Vietnam by Moto Days 23-26: Jungles, Caves and Glamping with Oxalis

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.

Our Oxalis caving group before we set off.

Our Oxalis caving group before we set off.

About a km or so into the hike, we're about to enter the jungle

About a km or so into the hike, we’re about to enter the jungle

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Our first cave on Day 1. One of our porters has lunch set up inside. This cave was used a location for the upcoming King Kong movie.

Neat cave formation inside Rat Cave.

Neat cave formation inside Rat Cave.

 

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.

Lunch back at camp on Day 2 after a morning of cave swimming.

Lunch back at camp on Day 2 after a morning of cave swimming.

The cooking set up at camp.

The cooking set up at camp. Our dinner was an amazing pork BBQ, tofu with tomato, two different soups and so much more.

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Rob decided to try out a hammock the first night. I had a massive single tent next door.

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.

Better view of camp #1 with us.

Better view of camp #1 with us. Ken Cave is in the background.

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Awesome formation in Ken Cave rising from the water. A photo of this wona a National Geographic Contest, but required lots of professional lighting in addition to three porters swimming around it with headlamps.

Climbing to viewpoint in Ken Cave on Day 2.

Climbing to viewpoint in Ken Cave on Day 2.

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Swimming out of Ken Cave. Rob’s the slow poke in the water. The women are in the boasts near the cave entrance.

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Pool outside Tu Lan cave to begin my first swim and Rob’s second swim. The boats are for the other women.

Amanda investigating a formation in Tu Lan Cave.

Amanda investigating a formation in Tu Lan Cave.

 

Shadow poses. Guess which ones are Rob and me.

Shadow poses. Guess which ones are Rob and me.

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Silly Time before lunch. I was pretty enamored with all the shades of green and textures on these rocks.

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.

Climbing up a "stone spiral staircase" inside Hang Kim

Climbing up a “stone spiral staircase” inside Hang Kim

Cave Spider-Hang Kim Cave

Cave spider about the size of a man’s hand. This one was the biggest or the many we saw. If you shined a light around the caves, many glowing dots would reflect the light; tons of tiny eyes watching you.

Another entrance to Hang Kim.

Another entrance to Hang Kim.

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.

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Cave cauliflower? Our guide says this texture is a result of humidity. Secret Cave

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.

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