Rob and I raided the remainder of the adventure budget for this one. In Hue, we signed up for a 3 day, 2 night jungle trek and caving tour from Oxalis called the Wild Tu Lan Explorer. (Crazy enough, we ran into two American cycle tourists doing the same tour leaving a few days earlier in Hue when I gave them them my leftover patch kit from Taiwan. We caught them again in Phong Nha post-tour.) We would visit 6 different caves, swim in at least 2 but up to 4, stay in two beautiful campsites and trek ~15 km through the jungle. Our group consisted of a couple from Austria/Germany, a trio from Stockholm and a couple from Germany/Switzerland in addition to our guide Vu and an array of porters/chefs, who carried most of our stuff, set up camp, cooked and composted our waste for us.
Day 1: Rat Cave, Camp in Tu Lan Valley
The Oxalis van picked us up at 8am and drove the group out to their Tu Lan base an hour away. There, we packed up our stuff, got assigned gear, including jungle boots, and signed our lives away. By 11am, everyone was ready and we began the hike across the first valley. The going was very easy thanks to a road put in by a movie company, who used the first cave as a filming location. After a couple km, the road ended at a river. Fording the river followed by a short hike brought us to lunch and the first cave.
One of our porters had laid out our picnic lunch in preparation for our arrival. Fried eggs sandwiches and tons of snacks tasted pretty good. They even had a variety of Vietnamese candies. After lunch, we explored the dry cave. The entrance was particularly neat.
After completing our first cave, we trekked through the jungle to camp climbing over two passes and through another valley to reach the Tu Lan valley. The trail was muddy and slick in some spots and rocky and slick in others. Some sections were also steep, which made the trail reasonably slow going.
We arrived at our beautiful jungle camp around 4pm. Everything was setup, so we could relax and enjoy the swimming hole with waterfall emerging from the mouth of a cave. Everyone took the opportunity to clean up and change out of our gross hiking clothing. Unfortunately the weather was cold with scattered showers so there was no hope of anything drying.
Dinner was a fabulous pork BBQ feast followed by games around the campfire until the happy water was polished off.
Day 2: Ken Cave, Tu Lun Cave, Hang Kim
After a breakfast of noodle soup, we had to pack up our things for the porters to carry for the second camp and prepare for a day of cave swimming. The first two caves before lunch were swimming optional. I boated the first with the rest of the women, then swam the second with the dudes. Swimming with boots and a huge life jacket added a new level of difficulty.
After lunch, everyone had to swim to get into the third cave, then we hiked out a different entrance leading to camp #2 and another river pool with waterfall.
At our new camp, we indulged in some basic bathing and cleaning clothes before drying out by the fire. Dinner was another feast with fried chicken, pork ribs, stir fried greens and beef wrapped in leaves. Everyone seemed more tired so we just hung out for awhile then folks went to bed early.
Day 3: Hung Ton Cave, Secret Cave
Rob and I both got sick in the night and didn’t sleep much (the swaying hammock does not help nausea), but managed to push through. The first cave, Hung Ton, required sections of walking and swimming followed by a really tall ladder. Going through the cave was a shortcut back to the second valley we hiked through. Just over the smallest of the three passes we climbed and we would be back in the valley we began in. We hiked most of the way back up then detoured to secret cave, a small cave with well-preserved formations, for snack.
After enjoying the cave for awhile, we headed back to the base for showers and gear return. The van stopped at a local noodle spot for lunch on the way back to town and we devoured steaming bowls of wonderful soup before passing out in the van on the ride back into town. Rob and I reached the hotel and promptly continued our nap until dinnertime. Since our stomachs’ hadn’t quite recovered, we enjoyed the tourist friendly Bamboo cafe with veggie dishes and peanut butter/banana smoothie.
The next morning we packed up and took the Ho Chi Minh highway north towards Hanoi.