DAY 1: Morning
Going to Vietnam I was already determined to visit Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, home to the largest cave structures in the world. But having arrived in Vietnam the week of Typhoon Damrey the Phong Nha region of Vietnam was truly torn apart (but that didn’t stop me). It was so devastated that our bus to the Phong Nha Ke Bang National park had to stop earlier than planned. From there we walked about a mile to arrive at the jungle, where we maneuvered uphill through nature’s backyard. Upon crossing the condensed forestation we were faced with two choices, either cut through the rocks at the base of the river to make it to the other side, or swim upstream across the blue lagoon in the middle of the jungle. Of course, I chose the latter, jumping in the water fully clothed with my waterproof bag. And at that moment, it was like I washed away all the sweat and exhaustion from my body and was purified by nature, the water felt like God was hugging me. There we finally reached camp where a delectable Vietnamese Pho lunch was being prepared. Lunch time!
DAY 1: Afternoon
After enjoying an all natural Vietnamese lunch, we headed to our first cave, known as Hung Ton. After another hour of trekking through the jungle in the midst of rain, humidity, and many bugs, we climbed uphill to reach the entrance. There I was embraced by the darkness of the caves. Never have I seen a place with such an absence of protons. The spiders in the cave were white due to the lack of sunlight. Some parts of the cave were engulfed in water and a lot of rocks were too slippery for my taste. Luckily I had my trusty helmet, light, and gloves to help me navigate through this obscure landscape, and even though there was darkness I still felt blessed in “seeing” these sights within the caves. The shape of the eroded walls, floors, and roof along with the contrast of black, golden, orange, and white colors from millions of years of the environmental dissolution of limestone from the rainwater were awe-inspiring.
DAY 1: Evening
Hiking is a lot like life, the further you stray the longer the way back is. That was indeed the case for us, after exploring Hung Ton for a good two hours we needed to head back to camp. At this time, the rain had picked up, which I didn’t mind as it helped me deal with the heat and humidity. My socks were already wet, my calves were tired, and my stomach was wanting, but I enjoyed every second of it! The first thing I did when arriving at camp was take a bath on the river while dinner was being prepared. And just like every meal in Vietnam, dinner was amazing! After dinner we all drank Vietnamese “Happy Water” (rice wine) and got pretty lit. We conversed with each other for hours. Where we shared experiences, travel advice, spoke of religion, Vietnam, and world politics, life in our respective home countries, and everything in between. The lack of technology, cell phones, and lights finally hit me that night as I was able to practically see the milky way and every star in our universe just by looking up. After stargazing, it was time to pack up and call it a night, a full day of exploration was waiting for me.
DAY 2: Morning
I woke up to the sound of birds and nature caressing my ears. I could smell the fire burning with what I could only assume was a scrumptious breakfast. I could feel the breeze coming in through the little holes on my tent. As I stepped out of my tent to see the beauty of a morning in the jungle, I noticed that my tasty breakfast was served. We ate, conversed, and prepared our itinerary for the day to come. Our first destination of day two was the 1st Hang Tien cave. In order to get there we once again had to cross the river and a field of boulders. I put on my wet shoes from the day before, made my bag and jumped in the water. There we crossed through the jungle once again for a span of an hour until finally seeing a humongous entrance. They say you could fit the Statue of Liberty through the entrance of this cave. But I didn’t care too much for the entrance for I knew the real story awaited inside. In the darkness...
You could hear the water flowing from the moment you approached the entrance. The walls had been eroded into sharp fangs, you could see the droplets of water being instructed by gravity until they reached the very end of these fangs, and every few seconds that passed a single drop would hit the floor. My guide explained that each one of these drops are helping to shape the appearance of the cave through millions of years. It reminded me how some of the best things in life truly take their time to develop and that there’s beauty in the process, however long it may take. Even when things appear to be finished and ready, there’s still a long way to go.
DAY 2: Afternoon
In order for us to continue our journey we needed to cross to the other side of the cave. However, there lied an unforgiving current of water impeding us from doing so. In steps the flying fox. This was a contraption 18-meters in height (60ft) in which we were harnessed into a wooden plank, locking into a karabiner and tandem pulleys. The purpose of this was for us to sit and pull ourselves via steel cables to reach the other side. From there, we continued through Hang Tien 1 until reaching a steel ladder placed by our tour company, Oxalis Vietnam. Upon climbing this ladder we finally saw the exit of Hang Tien 1.
We took a little break for water, snacks, and pictures at the exit of Hang Tien 1, but just as the number 1 suggests, there had to be a number 2. We trekked our way up a stony hill to reach the smallest entrance of all the caves we witnessed, almost as it was purposely hiding from civilization. This subterranean world had many more astonishing structures and formations, almost on par with the other caves. The difference was that in this cave lied a gaping hole (bigger than your mother’s) which was almost a kilometer in depth. This hole apparently went all the way down to Hang Tien 1 but I wasn’t intent on finding out. At this point we turned off all our flashlights and electronics phones, and stood quiet in darknessfor about a minute. After letting nature take its course uninterrupted by humans we all yelled in unison down the hole. The hole didn’t like that and yelled back at us via this beautiful thing called an echo, the bats began moving about and the humans began laughing. This was the last cave we visited. Time to head back to camp.
My adventuristic self couldn’t bother to be patient, so after crossing back via the flying fox, a group of about 4 other nomads and myself went on ahead of our party, because, well I wanted to pick up the pace. We walked back the same path, passing through the rocks, the caves, streams, and everything in between to make our way back to camp. At camp I tried Vietnamese coffee for the first time, and even though I’m not a coffee drinker, I was hooked. Is there anything in Vietnam that tastes bad? My conclusion is…. NO! Anything in Vietnam that is edible will taste good, it’s just the amount of care God took into making this country. We had more Pho for lunch, where I doused it in hot sauce and drank about 32 Liters of water.
DAY 2: Evening
Being that we were early into camp, there was a little bit of time for extracurricular activities. Of course at this point I went swimming! Did I change into swimming attire or at least took my clothes off? Hell to the no! You don’t spend two days in the middle of the jungle to let a little bit of wet clothes bother you. As much as I would love to take credit for having the same ability as Jesus, I must admit, the only reason I was floating on water (in the picture below) was this big rock right in the middle of the river. But still, let’s forget all of that and let me have this moment. After this, we packed our stuff, went back the same way we came from the first morning, and after 48 hours finally made our way back into civilization. Where to next?
All shots taken on Galaxy S7 as the adventure was too wild for a DSLR.