Amazing journey to Son Doong (Final)

The first night at the campsite in Son Doong, before dinner, we had a plenty of time, the scenery – very extraordinary, fascinating to watch. I hardly believed in what I saw here – the extreme enormous space in mist, the ruins of gigantic rocks, surely from the fallen roof of the cave, occurred millions millions years ago, the huge golden alien stalactite on the other side, the unusual air in the cave, the sound from the underground river deep down in the dark abyss along the campsite, the mysterious atmosphere…then the smell of human sweat after a day-long hiking, no bath, the smoke from the kitchen, the human voice – everything around giving me a special feelings that would be hard to experience again anywhere else in my life.

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         One of my favourite sceneries in Son Doong – look like we just landed on Mars! 

After the first day, I told myself “this’s an arduous journey so better take a good care”, I wished nothing bad happened during my journey, like injure myself by falling down, or twisting my ankle, or even getting a cold as I kept wearing the wet clothes all the time.

Our hiking always across very rough, rocky ground, underground river, some of my toes covered in blisters, one nail has been hurt, that’s why I preferred climbing over the rocks, going uphill was extremely tiring but at least I won’t torture my toes while trekking steep downhill.

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Right after each day-long trekking we tried to dry up our clothes, shoes for next trail.

The other challenge I and everyone were facing was to wear the same wet dirty clothes, wet shoes, wet shocks…from yesterday trekking, for another long trekking next day. I probably was not well-prepared, carried not enough light clothes, and it was almost impossible to dry up over night even we hung up our clothes next to the fireplace, bearing in mind that I would be wet again and again during hiking, I had to accept. The feeling to wear the dirty wet clothes early in the morning in the cave was really discomforting.

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             Another mind-blowing scenery that stay with me for very long 

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Our next trek continued throughout the passage where you see a dim light on the right

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         Another day of our adventure, exit from the first doline to another campsite.

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                  I wished to have more time to refresh myself in this super cool pool.   

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    Our pit stop – the porters carried on their back over 40 kg, that was food, tents, meds…

I remember after the 1st night in Son Doong we continued hiking to the next campsite through the very steep uphill jungle, while resting at the pit stop, I looked up to that steep hill – I goggled at the path and really obsessed with the thought of trekking back in this same route again, I felt desperate. Luckily we took another way back…

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        We were trekking steep uphill and then downhill to our next campsite in Son Doong

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                        The impressive terrace in the cave at the doline 2…

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       The spider webs and we actually saw a tiny white spider in Swallow cave 

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      Before descending down to the 2nd campsite in Son Doong (Photo by Chris Miller)

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The white sand “beach” in Son Doong – one of the world’s best campsites (Photo by Chris Miller)                                                                                                                   

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    Deep inside was the passage to the Great Wall of Vietnam – the end of Son Doong cave. 

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          In this section of our journey we first experienced the total absence of light…

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           This section was most relaxing but very impressive as we trekked in mud. 

The second day in Son Doong continued with the next morning trek to the last part of the cave. I would say it was the most relaxing moment in our journey but could be the most impressive, we first experienced the absolute darkness, we saw the cave pearls, unusual water baskets which formed millions millions years ago… and my indescribable feeling while trekking through a very tiny muddy passage, along both sides were very high, wet hills like pyramids, one after another, and in the darkness.

From time to time some members tried to write either their name or initials on that wet soft pyramids. I was told this part from Nov to Feb – always full of water, so they need a boat to get in. This part of Son Doong has been named “Passchendaele”(!?).

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           The water basket (!) we saw some tiny white shrimp, white worm in it.   

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                            The side of the basket was thin but hard as rock.

We couldn’t take the camera with us as in this section was muddy and very slippery so we were recommended to leave our camera outside and continued our trail to the Great Wall of Vietnam. The Great Wall of Vietnam, that how they call the huge eighty meter high stalagmite which blocked the exit or another entrance to Son Doong, when we turned off all our headlamps, we could see some dim daylight from the outside on the top of the wall.

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                               The cave pearls which formed millions millions years ago.

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              The Great Wall of Vietnam -the end of Son Doong (photo by Carsten Peter)

If Oxalis, the only adventure tour agent organised the trip to Son Doong, wants to create the trek through this wall for visitors, they may need to invest some facilities which could cost them million US dollars. And if it happens in the future the visitors won’t need to go back to the same route, there will be another new exciting journey but very challenging trek – climb over the Great Wall of Vietnam!

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                 How we looked from the back side after The Great wall of Vietnam! 

My friends never asked what I ate during the adventure, but as I shared that we had almost 20 porters with us, one of them was the chef with another two “sous-chefs”. Three of them were responsible for our meals, but always more than 3 in the kitchen.

Our breakfast before long hiking was light – sometime instant noodles, fried  rice, even we got pancakes with banana, mango and chocolate sauce. Victor – one of our members enjoyed his pancake with mixed sauces: chilli and chocolate. I didn’t try it.

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Our quick and simple lunch during the trek – mostly cookies, mini sponge cake and fruits…

Coffee or tea was available at all times. Lunch always at the pit stop so it was quick and simple : mostly cookies (Orion that I never touched!), La vache qui rit, spring rolls, fruits (mandarin, watermelon, banana, mango…But dinner was a heaven, living in the cave, with 4 or 5 different dishes: beef, pork, egg, veggies.

People in Central of Vietnam love spicy taste so all our dishes were quite spicy, the funny thing to me was the omelette even with a lot of chillies and pepper. The porters took water from caving water basket, or underground river but it has been filtered so we had no problem at all.

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                      The night at campsite was never quiet…Bollywood dancing class!  

People didn’t ask what I ate but they did ask how we did the toilet things in the cave – we had actually a sitting western toilet, not very far from the campsite, very well-located – either near to the abyss or just behind a rock with a size of a car…we had no water to flush, instead we used the rice husk (trấu!) and wet tissues to clean up! Everything was cleaned perfectly, after we left the campsite, by our porters, no any waste material left in the cave. Some comment in my blog about this issue after what happened in Himalayas, so that could be one of many reasons they limit the number of visitors to Son Doong, only 220 people per year.

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                 The blue tent was our secret place – the toile with a fascinating view! 

After the 2nd night in Son Doong we went back to the same previous campsite through another way (not hiking steep up/downhill that haunted me all the times!). This time we were scrambling over, under or even between the fallen rocks, many of them were the size of cars, evens houses, the gap between them was narrow so we had to take off our backpack to squeeze through. The helmet was absolutely needed at all times in this passage.

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On the way back to the 2nd campsite, we were scrambling over, under, between rocks…

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    Back to the 2nd campsite, next morning was the last day of trekking in Son Doong.

I just wonder how people with bigger size manage to squeeze through, when Đức – our guide from Oxalis, told me there will be one Vietnamese girl going to the trip next July, her weigh is about 90kg, her height -150cm. It’s very impressive for Vietnamese girl, so it would be a big task for Đức or any guide to accompany this guest, or it could be his joke. I don’t know but I wish she’s an athlete.

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Happily posed with Mr Ho Nguyen, Đức and Úy after conquering the world’s largest cave! 

In the cave, there was time I really wished to end it, this adventure, the sooner the better due to my legs, my toes problem. I was glad when the last day came, I even left the last campsite earliest, partly to avoid the heat, partly I didn’t want to be left far behind in the trek, partly I wanted to have more time to wander around…

Now sitting back home I truly regretted it and realised how much I miss many things out there – the atmosphere, the sceneries and all the people that I happened to make friends. I may not go back to Son Doong but I would love to try another cave – Tú Làn, and to experience the flooding season in Phong Nha.

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