Was I unprepared for the citadel at Hue? Yes. Was I unprepared for the day’s caving adventure? Definitely! We did a a 2 day hike in the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park where we explored 4 caves and camped near a waterfall. This was a true adventure. We went with a group called Oxalis and hiked with 8 other people. This company is great and if you want some adventure while you are in Vietnam, contact them.
Here is how their website described what we would be doing:
- 12 km jungle and mountain trekking, rocky terrain
- Elevation change up to 150m (between valley and top of mountain)
- 1 km swimming in caves (from 200m – 500m each cave)
- 3 km caving
- 2 days and 1 night in jungle and caves
I never looked at this itinerary closely. When the guide asked me to swim in a cave filled with cold water, wearing a helmet with a headlamp on it, I was a little surprised. You can look at the itinerary to see the play by play. We had access to some incredible caves which are not often trafficked. Occasionally, our guide would ask us to turn off our headlamps. There is something ethereal about floating in water without any light. I will say that when I was swimming and the bats began swooping toward us, I was more than a little freaked out. You know they are close to you even if you cannot see them, because you can see the bats flying near others as well.
There is a lot to write about in this part of our trip. There is a funny story about Sam ordering the vegetarian option and not believing he ordered it. This meant he got specially prepared meals even though he also ate the standard menu over the 2 days. Admittedly, we all shared the vegetarian food and there was a sauteed pepper dish that was very good. There is also the story about Sam spotting jungle rats in the composting toilet, which led me to not go to the bathroom before bed.
When we returned to camp after our first cave, I felt wonderful. I was having a coffee by the water and it was the first time on the vacation, (maybe in months) that I took some time to reflect. The sound of the waterfall and the ripples in the water forced my mind into meditation.
In recent weeks I focused a lot on things that made me unhappy. A lot of that related to work, but there’s a lot that upsets me about the world. In that moment at the waterfall, I pictured and appreciated the things that bring me happiness. Whether it was Sam or making others laugh with a stupid story, I lost myself in those thoughts. The sound of the waterfall, the chilled wet sand under my feet, the sweet 3-in-1 instant coffee, and an exhausted mind offered me peace. It was magical.
I do have one regret. On our first day we had a picnic lunch and we had a sauce that I did not have any other place in Vietnam. It was a salty herbal sauce that our guide told us was only available in the local province of Quảng Bình. I wish I wrote down the name of that sauce. It was like a Vietnamese chimichurri. It was very good and when added to the inside of a spring roll it made that already delicious dish amazing.