Discovered in 2009, the Tu Lan cave system is composed of eight caves (and counting) located 70 km northwest of the town of Phong Nha, near Vietnam’s border with Laos. Several caves were discovered just last year, so Tu Lan is still very much a new frontier and place of unexpected exploration – a rarity in today’s rapidly developing world. Last year, our Marketing Business Leader who is responsible for Diethelm Travel Vietnam’s marketing and communications activities, Ms. Nguyen Thi Hue has an opportunity to venture through the caves on a truly awesome experience with a small group, two Vietnamese and two Danish, our guide and two porters.
The first day we set off down a small road used by local farmers into the misty jungle, surrounded by towering limestone peaks with greenery dripping off the mountains – trees, bushes, vines and moss clung to every inch and crevice of the rock. Words can’t describe it and even pictures don’t do it justice. It was some of the most beautiful land I have ever seen.
The trek was picturesque to say the least and we had a lovely lunch provided. Arriving at the mouth of Rat Cave, we roped in and descended via ladder into the darkness below, passing some very big spiders along the way. We spent most of our time in this cave stumbling around in awe of the ancient, glittering rock formations. Eventually it was time to swim through the cave. It was totally dark around us and even with our headlamps we could not see further than an arm’s length which was a thrilling experience, lingering inside the cave until the guide drags you out.
We finally arrived at our campsite for the first night and found a watery paradise. We quickly jumped into the pools that had trickling waterfalls for a refreshing swim then explored the second cave before dark. After changing into dry clothes, we were treated to an amazing dinner cooked up by our porters: delicious spring rolls with grilled pork, steamed rice, stir-fried vegetables with beef, fruit and coffee. That night, I chose to sleep in a tent while others slept in hammocks.
The next day we gradually made our way home through another series of impressive caves. Though it was not the easiest of climbs, involving a fair amount of slogging through the mud and emerging from the cave dripping wet, we did great despite the fact that some had very little hiking experience. I just wished we had brought more clothes that dry quickly and that the army boots we were wearing were a bit lighter!
Aside from the natural beauty surrounding us, our guides and porters really made the trip memorable – they were very friendly and we always felt safe. Our guide, Thin, spoke excellent English, was knowledgeable and had a great singing voice. There were also two porters with us who didn’t speak English, but we managed to communicate through Thin and a good time with them too. The porters were real heroes carrying everything in the humid and slippery jungle wearing only their plastic sandals. In addition to carrying the camping gear, they were also responsible for cooking the meals, which were way better (and more filling) than I would have expected given that we were in the middle of the tropical jungle!
Knowing what to pack and having good gear makes a huge difference on this trip. Plan to bring:
Visiting the Tu Lan Caves in Vietnam was an absolutely once in a lifetime experience and I would recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a rural adventure – Tu Lan is definitely the place to be!
To learn more about Diethelm Travel’s cave and trekking experiences in Vietnam, click here, or book the 2 Days Tu Lan Cave Tour.