Get Wet and Explore Caves

Last week, I decided to spend my vacation in Phong Nha and explore some caves in the Tu Lan system. This trip had not been in my plan until my another oversea plan was failed due to the visa reason. It turned out an amazing trip and I am super happy with the fact that I missed the visa and spent time for this trip. You never know when a bad luck becomes a great joy then.

Note: I am writing my trip in detail and using the present tense, however, of course, it did happen last week.

First day

08.00 Two guides from Oxalis (the tour company) picks other guests and me in Phong Nha. We’re a diverse team: two Americans, two Asian-Americans, four Japanese, one British, one British-Bangladeshi, and one Vietnamese (only me). It seems weird when doing an adventure in Vietnam with just one Vietnamese. It’s interesting to know that Oxalis is founded with some win-win ideas: preserve nature, create jobs for locals, and provide excellent services for customers. Before that, locals chopped down trees in the forest and hunted animals illegally.09.30 We arrive the Oxalis office, and the guides give us some briefings. Interesting (and weird) caution: there may be snakes in the jungle and remember not to take selfies with them. LOL, during the trip, the guides said that this is from a real case when a customer used a GoPro stick and took a photo for a snake.


11.00 We start walking a bit and cross a river. It keeps raining for some days, and it may affect our trips. However, I still keep finger-crossed and hope that everything will be fine. We trek for some minutes then get into Rat Cave. The entrance is beautiful with some green plants. A fun fact: this cave is the home of King Kong in 2017. We have lunch here. Lunch is quite simple but delicious and so full for me. After that, we cross the cave with some introductions from the guides and… many bats.

Going out of Rat Cave.

14.00 Go out of Rat Cave, and it is raining again. The path is not easy, up up then down down. This difficulty makes me think a bit the trip conquering Fansipan; then I ask myself: what you are doing here with the terrible rain like this. I really want to go home rather than keep going. Luckily, it is just raining, and it is not so cold as my trip to Fansipan was some years ago.16.30 After a lot of effort with wet clothes, we reach the campsite. The campsite with tents is much better than I would expect. At least, I will not get wet, and I can sleep with these decent tents. We’re so happy to change dry clothes. Water in the river near the campsite is stronger and stronger. That means we’re not sure if we can go anywhere tomorrow. The rain keeps going, and it seems not to stop.

Water is stronger and stronger near the campsite.

18.00 The dinner is ready. Again, it’s better than my expectation. I did not think we could have a  so good dinner in a remote place such as this campsite.21.00 After some card games, we start sleeping. My toes are exhausted. Still not sure what’s next tomorrow.

Second day

07.30 Get up. I slept pretty well although the tent was hot and noisy with the river water and the rain. The river bank has reached very close to our tents. Yesterday, it was like 30 meters distance while today it’s just 10 meters.09.00 We have a quick breakfast and get the info that we will need to change the plan due to the strong water. We climb up to Kim cave, but we will not go through it as the original plan. We need to use some ropes before approaching the cave, which looks interesting and dangerous. A river inside Kim Cave is amazing. In the normal condition, it flows with the jade green water. Right now, it’s just brown.

Climbing up Kim Cave.

10.30 We come back and look like the water is decreasing. Wish us luck!13.00 After the lunch, we go back to the previous route. Well, the rain comes, then stops, then back. That’s so annoying and makes the trek so difficult.

Keep walking in the rain.

15.00 Then we go to a unique cave (Hang Son), which was just discovered last October by a cook in Oxalis. It takes 30 mins going up and 50 mins going down to/from this cave. The case has a lot of things like corals under the sea. They call them coral towers. Their experts said that they are very rare in other caves over the world. We needed to climb very high to this cave. Well, that means it used to be under the sea… millions of years ago. Oxalis will start opening this cave next year. We are the first tourists visiting it. That makes us feel quite special, or at least that’s how the guides try to ease our unfortunate situation. We turn off all of our lights, and then we can not see anything in the cave. It is completely dark. That leads us to understand the fantastic rescue in Tham Luang cave, Thailand recently.

Coral Towers?
In Hang Son Cave.
In Hang Son Cave, going through a small hole.

17.00 Finally we go to the campsite today without any swimming. The campsite is close to a river also and the water keeps increasing. Don’t know what’s next for tomorrow, we may swim a bit, or we may trek back the same route, which is very tired.20.00 In the evening, two guides talk each other a ton of exciting things: Son Doong cave and its ecosystem, other caves, dangerous stuff in doing their works, and even dealing with other internal teams. A lot! They are really passionate with their jobs. Son Doong is so special, and it’s the appearance of tons of knowledge from caving to history, geography, biodiversity, etc.23.00 After two card games, we go back to sleep.

Third (last) day

7.00 Wake up and the water does not want to decrease, which means more climbing for us.9.00 After the breakfast, we start slowly, and we are told that we will swim a bit. Look exciting!!! We climb up the mountain, then go to the Hung Ton cave. From the entrance of the cave, we can see the scene from King Kong movie. It is so high, but in 2010, this cave got flooded also, too terrible. The cave is under the mountain we have just gone over. If the water is not too high (again, blame the bad weather), we will cave through it, swim a few times. The cave is high, its ceiling may be 20-30 meters or even more. We spend time to discover it by going down a 15-meter-ladder. It is quite disgusting when two skeletons from 200 years ago were found here. Someone lived here!!! The guides show us some interesting info, with some fossils of snails. Wow, too much info.

Snail fossil.
15-meter-ladder in Hung Ton Cave.
The view from the entrance of Hung Ton Cave. Have you seen King Kong here?

12.00 We go back the entrance and start going down. Phew, there is no swim at all, we just walk across the river a bit.13.30 We go back to the Oxalis office at 1.30pm. After 48 hours, I can have some showers and use dried clothes. Happiness is quite simple.


The trip itself is great, but it will be nothing without great companions going with me: guide, porters, and other guests. That makes me think forward for the Son Doong exploring trip in 4 days 3 nights next year. The booking system has just been open for some days. $3000 for this trip really somewhat needs a lot of preparation. Let’s see in 2019!

Happy smiles after the exploration.

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