Enter Hang En
Hang En is the third largest cave in the world, after Deer Cave in Malaysia and Son Doong. On the website of Oxalis Adventure, the exclusive operator of the tour to Hang En and Son Doong, the two-day Hang En trip is listed as moderately difficult. For a poor athlete like me, this must be a hurdle to overcome. I spent a few weeks before going to practice and got a little nervous. But worry about it, worry about it, still go. In the end, I still covered the entire 25km.
After hearing the information and taking notes, we packed up and put our arms around us. Day 1 will be an 11km trek down a slippery slope from asphalt, through forests, wading streams, and passing through Doong village. Yang, the porter friend I was with, taught me to listen to howling apes, avoid snake nests, distinguish wild plants underfoot. The spring water was cool and clear, crept inside the shoes, making each step heavier.
Lullaby of the swallow
Reaching the mouth of En cave is almost afternoon. We put on our helmets, turned on our lights, put on gloves, and started climbing rocks inside. Looking at the campsite on the sandy floor next to the blue lake in the cave, illuminated by the faint rays of the sun, you can see how great nature is and this wonderful scenery. I jumped into the lake, immersed in the cool water. Is that already halfway there? Thousands of swallow nests overhead chirped, echoing from the rocky shores surrounding the cave. The bar was initially sharp, gradually becoming familiar. These must be the swallows we used to be in the spring, not strangers.
Dinner was just vegetable rice, fried eggs, simple but delicious barbecue, probably because we were so tired. After eating, the group sat by the tent listening to the guides and porters telling stories. Hang En was formerly inhabited by a tribe of swallow-eaters, who still come back every year to celebrate the festival. Quang Binh is truly an extraordinary place, a private land of caves and the lives within them. Sleep came quickly with swallows fluttering overhead.
Through the Wonderland
Day 2 starts with an excursion in Hang En. The underground river flowing in the cave creates many strange terrains, convex stone slabs and stalactites paint hundreds of abstract paintings on the ceiling. The back door of Hang En is a gurgling stream flowing between two rocky mountains with many shades of trees. Duong said there are only about 2km left from here to Son Doong. The 2km stretch may sound close, but it is not simple to get there. The cost to go to Son Doong is 60 million VND.
The way back out was initially quite easy to take. I was warned in advance about the tough slope at the end of the road, where a healthy person would climb 45 minutes. Everyone stopped to drink water and snack at the foot of the slope, shocking their spirits, preparing to fight gravity. Unlike the mountains I've climbed, where between the steep sections are flat sections, this slope gives no one a break. It's been more than an hour, and the vertical trails have been following each other!
I've never been so excited when I hear trucks on the road. The slope is coming to an end! I turned to look towards the forest, towards the Swallow Cave, at the beautiful wonderland I had just passed, like Alice looking back at the mouth of the rabbit hole. Thanks for everything, and look forward to seeing you soon.
Note when going to Hang En:
- Prepare a pair of well-drained sandals/hiking boots
- Remember to wear a hat in the cave to prevent swallows from pooping on the head
- Carry luggage lightly and minimally
- In the cave, use the composting toilet (you will be instructed)
- Absolutely do not litter on the road, in the cave, even just a piece of paper
- Wear closed clothing to avoid squeezing and insects
According to Oxalis