“I was halfway into a three-day hiking and swimming tour in what is fast becoming one of the world’s most popular caving destinations, a massive limestone formation 300 miles south of Hanoi,” Patrick Scott, a writer from The Wall Street Journal wrote.
Their expedition, run by Oxalis Adventure Tours, was painstakingly laid out by speleologists with extensive experience mapping cave and led by guides trained in first aid and water rescues. Most importantly, they weren’t in danger of surging waters because Oxalis doesn’t run tours in the rainy season.
“In the 909-degree heat and humidity, they walked from the Oxalis pavilion onto a concrete road built by the makers of Kong: Skull Island, filmed in the province in 2016, through a valley hemmed by lush peaks. They started with a hike up a mountainside to a dry chamber called Rat Cave, a lair for the movie monster and their setting for lunch,” The Wall Street Journal wrote.
After leaving Rat Cave, they hiked two hours down the mountain to our first campsite and their first swim, outside of Ken Cave. There, a one-story waterfall tumbled from the entrance forming their own private swimming hole.
The second day brought swims in three caves. First they were back in Ken, in their shirts, pants, boots, life jackets and helmets, pulling against the slight current. After 150 yards, they climbed out onto a ledge, slowly moving over muddy paths, dry sandy floors and spiky rocks. They came to a 2-foot high stalagmite like a baptismal font.
The Wall Street Journal advises travelers that Vietnam’s most popular caves are in mountainous Quang Binh province. As a base, most tourists use Phong Nha, about an hour drive from the nearest airport, Dong Hoi, which can be reached via multiple daily flights from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. From Da Nang, you can also take a picturesque, six-hour train ride along coastal cliffs north to Dong Hoi.
The number of tourists to Son Dong Cave in the first eight months of 2018 is estimated at 873. Of the total, 290 people came from the US, followed by 154 people from Vietnam, 76 people from Australia, according to Oxalis, the travel agent that hosts the tour.