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Oxalis Cave Adventure Itinerary | Introduction
Phong Nga National Park has more than 400 caves. If you have already spent time in Phong Nga and have seen all the national park-level sightseeing spots that tourists must visit, it is highly recommended that you join the cave exploration tour if your time and strength permit, so as to have a professional in-depth tour of Phong Nga. The most famous cave adventure tours in Phong Nga areOxalisThis company, who are guided by a British expedition team, offer trips of varying difficulty and cost, ranging from simple day trips to multi-day cave camping, which interested readers can check out on their official website. Multi-day caving trips include rappelling, swimming, traversing very narrow caves, climbing and more. The official website lists the open trips, the time required, and the physical challenges encountered during each trip, and the customer service will also answer any questions in detail, so you can feel very serious and professional from the planning to the trip as a whole.
The most famous cave tour, and the biggest selling point of this area of Phong Nga, is the world's largest Hansong Cave, which is exclusively offered by Oxalis. However, the Han Song Cave tour is more difficult and requires the most resources for the group, taking four days and three nights to complete, with limited space and a price tag of several thousand dollars, so not many tourists are actually able to join the tour. We originally considered the relatively popular but less difficult Hengn Cave, the third largest in the world, which also requires two days and one night. However, since we were visiting Phong Nga in December, we decided to split the trip into two days to join two of Oxalis' simpler one-day trips, Tu Lan Family Experience and Hang Tien Cave Discovery, due to time constraints and the cold weather, which was not suitable for swimming. Even though it was only a one-day trip, the whole trip really allowed us to experience the mood of adventure. I would like to share the experience of these two trips with you.
Itinerary | Tu Lan Family Experience Tour
The first tour we joined wasTu Lan Family Experience TourWe were the only participants in this day's tour, so the car went straight to the Oxalis office. Oxalis sent a car to pick us up at the hotel early in the morning, we were the only ones who joined the tour, so the car went straight to the Oxalis office, making it a private tour. British scholars have been researching the cave system in Phong Nga since 1990, these caves are created by different rivers and are divided into four systems. Today, we are going to the Rat cave in Tu Lan, the nearby Oxalis office in Tan Hoa Village, 70 kilometers away from Phong Nga city and it takes more than an hour to drive. However, the journey was not boring at all. Our guide started to introduce the itinerary on the bus. Our guide was a local who, although young, knew a great deal about The Tooth, having been in contact with the British research team from a very young age, and was obviously very passionate about The Tooth, talking about The Tooth and the caves and answering almost every question.
When you arrive at the office, there is a beautiful view of green mountains and water in front of the office, and Oxalis has built a beautiful hotel next to it. If you are joining a 3 or 4 day trip, you will have to rest one night in this hotel. After we rested in the rest area, the tour guide started to explain the tour formally and make sure that we were dressed appropriately. If you don't have the right clothes, you can rent them from Oxalis. They have free boots, but they are not very grippy, but since it was raining that day, we chose to borrow them because we didn't want to get our shoes dirty.
Then it was time to go, there were two caves to be visited today, and the trip started with a 2.5km walk to the first cave in the morning, the small rat cave, which was actually a very simple trip, mostly on foot, but it wasn't a sloppy one, and apart from the tour guide there was also a safety helper who looked out for our safety and proved to be very much needed afterwards. Besides the guide, there was also a safety helper. The helper would keep an eye on our safety, and it turned out that we really needed him.
The first part of the road is a tarmac road, which is called hollywood by the locals, because this road was actually paved for the filming of the movie "King Kong", and the crew came here. The scenery along the way is very beautiful. The first part of the road is surrounded by farmers' grazing area, and here we saw many cows, mostly buffaloes. The tour guide said that there are still a lot of unexploded mines left from the war, and occasionally we could see mine craters surrounded by the green mountains and water.
After the asphalt road, it was all dirt road. It was raining that day, the ground was wet and full of mud, which made it not easy to walk. The road follows the river and passes by the opening scene of the King Kong movie.
After walking for a while, I had to cross the river again. In good weather, the original itinerary was to pull the rope and walk or swim across the river. However, since the water level of the river was relatively high in this season, the trip was changed to one where the staff would pull the rope and let us cross the river by boat. Although there is less adventure in the winter, we might encounter leeches and snakes in the summer, but not in the winter, so that's a good thing.
After crossing the river, we continued to climb the mountain, and the path became steeper and still muddy and slippery. Here, because we were wearing borrowed boots with little grip, we needed help all the time to walk through safely. Looking at the tour guide and the small helpers were either wearing cheap sandals that are similar to blue and white slippers in the local status or barefoot, like walking in their own living room, so it's true that familiarity with the terrain is different.
As we walked, we arrived at the first cave of the day, the small rat cave. Before entering the cave, our guide magically brought out helmets and headlamps from our backpacks for us to put on. Then we walked through the narrow cracks in the rock with our hands and feet to enter the cave.
After climbing into the cave entrance, we then had to climb deeper into the cave. We found out that our guide had more equipment in his bag, and we climbed a 6 meter ladder into the deeper part of the cave. In fact, we used to climb a 6 meter ladder to get into the deeper part of the cave.Mesa Verde National ParkI have climbed a lot before, so I was not very nervous. Moreover, the safety measures of Oxalis are very well prepared and professional, everyone has to be protected by a safety rope to make sure that there will be no accidents.
Once in the depths, continue to crawl hand over hand through all the obstacles, which requires drilling through many narrow crevices. The cave is now completely dry, but in ancient times it was also formed by river erosion, so you have to imagine that there was water inside, and what you can see now are traces of erosion from the river. The ground is usually fine sand, and sometimes we see special round stones that look like popcorn stones, locally called pearls. Occasionally we see some fossils, a few spiders, and according to the guide, bats in the summer.
We finally made it into a larger cave, and this was the highlight of the small rat cave, with lots of huge stone pillars, quite a sight. There was an exit at the other end of the cave, so we went through one way and climbed out at the end.
After leaving the cave the morning was over and we walked to a rest stop for lunch. The lunch spot was very sunny, just a small hut. By the time we arrived, the cooks were already roasting pork over a fire and were almost ready. Outside, there were beautiful mountains and water, but the tour guide simply put a tarpaulin on the inside of the hut, and everyone sat on the ground. We sat down on the ground. We ate rice by wrapping rice paper with whatever ingredients we liked, including pork, tofu, and vegetables with a little bit of sauce, or whatever we liked. Don't look at this peasant lunch as random, but it is actually the best meal I have ever had in Vietnam. The rice paper used here is not the same, it's thick and soft, and the roast pork is super delicious.
During lunch, we took the opportunity to chat with our tour guide. The tour guide is a local kid who grew up in the area, and he said that the place has received a lot of help from the tourism industry. According to him, the farmers here used to be very poor, but because of travel agencies like Oxalis, the villagers have been able to work as seasonal helpers to make a better living. He himself has learned English and knowledge from working as a research team assistant and making steel in the clay method since he was a child, and now he is able to work as a tour guide and become a full-time employee.
After lunch, we continued our journey to the rat cave. In the morning, we saw the small rat cave, but in the afternoon, we went to the big rat cave, which is bigger and less narrow, and more relaxing than in the morning. The limestone inside is more spectacular. The formation of limestone is a continuous process, in fact, a centimeter is 400 years long, to see these pillars, are the world's heritage left behind for a long time.
After the Rat Cave trip, we picked up where we left off in the morning and crossed the river back to the hotel. Back to the office, we rested a bit and took the car back to the hotel, each of us was given a bottle of cold drink to relieve the fatigue of the day, Oxalis is very well-equipped, with a comfortable shower and towels for bathing, and if you want to change your clothes, there is also a bag to put the dirty clothes in, which is very considerate.
Itinerary | Hang Tien Discovery
Hang Tien DiscoveryThis was our second day trip, also in the Tu Lan cave system. We were picked up early in the morning by Oxalis, but this time the tour guide gave us a different insight. This side of Phong Nha is flooded in September/October every year, and the nearby villages are flooded to a high level, so if you look closely you will see that the houses here are all padded, and the local residents will have at least one hut outside the main house, with a lot of buckets tied underneath it, the purpose is that when flooded, these huts will be able to float on the water by means of the buckets, and the residents will hide in this hut, and use the supplies that are usually stored in the hut to spend a week or two on the flooding. The inhabitants would hide in the huts and use the goods normally stored in the huts to survive the flooding for a week or two.
The first stop is still the Oxalis rest stop to explain the itinerary. Today the group of 7 or so went to Hang Tien Cave, a much bigger cave than the Rat cave we had been to before and we would be walking 8km round trip, 1.5km of which would be in the cave.
After the explanation, since the cave we were going to today was quite far away, we took a break and got into the car to ride to the starting point of the route. The route started directly into the forest, and this time again, each of us was accompanied by a little safety helper. The weather was good and the ground was dry, so we just wore the hiking shoes we brought along, which made it much easier to walk. The first half of the trail is mostly steep uphill, although not muddy, but still occasionally need to be taken care of.
On the way, the tour guide continued to explain the ecology of the forest. For example, when we saw a bamboo tree on the road, the guide said it was a paper tree, which is a common economic crop in the region, and will be cut down and sold for paper after five years of planting. After a few kilometers of talking, we climbed up the mountain to the entrance of the cave. We rested at the rock pile in front of the cave, ate the snacks given by the helpers to replenish our energy, put on the helmet and headlamps needed to enter the cave, and enjoyed the view of the mountain. It will take more energy to enter the cave later.
The entrance to the cave is high up, so we had to climb up the rocks to get in. This cave was originally hidden in the middle of the mountain, but it was only revealed due to the earth's crustal changes, so it took a bit of physical effort to climb in. In fact, there are too many caves here in Phong Nga, so far only 40% has been studied, some places are hidden in the mountains like this one, and some places are known to have caves but no entrances have been found yet, so at present, Vietnam is still cooperating with the British team, and every year, the British expedition team will come to continue to study the study of finding more entrances to the caves, measuring their size, and so on.
After climbing up the rock, the entrance to the cave is actually quite large. The ground is quite rugged at first, but after a bit more walking, the ground turns into a sandy beach, which makes it a bit easier to walk on. There is a lot to see here. We know that the texture of the rocks is the result of water erosion, and here the texture can be seen more clearly because of the sunlight.
A little further in, you can see the signature view of Hang Tien Cave, which is not only much bigger than the previous caves we've seen, but also has a fantastical look at the top of the cave. Hang Tien Cave is actually a very big cave, but we only walked 1.5km back and forth on our one-day trip.
We then headed deeper into the cave where there was water, forming terraced pools in many places, and we walked across a large sandy beach. The terrain in the middle section was quite rugged, up and down, with some sections where we climbed along the rock face past the keel, and then up a higher rock face, which was quite exciting. It's hard to describe the wonders of the dark caves, and many of them were breathtaking, but I was too busy using both hands to take many photos, so I'll leave it up to you to try it out for yourself. We eventually went to a waterfall inside the cave, the water was very loud. Our guide told us to sit down next to the waterfall and turn off our headlights to listen to the sound of the rushing river. Even in the darkness, we could feel the magic of nature.
The waterfall was our final destination, and we headed back down. We had to climb up the waterfall, but on the way back, we had to pull the safety rope to climb down, climb up the dragon bone again, and finally return to the cave after a hard day's work. It was a different experience to see daylight again.
After seeing the caves we hiked on to the lunch spot, a camping area set up by Oxalis, where we looked around and chatted with fellow travelers while our guide laid out the lunch. If you are joining a multi-day trip, some of the trips will have a break here. The facilities here look basic but are actually very well equipped. Besides the sleeping tent, there is a sauna tent next to it, with a steam hose to let steam into the tent, so that everyone can relax and rest at night.
The lunch menu was similar to the previous one, but with the addition of French bread, so if you don't want to eat rice paper, you can make your own Bahn Mi.
After dinner, our guide took us to the other side of the lake. In fact, swimming trips are organized here in summer, but in winter, it takes courage to go into the water, and our whole group seemed to be afraid of the cold. However, there were some brave members in the other group who went swimming.
After the tour, we walked down the mountain for a while, and when we returned to the hiking trailhead, the car was waiting outside to take us back.
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