We ended our motorcycle trip through central Vietnam by coming in the ‘back door’ of Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Parkour jumping off point for an overnight trek/cave exploration adventure (yes, Mark agreed to go in caves!). ‘Kong: Skull Island’ was partially filmed here… Shauna looked for him, but only found this creature (video).

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.

The park was created to protect one of the world’s two largest karst regions with 300 caves and grottoes.  Karst topology generally refers to a landscape shaped by the dissolution of layers of soluble bedrock, in this case, limestone. Karsts are found all over the world, but this area is not only big, it is the oldest major karst area in Asia (formed about 400 million years ago).

The Sơn Đoòng Cave, which was discovered inPhong Nha-Kẻ Bàng in the 2009 survey by British and Vietnamese explorers, is considered the largest cave in the world. Even before this discovery, Phong Nha held several world cave records, including the longest underground river as well as the largest combined caverns and passageways.

While we didn’t go to Son Doong Cave (it’s a 5-day trip), we had a blast on our 2 day-1 night Tu Lan cave excursion with tour company, Oxalis.

Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park is one of the world’s two largest limestone regions. The karsts of Phong Nha can be traced back to the Paleozoic era, 400 million years ago. This makes Phong Nha the oldest major karst in Asia.

Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park has some of the most stunning scenery we saw in Vietnam… jungle-covered hills, mountains, and caves dotted with waterfalls and crisscrossed by rivers.

We stayed at a lovely little resort developed by Oxalis called Chay Lap Farmstay.

It was a beautifully landscaped little oasis (video) that backed up to densely jungle-covered mountains.

The restaurant served surprisingly good meals… and it gave us the opportunity to try snakehead fish for the first time.

Our lovely trekking group hailed from Australia, Austria, England, Hanoi, and Denver; our guide, Khoa, was local and awesome. We have been on several small group, “pot luck” tours, and – no hyperbole – this was one of the BEST groups we’ve ever had the pleasure of touring with. Such enjoyable company, quick wits, interesting, intelligent, funny, fun and compassionate people… a really great tribe to muck around in the mud with.

The Oxalis team was professional and well-organized, and briefed us regarding our upcoming cave trek. Oxalis is the sole tour operator and investor in Tu Lan cave system, an area about 70km out of the park where we trekked. No other tour company has the rights to bring travelers through there, so we were truly in a remote wilderness area with no one else around but our fellow trekkers, tour guides, and porter team.

An overview of the two day trek.

A list of the “dangers”, including not ‘controlling ourselves’ (video).

Shauna was a bit anxious about item 3, in particular.

Leeches or not, we’re ready!

We hiked past locals working in the fields (video).

We hiked past the water buffalo ‘hotels’.

The scenery was lush and gorgeous.

And then we started up….then down….then up….then down…. The hiking to the caves proved much more difficult than we had imagined it would be. It wasn’t far in distance covered, but it was rugged (video)!

The hiking was challenging, primarily because the footing was slippery and the rocks were sharp.

The gloves helped minimize the cuts and scrapes to our hands.

And a backward hat helped us see uphill.

Our first wet cave entrance (video)….a river runs through it…

That same cave entrance from inside.

Our intrepid band at the mouth of one of the caves. Soggy was the word of the day…

…and of the night.  Our porters were professional, hard-working and fast.. thank goodness as they had to move our tents twice during the night. The river rose quickly due to heavy rains in the mountains.

The entrance to another cave, and Shauna climbing out (video).

The caves contained beautiful formations of stalactites and stalagmites….

….terraces of infinity pools….

…and tight spaces…..

…that all of us made it through.

We found an evolving species….

Well, maybe still primitive.

Hiking out of the last of the 4 caves we explored.

The first flatland in two days.

Crossing the swollen river that we had forded by foot just the day before.

Not just soggy on day 2, but a bit muddy as well.

Okay, extremely muddy… due to this!!! (funny video).

The water buffalos were not impressed.

Who cares what they think.  We had an awesome experience!!!!