Amazing journey to Son Doong (Part 2)

I really don’t know how to start my story about the journey to Son Doong. I first heard about the cave in 2010, but at that time it was not open to the public so I totally forgot until early this year, back to 2014, when I was sitting behind a dining table with friends we were talking about different travel spots around the world.

All of sudden someone mentioned Son Doong, and few weeks later I surprisingly managed to book the tour. I did ask myself what motivated me that much to make a quick decision? Is it my wish to escape for a moment from the state of being stuck at home over the past two years? Or the great curiosity to discover something unusual, right in Vietnam, or just my pride to show how much I’m capable to do such a thing? Maybe all!

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Just before heading to Son Doong, we had a quick visit to Mr Ho Khanh’s house and made a group photo with him.

Now sitting at home, I still can’t believe how I did that, what I have been through.  I’m still overwhelmed with this journey, with what I witnessed over the past 7 days in Son Doong, with the mixed feelings. The first two days, back home, my whole body, especially my legs, my back were heavy like stones. I felt a little bit hurt even going up or down by stairs!

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I was struggling right from the beginning, while trekking steep downhill…

The journey is ideally recommended for everyone, who love the adventures, but looking at the level of difficulty, the possible dangers and the mental, physical challenges, I would recommend only those who are fit for hard long trek in the heat, rocks climb in the cave.

Talking to several members in our team, I realised some of them didn’t expect those challenges that we faced over the past few days. But honestly what we saw, what we have gone through, as Vietnamese say, it’s worth every penny, every bowl of rice! Believe me! 

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after steep downhill trekking, our path along the dead river valley
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During the flood season (Aug-Jan) the dead river revives an water can rise up to 20-30 m high…

 

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but in April the water looks like this…

I was struggling from the very beginning, partly because of the heat, but mostly – the steep downhill trekking through the jungle in my new 5-10 canyoneer shoe. It was hurting my toes. I was carrying only a camera bag with two lenses but after a short walk I had no choice shamelessly to pass it to Sweeney – one of our British caving experts and after that I was lucky to get Úy, my “assigned assistant” (who is actually one of two leaders of our “porter team”), he saved my life not only by carrying my bag until the last day of my journey, but also helped me moving through difficult passages in the dark cave.

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or up to our knee, hiking in the water refreshed me in the heat but later very bad for feet
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we had a short break at the village of Van Kieu minority…

When the first downhill trekking part over, probably in 2 or 3 hours with our damn slow speed, we continued our path, hiking through the shallow river, streams, water up to our ankle, knee but at other places, totally dry. In September, when the flood comes, the river can rise almost 20-30 meter high.

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we continued trekking along the stream or over the rocks…
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Porter team like jungle squirrels, quickly appear then disappear, left everyone far behind…

To me, this porter team, like the jungle squirrels carrying on their back the big 40kg blue cargo as bushy tail but they quickly appear and disappear from our sight. These young men are not only super fit but also extremely entertaining during our night camps. We are very thankful that they were with us all the time, carrying our food, our tents, encouraging us. We need their smiles and me – their Vietnamese with the musical accent, typical from this area of Vietnam.

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the last stop before Hang Én, right behind us
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One of the entrances to hang Én…
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Rock clim seemed hard but it was nothing compared to what we did later in Son Doong

 

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Some members claimed victory on the giant rock before going down to campsite in Hang Én
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view to Hang Én from that giant rock – our first campsite

 

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Hang Én, cave tunnelled out by Rao Thuong river and a home of thousands of swallows…
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Porter team prepared dinner near to water stream in Hang Én
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they were setting a camp fire to prepare big meal for us after long trekking day

              

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First night, first meal in the cave under the lamp with many bugs flying around

In my previous post about my preparation for this trip, I used materials from National Geographic, photo stock from Carsten Peter, a professional photographer, (oops! sorry without permission!) but all of them together with my amateur photos can draw only  small pictures of the true majestic beauty of the caves, the misted mysterious passage, the spectacular stalactites.

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The exit from Hang Én was selected for film location of Disney’s Peter Pan with Hugh Jackman
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During the flood season, river can rise to the rock where Adam, our cave expert stands
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My teammate at the exit of Hang En, imagine how tiny we are…

          

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Most beautiful trekking route to Son Doong, along the river valley…

   

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Depends on the season, we are lucky being accompanied by thousands of butterflies
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Mr Hồ Nguyên, older brother of Hồ Khanh, our cave guide, extremely fit despite his age

The first night in Hang Én was quite warm, but then cooler in the morning, my sleep was not that deep but after the breakfast, everyone were ready to continue the exciting journey to Son Doong, through the most beautiful river valley passage, along the crystal clear water streams, accompanied by thousands of butterflies. The hardest parts, the most amazing moments of our journey that would inspire all of us to come.

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