Exploring caves in Vietnam to find peace
In July, Kim and I were lucky enough to take a three week holiday in Vietnam without our two boys. Kyle and Ethan spent a month with my family in the UK thanks to my Uncle and Aunt who treated them to a holiday of a lifetime.
Inside Tu Lan Cave Vietnam - Illuminate your soul
So while the boys were overseas we took advantage of the break to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary a few months early. Vietnam and Koh Samui (Thailand) were the front runners for a destination but in the end Vietnam won out for the variety of options available.
What we quickly learned when planning a trip to Vietnam is that it is a BIG country and there are thousands of MUST DO options. So we wrote a list, culled it, culled it again and finally cut it done to our must do's for our first visit to Vietnam. I say, first because we fell in love and are already planning a return trip in 2018 to take our boys to this beautiful country.
So as we planned our trip we had a few things firmly in our minds. We wanted some adventure, we wanted to explore and we wanted some chill time, to actually celebrate our 20+ years together.
One of the things we learned from our first big trip to Europe in 2000 was you start at the busiest places and gradually end up at the quietest places.
So our final itinerary ended up as follows.
Ho Chi Minh 1 night (this was essentially a crash pad due to flight scheduling)
Hanoi 3 nights
Halong Bay 2 nights
Hanoi 1 night
Phong Nga 1 night
Trekking 2 nights
Dong Hoi 1 night
Hoi An 6 nights
We absolutely loved Hanoi, a busy and thriving city that makes road crossing a non-contact sport. The food in Hanoi is just awesome, especially the street food which is so cheap and so so good.
Halong Bay, in fact we spent most of our time in Bai Tu Long the same but less crowded, was wonderful but very limited as it is highly restricted in the places you can visit. Still a must do.
The highlight of our trip was a planned two night trek in the jungles and caves near Phong Nga (which is about 45-1hr from Dong Hoi in central Vietnam). We flew from Hanoi to Dong Hoi with Vietnam Airlines.
We had considered the well worn path to Sapa for a trek, it certainly seems to be on the must do list for many people. We choose our trek with Oxalis in the Tu Lan Cave System for several reasons.
Firstly, we knew this would probably be our first trip to Vietnam and perhaps the only one without our boys. Oxalis do not take children under 16 on public tours (you can take experienced kids on private tours). Sapa we can take the boys no worries.
Secondly, we do like being off the well worn tourist path. Our trek included just seven trekkers (including us), plus a guide and porter. It was a fantastic small group experience.
Thirdly, we were looking for a physical challenge and this two night, three day trek fit our goals. It wasn't easy but also wasn't back breaking. We loved it, although there was plenty of cursing on day one in particular.
Finally, we had seen some breathtaking photos from the caves of Vietnam, we wanted to see them first hand.
So as we set off for our trek we walked out of the village on flat ground for a couple of kilometres before crossing a river and into our first cave. This cave called "Rat Cave" was a nice taster but in all honesty, today as I write this, the only thing stuck in my memory is the entry to the cave.
The best caves were saved for day two. On day two we awoke on the riverbank with a waterfall before us just below the entrance to Ken Cave. After breakfast we walked up to the mouth of the cave and then swam in.
Swimming into a pristine river cave is a life changing moment, it was stunning. We gently swam upstream into the darkness of the cave. Our guide ### was highly experienced in guiding photographers to the very best shots in each of the caves. Lucky for me, I was the only photographer on the tour and I had packed so I could carry my DSLR where ever were.
Yes, I did swim into the caves carrying my big and heavy Nikon D800. It was worth the risk and that is why you have insurance. That said, it was in four, yes four dry bags and I had a profusion of silica gel on hand to suck up any excess moisture.
"Tranquility Cave" was one of the first images I captured inside the caves, it remains my personal favourite. It brings to life the scale and detail in the caves. To capture it we climbed up onto a rock platform that overlooked the water out towards the entry. Lien, our porter then swam back out part way to help with a point of interest and also for scale.
After we finished up exploring the cave we headed back into the water, we weren't in a hurry and as we were wearing buoyancy vests we literally floated back out on our backs in the slow current of the river.
I had found my tranquility, with my ears under the water as I stared up at the ceiling of the cave, I was perfectly calm, relaxed. I was tranquil. It was a truly beautiful moment. The celling rolled by slowly for almost 30 mins as we made our way back out of the cave.
Our trip to Vietnam held many memorable moments but I don't recall anything so tranquil.
Tranquility Cave, takes me back to that peace, the flowing water, the beauty of the incredible cave ceiling.
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Have a wonderful week
Inspire | Live | Travel
PS You can check out the rest of my Vietnam Collection here.
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