Emerging from the Cave

by hopesfrenzy

We donned our hard hats and head lamps, and marched through the cave, into the dim light. There was a river in here, that we had to cross, and as we scrambled up boulders and narrow dirt paths, our campsite came into view, far below. It was such a spectacular sight, in the fading light of day. There was a lake in the cave too. Our last crossing, we fumbled down the boulders and boarded a large air mattress that was ferried across the lake.

While (thankfully) we were not in Vietnam during the rainy season, the Hang En Cave adventure we were on reminded us just how central a role the annual floods play in Vietnam’s topography, agriculture, and history. The day before, we heard the story about how Doong Village was completely destroyed and had to relocate to the position where we had lunch. The rivers and valleys we were trekking through are all flooded in the rainy season.

And, most shockingly of all, Hang En Cave, the third-largest cave in the world, is almost complete submerged by flood. At the campfire that night, our tour guide showed us a large red bucket (size of a large trash can) that was perched high above us on the cave wall – along with a tree trunk! Remnants of a past flood, left frozen, stuck in time. We could barely see them they were so far away.

We slept in the darkness, well fed, and with bats swirling far overhead.

The next day, as the light poured in through the massive entrance that had caved in, we got ready for a hike through the rest of the dark cave, past the usual cave features, including some long dried step pools reminiscent of Yellowstone. But the main attraction was the other entrance… It truly took my breath away. The opening was gigantic, with a river below and the jungle and mountains beyond. There was also a monkey, hanging from a vine in the distance.

We marveled at this cave for an hour or so before heading back, grabbing our stuff, and starting the hike back, out of the jungle. Again, we crossed rivers and valleys, finding beautiful flowers, critters, and even stumbling upon a herd of cattle. We climbed a steep mountain, all the way back out of the jungle, finally reaching the road, where we removed our boots and the leeches we had picked up along the way. In the cool air, we each grabbed a celebratory beer to cap off an amazing experience.

Trekking with Stéphane
Location: Phong Nha, Vietnam

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