Back from a great trekking trip to a brand-new cave named Hang Va, one of hundreds of caves in Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park, I left my soul somewhere in the cave. My mind keeps thinking about the magic stalagmites growing up from the ground. I couldn’t believe such an extraordinary cave has been existing in this world.

The magic stalagmites in Hang Va

I heard about Hang Va via a few online articles written by some reporters following the British expedition team to Hang Va. I was really excited when seeing the photos taken by Ryan Deboodt and talked to my self I had to go there once in my life. I have been dreaming to explore Son Doong Cave – the largest cave in the world one day. But when time, health and finance are still under my consideration, Hang Va is a perfect alternative. When I knew Hang Va expedition was about to open on July 17, 2015, I registered to join the tour right away, and my name was luckily added to the first visitors’ list.

Before the trip, I was a bit worried about a 2-day and 1-night trekking and camping in the jungle because the website of the tour company (oxalis.com.vn) says that visitors have to trek more than 10 kilometers, climb over a 150-meter-high hill, walk along a 3-km-long river in the cave. The river water is rather cold, at 17 degree Celsius. Some parts of the river are also rather deep, about 1.5 meters. But I thought other people can  do it, I could, too. Why not?

Then came the exciting day. We were gathered at the Oxalis office at 8:30 a.m., and provided with necessary footwear and equipment for the trip. Cave expert from Britain Howard Limbert also gave us a briefing about the caves we would explore – Hang Va and Hang Nước Nứt – as well as the itinerary we would follow during two days and one night in the jungle.

Cave expert Howard Limbert giving a briefing about the caves

At this time, I was even more excited to know I was the only woman in the group and the first woman visitor to Hang Va (the first woman to go there is Deb Limbert). After the briefing, we were taken to the drop-off point at Km 28, West Ho Chi Minh Trail, where we started trekking to the jungle.

Ankit Gupta, a visitor from India

There we were provided with helmets, gloves and lamps and started to explore Nước Nứt cave. After entering the cave gate, we had a picnic lunch prepared by a porter named Mr. Tu. They called it a picnic lunch but I thought it a big meal with bread, cheese, fresh rice paper with pork, vegetables, yogurt and cold drinks. There’s a special kind of sauce made with salt, chili and herbs that is like no other. It was very very delicious. We couldn’t be happier to enjoy our meal.

Mr. Tu preparing lunch

Then we set off in the cave for around 2 kilometers to explore the beautiful formations, enormous passage and underground river. The Oxalis team arranged great photographic opportunities at different places in the cave for visitors to capture the valuable moments inside.

Cuong, a visitor from Hanoi, Vietnam

After about two hours exploring, taking photos in Hang Nước Nứt, we left the cave and climbed up a steady hill to our camping site. When climbing, we were taken care by our tour guides Dũng and Thắng who showed us where to step on, where to put our hands and where to watch out our heads. We all felt safe to follow them. At about 5:00 p.m., we arrived our camping site in front of the entrance gate to Hang Va. Tents were all set up, each of us had one private tent. I chose the tent in the middle. That was the first time I slept in the jungle and in the middle of “cave men”. We took a swim in the underground river inside the cave before having dinner, a really big meal with all kinds of food and I couldn’t think they were able to bring them all there to cook for us.

Ready to explore Hang Va

The next day started with coffee, tea, fried rice and instant noodles. We then put on our harness and started to enter Hang Va. It was rather difficult at first because we had to climb down the hill with the help of the harness and ropes. Again, Thắng and Dũng were always there to show us how to move step by step safely. After entering the cave, we waded along the underground river, we found some plants and animals. Most of them are white because there is no sunlight inside the cave. We then continued to walk along the underground river to a small sand bank. Here, the Oxalis team set up lights and models for us to take photos. Howard knew it would be an amazing scene to take photos, he asked a guide to stand at the back and another one to stand in the far front to provide more light for photo shooting.

An Oxalis porter helping us with magic light for photography

He himself wore a red T-shirt and acted as a model. We couldn’t miss this valuable opportunity. All cameras started shooting.

Howard in red T-shirt, acting as model

Leaving that amazing scenery, we started to climb the sparkling rocks inside the cave with the support of harness and ropes to the most expecting place of the trip. Before entering that second-to-none place, Howard gave a simple rule, that of us had to move a long the ready-made iron steps. Failing to do so, we would be forced to leave the cave immediately. We seriously followed the instruction to move ahead, a fanciful scenery appeared in front of us. I couldn’t believe I was standing there staring at every piece of the stalactite! Thousands of stalagmites, like the bamboo shoots growing up from the ground, surrounded by meandering calcite borders. All in darkness made me feel like a mysterious castle buried in the ground. Thrilling, amazing and fascinating! We didn’t want to leave the place at all. Before we went in, Howard said the maximum time to explore the cave was 4 hours, but actually we did more than 5 hours. We expected to stay there more but we had to leave or we would not get out of the jungle before dark.

Hang Va entrance gate

We got back to our campsite to have lunch, then climbed over the hill to the trailhead. Our van and driver were waiting for us there with cold drinks! What could we expect more? We cooled down for a while and got in the van, heading to Oxalis office to take a shower and have a small farewell party before we left Phong Nha. We left but thought we would come back to join more adventures and expeditions to explore more caves with Oxalis.

Now I’m back to work, sitting at my desk, thinking about Hang Va… and suddenly I realize that I lost my soul in the cave…

See the video clip here should you want to see more photos from the trip

Hue, July 20, 2015