Pot-Holing in Phong Nha
Updated: Dec 17, 2019
We decided that instead of going to one of the public caves here in Phong Nha, which get rather crowded, we would book on a day trip, do something different. We came across Greenland Tour’s one day Ruc Mon Adventure Trip. Would we be pot-holing in Phong Nha?
We got to Greenland Tours office in the morning, were given our green long-sleeved t-shirts, some socks and plastic shoes. I wondered whether we would get blisters, but they ended up being remarkably comfy for all the activities we were doing today.
There were 16 of us on this trip. I prefer smaller groups, but the pockets of people formed naturally, and we mainly chatted to people from Australia, Argentina and Switzerland. There were at least eight different nationalities represented on this tour. Our guide introduced himself; Gem as per a precious stone. And he was a gem; friendly, funny, informative and ensured that everyone had a great time.
Our bus journey took an hour through the beautiful Da Deo mountain pass of the Phong Nha-Ke Bang national park. We finally arrived at Yen Phu village, tucking our trousers in our socks for a very stylish look and ready for our adventure.
We headed off along fields and narrow paths where Gem would stop and show us various plants. Some we tasted, some we avoided, especially the Poison Ivy which, if you touch the underside, gives you a nasty rash for two to three weeks and best not to wash for at least three days, it makes the extreme itching worse.
What we did eat was leaves tasting of…um…leaf, a sour berry and some tried a tiny chilli. One look of their faces I refused. I certainly didn’t want to be walking with my mouth on fire. Tim was daft enough to have a nibble and turned a deep shade of red.
Gem also shared various Vietnamese customs and beliefs with us, including their twelve animals of the zodiac, which is slightly different from the Chinese version. He asked us all our year of birth to establish which animal we were, Tim is a Dragon, whereas I am a mouse, or am I a rat? We worked out that we are old enough to be everyone’s parents apart from Paul, from Australia, who looked relieved that we were older than him. (He never did divulge his age).
We traversed through babbling rivers and balanced across fallen trunks over stronger flowing streams. One guy fell in and was quickly hauled out by Gem and a few others. We passed by waterfalls, careful not to slip on the smooth and slimy rocks.
Gem quietly arranged to have one of his crew to be near the old lady to ensure she was safe and didn’t slip, Yes, I took full advantage of holding the hand of a nice young man.
After a few hours, we reached the camp, outside Ruc Mon Cave which was only discovered recently - what a privilege to be here.
An awning had been set up with a much-needed lunch laid underneath. Each person had a banana leaf with chicken, pork, tofu, bean shoots, salad, rice paper, peanuts and a spicy lemongrass sauce; for the one non-meat eater, I had four large steaks of fish, far too much for me.
After a quick rest, it was time for the main adventure. We were given hard hats and lights and started climbing up the rocky side of the karst, with the hollow cave underneath. We had 350 m to climb; it was mainly on our hands and knees. I took it slowly and eventually joined the rest of the gang at a gaping hole that we were going to enter. I did feel apprehensive; I’ve never experienced much physical adventure and was out of my comfort zone. I self-coached myself, slowed my breathing and ventured into the cave.
We walked down a long slope with a sheer drop to some wooden ladders to climb. As we ascended these, a vast cavity was below. Funnily enough, I was okay with this, I had two feet and two hands holding on. It’s the slopes going to blackness I don’t like. One slip and away you’d go.
Scrambling along a passageway, we arrived into a beautiful cave with huge stalactites and stalagmites, an area that looked like rice terraces, in white, gold and red. One of the guys called me over to look at a spider, the size of my hand. I think he expected me to be scared.
We descended some metal stairs, pot-holed between rocks, another long vertical ladder to a landing. The next ladder was even longer; wisely we were given harnesses connected to a rope.
I was last, patiently waiting my turn with three of the crew. I joked that they could carry me down, so one of them gave me a piggyback, not down the metal steps, I’m glad to say. I was very grateful for the assistance these guys gave me. It would have been extremely challenging without it.
At the next level, people were given life jackets, and many jumped off the rock, down 4 m into the refreshingly freezing water, as Tim described it. I climbed down a wooden ladder into a kayak. Despite having my bikini on, I just didn’t fancy getting cold, and after enjoying our kayak experience near Cat Ba, that was my preference. I still got a wet bottom after Gem sat on the end of the boat, letting in the cold water! Tim and the rest of the group floated out of the cave with cold, but joyful faces and much laughter.
After getting changed, we walked the shorter route back to the bus and was greeted by a group of delightfully smiling children. What a lovely end to a spectacular day. What a great group of friendly people. What a fabulous team from Greenland Tours, what a Gem!
And perhaps I have found my adventurous spirit at last!
(Thank you to many of the group for using some of their photos)