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Published: June 17th 2017
The real gem of central Vietnam is the cave systems, which until very recently was mostly undiscovered and undeveloped. The national park boasts hundreds of caves including several of the largest in the world. When I say large, we are talking entire rainforests inside a cave, the ability to land a 747 jet inside, or place a New York city block with 30 story skyscrapers in one cave!
What also makes this cave system special is the fact that access to most of the caves is carefully restricted. There are several caves which have been developed for tourists, complete with lighting, zip lines, water fun parks, boardwalks and boat tours through them. This gives a regulated safe option for tourists wanting to see caves without destroying the entire ecosystem. The majority of the caves are only accessible via two tour companies, both of whom really seem to care about the system and ecosystem. These tours take you to cave dimensions you can not even dream of. They are nearly untouched by humans and offer amazing opportunities to swim or scramble under headlights to panoramas few people have seen.
We were fortunate to have been able to participate in the
“Abandoned Valley Tour” offered by Jungle Boss. This trek takes you on the Ho Chi Minh trail into a beautiful jungle valley where you also explore a dark cave by headlight and swim into Hang E cave.
The tours starts with an early morning pick up at your accommodations. They take you to their headquarters where you are given a briefing about the trip, and supplied with a canteen of water, helmet with light, and optional hiking boots, which were handy as we walked though lots of water and mud on the trek. All of the equipment was excellent quality and in great condition. Our tour had 10 guests, with 2 guides and at least 3 porters and cooking staff to carry gear and food for lunch.
We were driven into the national park and dropped off on the side of the road at a very unassuming spot, which you would never notice otherwise. From here you start the trek, first up hill a bit, then down into the valley. The trekking is on a trail and could be challenging if you are not fit or used to hiking. The biggest challenge on that day was when we
went through much muddy terrain. The decent into the valley can be very challenging and at times dangerous after the rains, and the trail becomes one big slippery mudslide filled with lots of rocks and other hazards. I think when the trail is dry it would be much more enjoyable and safer going down. Many people where slipping and falling with many bumps and bruises. That said, our guides, “Captain” and Daniel, as well as, the porters were excellent and very caring. They tried to make the slippery sections as safe as possible. The “Captain” spent his entire life in the jungle and is very in tune with the surroundings, pointing out things you would never notice on your own.
When arriving at the bottom of the valley the trekking continues with lots to see. There are many river crossings with water up to your thighs as well as crossings on logs. There were many beautiful views as well as thousands of butterflies. Eventually we came to the Dark Cave. The other end of this cave has a sort of water park with kayaks, zip lines, and other water adventures, but this end is far from anyone and we
were the only ones there. We then put on our helmets, gloves, and headlights and headed into the cave. Again, the guides and porters were excellent, manoeuvring us through the pitch black cave slowly and safely. That said, there were some challenging areas with very sharp rocks and slippery areas. I loved it, but it was harder then I expected. The views inside where breathtaking and ever changing. When we reached a certain turn, in the huge cavern there was a sandy bottom like beach with a small river flowing beside us and the Captain had us all turn off our headlights for several minutes to experience the complete blackness inside. I have never experienced such darkness before. It was a bit scary, peaceful, and breathtaking all at the same time. After a few minutes the Captain came up very close to a couple of the girls and quickly turned on his light. It scared them in a very fun way. We then ventured out and continued through the jungle to Hang E cave.
When we arrived to Hang E, some of the crew already had a beautiful picnic spot set up right by the water. The area was
complete with a covered eating area and change area. Lunch was delicious. It was BBQ chicken with lots of veggies, herbs, and sauces, complete with rice paper. We were shown how to roll a traditional Vietnamese roll. There was lots of food and we all ate as much as we wanted along with the guides and porters, which was really nice.
After lunch we changed into our swim suits, put on our helmets and headlights again and jumped into the emerald water. The water temperature was around 17 degrees which was such a nice relief from the 36+ degree jungle. We then headed as a group swimming into the cave. It was magical. What a cool way to explore a cave: peaceful, refreshing, and beautiful. At the end of the cave we again turned off our headlights, this time talking to each other in the dark. After a few minutes we turned our lights on and were asked which way was the direction out. It was almost impossible to tell. We swam out and got ready for our hike back.
It was hot and steep, but easier then going down the mud. Once again, the guides were very
caring and doing their best to ensure everyone was safe. I have been lucky to have done many hikes and tours all over the world, and one of the things which was really nice about Jungle Boss, and set this trek apart, were the porters. Usually, when you do a trek like this you either rarely see the porters or have little contact with them. The porters on this trek where not only porters, but part of the team and very helpful and attentive to the needs of the group. They were helping group members frequently on challenging areas and joking around with everyone. This was a very nice bonus.
Once we hiked out of the valley we were rewarded with an amazing view of the mountains and park. We sat for a while taking it all in. Lastly, we continued back to the road where we were greeted with a cold beverage to celebrate a great day. Continuing back to the Jungle Boss headquarters to drop off gear, change, and be taken back to our accommodations.
It was clear that the staff at Jungle Boss really care about the park ecosystems, nature, caves and their guests. They
ask for, and really value feedback. They seem to constantly be striving to deliver a better product. I would highly recommend a tour with Jungle Boss. If you want to get away from the tourist sites and really experience the jungles and caves of Vietnam, look no further than Jungle Boss.
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