Our journey through Vietnam comes to an end tomorrow after a little over 3 weeks. Since getting here, we've been going non-stop, jumping from one adventure to the next, making the most of our limited time. Of note, we stopped in the modest town of Phong Nha for a week. For a town so small, it boasts some of the world's largest and most beautiful caves.
The first one we explored was Hàng Én, currently the third largest. To get there, we had to hike 10 kilometers in the jungle, crossing streams and hopping rocks. We learned that where there is limestone, there is potentially a cave. This one in particular has a beach planked by 2 bodies of water, deep enough to dive into. On one side, the water comes from underground, stagnant, but fresh and cool; on the other, the water comes from a river, flowing and warmed from the sun. Needless to say, we lost no time getting in, cannonballs underway. Dinner was served soon after, a feast of sorts consisting of roasted pork, fried chicken, sautéed morning glory, scrambled eggs, vegetable soup. We dined like kings. Our source of entertainment was singing along to pop music on a Samsung tablet connected to a pocket bluetooth speaker. At night, we retired to our tents, which lined the shore of the beach. Lights from within illuminated the otherwise dark, hollow earth. You get a giddy feeling knowing that only a dozen other people are there, sharing in such a magnificent sight. The next morning, the sun slowly crept in, bringing with it natural light and life. We put on our helmets and gloves and hiked farther in to find a large gaping hole on the other side. If we closed our eyes and turned our heads, we might not have known which way was up, which way was down. Hiking out was easy, but for the last hour of straight uphill climbing.
Immediately the day after, we joined a 4-day, 3-night expedition that led us through 30 kilometers of dense jungle. Hidden within it is a cave system known as Tú Làn, explorable by abseiling, inner tubing, and swimming. Trekking through was like living a scene out of Jurassic Park, a veritable amusement park for adults. Each day was hot and humid and full of mosquito stings - we must have had at least a hundred bites among us all - but rewarded with a refreshing dip in nature's swimming holes. I couldn't help imagining myself as a true explorer, not knowing what awaited me at every turn.
There really are no words to describe the experience. The only other thing I could say is to make sure to include a visit to Phong Nha the next time you find yourself in Vietnam. It's worth the time and the money.