Trek to Hang En cave

Apr 25, 2015

Phong Nha-Ke Bang national park in Vietnam is one of those special places. It is there you can find the biggest cave ni the world, Hang Soon, and also the 3rd largest. I went to the largest one on a 2-day trek with Oxalis Adventures, the only company authorized to get there. Although it would make a significant cut in a backpacker budget - $300 for 2 days - it was money really well spent. I had a hell of a good time. And I flew my drone in a cave for the first time!

Phong Nha is about 500km south of Hanoi. After my 2 weeks riding in north Vietnam - You can read about it here - I bought a motorbike and headed south. I met a Dutch girl in Hanoi, Maria, and we decided to meet again there to do the trek. Oxalis has a limit of 16 people on this trek and most of the time it is full so I highly recommend you book in advance. And if you tell them where you're staying, they will come pick you up in front of your hostel/hotel/guest house. The whole group met at the Oxalis office at 8:30am for a security briefing. Everyone got a chance to introduce themselves. We had a pretty diverse group with people from Holland, Unites States, England, Scotland, Spain and Australia.
Once everyone had set up their backpacks and was ready to go, we jumped on a minibus a drove 1 hour to the starting point. You can find a list of what to bring on the Oxalis website. most important being good hiking shoes - although they can provide you some shoes too - and light clothes that dry quickly. A long sleeves shirt turns out useful when hiking in the jungle.

We started around 11am, and the first part pretty much goes down hill until you reach a small area in the valley. Since we were going to go back the same way, I think we all had in mind that we will have to go back up the whole distance we just hiked down hill... But this was for the next day, let's enjoy the present and a good lunch cooked by our porters. They were 6 for the whole group, some would carry the food and cooking supplies and others would carry the tents. When you get tired on the way and see them carry those huge bags on their backs that must weight a ton - at least - you really don't feel like complaining at all and suck it up and keep going.
After lunch we walked to a small local village. We stooped there for a while, met the chief of the village and our guides gave us a little tour. It was quiet remote but they had a small school, consisting of one class room where the 7 students of different age will attend and learn. 

Our awesome porters preparing our lunch

Then we started to hike in the valley and that's when it became so beautiful. There was a lot of river crossing and it was so hot that it actually felt real good to walk in the water even with your shoes on. The river crossings never got too deep, just up a bit above your knees, and yes, your knees not mine (I'm 6"8 - 2m05). While walking in the valley we were surrounded by this dense jungle with huge trees and the river running along, it was just... wow!

Aerial view

After another 2-3h of hike and an ultimate river crossing, we reached the entrenace of the cave. Our guides had given us our helmets right after lunch, so then they gave us our headlights and we started wlaking to wards the darkness. There was some rocks to climb up on before getting to an amazing view, a massive cave opened in frot of us. It is hard to describe since it is a hole so you'll have to see it for yourself to get a feeling. The other exciting part beside the fact that this cave is just huge, is that there is a natural pool. And after a long hike like that it feels so good to just relax in the water in the third largest cave in the world - not bad - I've been to worst pools.
In the evenening we enjoyed some nice diner cooked by our porters and guides before goign for a well deserved night of sleep in our tents.

The cave

The natural pool

One of the entrance of the cave
Enjoying a delicious diner

The next day, after a good breakfast we went further in the cave for some more exploring and walked the other entrance of the cave from where you can walk to the biggest cave in the world. When we got back to the camp site I took out my drone for some flying fun. Although the cave was huge, I was a bit stressed but everything went fine. It was exciting to fly in a cave, There was a pretty big opening at the top so there was enough light coming in to film. We then started to head back the same way we came. I asked ine of the guides if it would be possible for me to film some more with my drone in the valley, and he was kind enough to wait for me although the rest of the group kept walking. So we had to walk at a faster pace to keep up with them before they reach the lunch area. The last bit of the hike, back up to where we started was streinous; The heat made it very hard to hike up and we made several stops on the way, trying to keep well hydrated. Everyone went at their own pace and we all made it. The best part was the cold beer waiting for us at the end... I hadn't enjoyed a beer so much in a while.

The biggest of the 3 entrances of the cave

A little group picture

The entrance from which we entered the cave

Aerial view of the cave

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is a beautiful place. And if the price of this trek is out of your budget, there is other nice caves that you can go visit on day trips. On the other hand, if you can afford it I would highly recommend you to take this tour as it is a great experience and you'll have great memories, photos and videos to bring back with you.

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