is it is home to thousands of swallows. In other words…we all got bird poo on us at some point. We spent the night in the cave which was surprisingly warm and cozy. The next morning we were led beyond what we thought was the back of the cave to the true exit. While we loved our campsite I admit we were both a little disappointed as we thought that was the whole cave. Were we ever wrong! Apparently cave exits are almost always bigger than entrances and this was no exception. GO LOOK AT THE PICTURES. I’m not going to bother with an attempt to describe because no words can do it justice. If this is only the 3rd largest cave in the world we need to start saving our money for the other two because WOW. Sadly, our weather did not hold out and we hiked a good chunk of the way back to our pick up point in pouring rain. I do not want to be in Vietnam during rainy season. No thank you. The trek back was a bit more difficult…remember what I said about the downhills the first day? Yeah, those become uphills the second. Bleh. But we survived! Worth every penny and cutting the other places on our list.

 

Oh! Almost forgot. Out of the 15 people (including us) on the trek, 10 of us were from or lived in the US and of those 10, 7 of us live in New York/Long Island. Go figua. The other New York people had all read the New York Times article from October and that’s why they were there. Made us appreciate all the more the fact that we hadn’t read it before making our decision!

 

We left Phong Nha the night we returned from the cave via overnight bus to Hanoi but not before a guy dropped his moto on Goodheart’s leg which made him bump into some guy hovering over him which caused them both to fall into the rack of parked bicycles, which Goodheart smacked his face on and received cuts above and below his left eye. Sigh. Don’t worry, the cuts have healed nicely and if that is the worst moto accident we get in I am a happy camper.

 

We are off to eat dinner now, but I will do my best to get the next blog out ASAP so you can find out where we have landed! Love and miss you all,

W&G

 

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