Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hidden Wonders Of The World

Traveling can be a bit disheartening at times. We all set out with a similar, simple goal: to see and do new things. This, however, is often easier said than done. Sometimes it feels like everything has been seen and done before (likely by millions of people before you) and it's just not the same as seeing something that hasn't yet been tainted by mass tourism. The tour I took today with the Phong Nha Farmstay offered us a rare chance to see sights that have only recently been discovered and that few people have had laid eyes on.

We started off by driving around the windy roads of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, one of three UNESCO World Heritage sites in Vietnam that only become open to the public in 2009. Already well-known for its abundant rock formations and caves, Phong Nha-Ke Bang was really thrown in the spotlight a couple of years ago when Son Doong, the largest cave in the world, was discovered there. We didn't get to see it (it's not open to the public) but we did get to see two other caves in the Park that were both astounding. 

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

As we entered the first one, Paradise Cave, I was immediately struck by its resemblance to Gringott's Wizarding Bank. It was enormous (certainly big enough for there to be a dragon guarding a vault somewhere) and filled with the most peculiar and fascinating types of stalactites. While I don't think I was fully capable of appreciating the cave from a geological or speleological perspective, it was wondrous nonetheless and had me in total awe.

Paradise Cave

Post-Paradise we stopped for a nice lunch and then did a small trek to a beautiful river where we spent a good hour swimming in clear, bright blue water. The best part was we had it all to ourselves!

Our swimming hole

After a relaxing swim it was time to visit a second cave: The Dark Cave.

While Paradise Cave was magnificent in every sense of the word, it was overflowing with Vietnamese tourists (albeit extremely friendly ones!) which took away a bit from the experience. That's why exploring the Dark Cave was my personal highlight of the day. (Unfortunately I have no photos from this part of the tour as we had to swim/there was nowhere to put a camera but it would have been too dark to see much anyway).

Bathing suits still on we drove to another part of the massive National Park, put on life jackets and head torches and jumped into some kayaks. After about ten minutes we arrived at the entrance of the cave, which looked like something straight out of an adventure or fantasy film. We got out of the kayaks, turned on our head torches and followed our guide into the cave which was, true to its name, definitely dark.

The Dark Cave didn't seem to have as much to offer in terms of amazing rock formations as Paradise but the fact that it was so dark and there was no one else around was just unreal. We went through some extremely narrow passages, our feet covered in squishy mud, and even had to swim some a pretty large portion of it. After going about 200m deep into the cave we turned around to head back but this time during the swim we all turned our head torches off, plunging us into almost complete darkness. Swimming in a massive cave in nearly pitch-black was one of the most freaky and awesome things I have ever done.

This was hands down the most interesting and unique tour I have done while in Asia, maybe even in all of my travels. Not only did it allow me to enjoy some of the most impressive natural beauty Vietnam has to offer that few other tourists have seen, it also made me realize just how much of the world we have yet to uncover. Just when we think we've seen or done it all, someone goes and discovers the largest cave in the world! I highly doubt I'll be discovering the largest anything in the world anytime soon but it's a great motivation to keep traveling, keep seeing and keep doing.

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