15 March 2016

One Adventure Fits All: Why Vietnam’s Caves are Everybody’s Travel “Must”

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The Phong Nha, Vietnam caves are not reserved only for adventure travel experts. Buffalo’s admitted adventure travel novice talks about why the caves are an absolute must for everyone!

“I’m scared of spiders!”

“I’m not very outdoors-y.”

“I’m not really a camping kind of person.”

We urbanites always have a few catch-all excuses for why we’d rather skip that camping or hiking excursion and stay indoors. I have a few favourites (“I can’t remember where I left my trekking boots”), and whenever my more adventurous friends try to convince me to head off on a rough-and-tumble excursion, I’ve always got a few locked and loaded.

Most of the time, I don’t feel too guilty about it. There’s plenty to explore in my chosen home town of Hanoi (especially for the culinary adventurers out there) and I consider myself adventurous in other ways. Plus, when I do depart the city, it’s usually in search of some of Vietnam’s coastal gems where I can read a book in peace.

But sometimes, I have no good excuse not to tick something off of my bucket list.

And even as an avid city explorer and lover of some concrete jungle adventures, I can say that my trip to the caves in Vietnam (referred to locally a Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park) were most certainly worth the blisters, the soggy clothes and yes… even the spiders.

For all of those other travellers bound for Vietnam in the near future, here’s why a trip to central Vietnam’s incredible caves are absolutely, positively worth departing your comfort zone.

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Vietnam caves – a bedroom to die for

I’ll be the first to say it – there’s nothing better than a dry, soft and warm bed to curl up in for a night’s sleep. But sometimes, doing without the fluffy pillows for an evening is a small price to pay for waking up in one of the world’s most spectacular landscapes.

Because the cave system is so big, those who explore the inner-workings of Phong Nha’s caves are unlikely to do so without a night’s sleep in the depths of the jungle. For lovers of creature comforts, the prospect sounds rough, but consider this: “peace and quiet” reaches entirely new levels when you’re surrounded by the rustle of trees, the chirping of birds and little else.

Pair that with a campfire and a hammock, and you might find yourself warming to the idea of camping after all.

(Photo credit: Ryan Deboot)

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Caves with a dose of culture

Though this central region of Vietnam is home to the world’s largest cave, Son Doong, it’s also home to a whole host of culture. In fact, this region was at the epicentre of wartime conflict back in the day, so entire swaths of the region are off-limits with unexploded ordinances buried deep within the jungle floor. You won’t need to worry about that, as you’ll be along a safe beaten track – but just the knowledge of this region’s spectacular story is enough to make you feel that the trip is worth it.

Tour guides here are incredibly knowledgeable about the history of the area, and are great reservoirs of knowledge about life during the war. Many have grown up in the area, and can still tell you stories about what life was like during and after the unrest in the 1960s and 1970s. So if you grow bored of the scenery (which you probably won’t), history buffs will have plenty to look forward to in a chat with a guide.

(Photo credit: Ryan Deboot)

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Step foot where few have stood before

Though central Vietnam’s caves were catapulted into the public eye shortly after their discovery, Son Doong Cave (the largest in the world) was uncovered by a local man less than a decade ago – which makes them one of the youngest world record-holders on the globe. Though tours into Son Doong are extremely limited, exploring the other caves in the area still offers a sense of untainted discovery.

If you visit, you’ll have the privilege of knowing you were one of the first to see this incredible place for yourself. But remember: as one of the first, you set the standard for how the cave it treated. Treat it with respect, and it’ll return the favour seven-fold!

(Photo credit: Ryan Deboot)

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Beaches and river cruises… underground

What makes a trip to the caves here go beyond just the stalagmites and stalactites (though those are worth the journey in and of themselves). Even before the discovery of Son Doong cave put this region on the map for global adventurers, the British Caving Association already recognised Phong Nha for having no less than four record-holding features: the longest underground river, the broadest and most beautiful fine sand beaches inside the caves, the highest and longest cave, and the most spectacular stalagmites and stalactites.

Expect to experience the first two, firsthand – and let’s be honest, there’s nothing cooler than spending some time lounging on a beach dozens of meters underground. Between all of that climbing, trekking and swimming, you’ll have plenty of down-time to explore the underground rivers by boat, too – which weave through magical underwater passages that hardly look like planet earth. This is nothing less than the cruise of a lifetime!

(Photo credit: Ryan Deboot)

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A workout worth the effort

There are some things in life that take a little bit of extra effort to have the privilege of experiencing. Vietnam’s cave system is one of those things – and if you thought the promise of an extra candy bar was incentive enough to hit the gym, then witnessing one of the world’s largest cave systems is most certainly worth breaking a sweat.

I won’t sugarcoat it – the journey into the depths of Vietnam’s caves isn’t always easy. There are challenging bits that require some basic climbing, crawling and even swimming – but all if it connects the dots between massive caverns that’ll have you at a loss for words. So strap on those trekking shoes – there’s never been a better reason to do it!

Make the Vietnam caves experience part of your Vietnam highlights journey. For beginners to hardened adventurers alike, there’s a little something to love for every kind of traveller! Ask our expert travel team how to create a custom journey including a cave excursion just for you.