Adventure into jungle

A trip into wild and original nature, temporarily away from the civilised world, inot an “escape” but a journey to find myself again.

Panoramic view of the mountain containing the sinkhole Kong Collapse from above.
Panoramic view of the mountain containing the sinkhole Kong Collapse from above.

"Gift" for brave hearts

I have come to Quang Binh province many times, but I have never ceased to be surprised and fascinated with the wonderful experiences in the land named the “the kingdom of caves”. The mysteries prompted me and a few of my friends to embark on a journey to explore the sinkhole Kong Collapse and Tiger cave system.

As an adventure tour with a high level of difficulty, this experience requires participants to prepare not only in terms of good physical strength but also a strong spirit. Of course, costumes, shoes and personal items cannot be sketchy.

Before the trip, the exclusive operator, Jungle Boss Co., Ltd (Phong Nha town) informed us that during the total 60 hours, the group would cross a 21 km trekking route through the forest and nearly 7 km in caves as well as swim via about 500m of an underground river with a temperature of 17-18 degrees Celsius, and swing at the Kong sinkhole.

The fascinating journey made us really excited and also a little bit nervous. When the bus passed Tam Co Cave on 20 Quyet Thang Street, our mobilephones started losing signal. From here, contact with daily life, including all worries, troubles, emails in need of being answered urgently and deadlines were all left behind.

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The group camped for the night and took part in the challenge at sinkhole Kong Collapse.

Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park is the perfect definition of the word “jungle”. The ground is densely packed with vines, shrubs, fallen tree trunks, and scattered sharp rocks. The steep slopes become more slippery following the rains. We had no choice but to cling to the roots of trees to climb. The rocks and wet ground were full of wrigglers ready to cling to shoes and clothes if people were careless.

All sides were so quiet I only heard the puffing and breathing of people in front and sometimes the chirping of birds and gibbons. By habit, while walking and thinking, I was immediately startled as my foot tripped on a stone. The forest required our total presence and concentration.

As our cheeks were red and our temples were running hot, we were standing in front of the underground river at the mouth of the Tiger cave (also known as Dai A cave). The water is as cold as ice, the lake vast and dark. Gathering all my courage, I slung myself into the water. Fortunately, after struggling for a while and swatting my legs and arms, the feeling of refreshment and coolness spread throughout my body.

Waiting for me on the other side is the sinkhole Kong Collapse named after the giant gorilla character in the Hollywood blockbuster filmed in Quang Binh. With a depth of about 450m, this is one of the deepest natural collapses on the planet that contains a small green forest.

We felt like we were returning to a primitive age when the earth was still wild. Standing there and looking up at the steep gray cliffs and the deep blue sky above, you see the majesty of nature and the insignificance of humans.

Our second day was almost completely spent in the Tiger, Over and Pygmy caves. They were like huge deserts without a trace of life, shadow of a moss or grass. Only the darkness, sparkling stalactites, high rock dunes and unbelievably perfect round "limestones" feature inside the caves.

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The unique limestones

The caves’ domes are so high we could not see the ceilings despite using flashlights. The abyss was very deep. “Intruders” like us are just minor dots in a masterpiece nature has spent millions of years to carve out.

There were so many narrow spaces in the caves that we had to lie down to crawl through them. There were slippery paths around the precipice so we had to fasten our seat belts and fumble on the steps under our flashlights. We also swung down "dinosaur spine" cliffs. All activities were conducted quietly in the darkness of the flickering flashlights, creating a special experience not easy to forget.

Our feelings continued to sublimate when we entered the Pygmy cave – the fourth largest of this kind in the world, followingthe Son Doong and En caves in Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park and the Deer cave in Malaysia. We took out their mobile phones to take pictures, but of course, no device could capture the full beauty of the Pygmy cave like our own eyes.

One of my friends in the group came up with a very interesting simile, that it was like Persephone in Greek mythology when she returned to earth from the underworld. Sunshine and warmth from the sun replaced darkness and humidity; meanwhile, the green space of the forests and vegetation spreading across the ground replaced the black and gray colours.

The sounds of life, including swallows flying and chirping, took over from mysterious silence of the deep caves like a reward for those with enough courage and perseverance to overcome the long and tiring road to get here.

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A masterpiece of nature in Over cave.

“There is no Wifi in the jungle, but I promise you’ll find a better connection.”, the impressive quote of an adventurer I admire.

My group consisted of 20 members from many regions around the country and even foreigners. Despite not knowing each other before, not sharing the same language and different culture, we still became friends under the green trees and the twinkling stars at night.

The sense of symbiosis to survive in unspoiled nature brought us closer together. But there was also a special "wifi signal" that connected us. It was the supporting team including the guides, safety assistants and porters cum chefs of Jungle Boss.

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The group's members swimming through the underground river in Ho cave.

They were all extremely friendly and thoughtful indigenous people familiar with the roads and necessary skills for traveling to the jungle such as the weather forecast, treatment of wounds and avoiding and dealing with dangerous animals. Loi, Duy, Trung, Hai, Su, Buu and other porters helped us with delicious meals in the forest as well as passing through the Gio, Luon and Co slopes, swimming through the underground river and taking beautiful photos.

In the wild forest, they were also psychologists who constantly encourage and reassure the "amateur" junglists like us when afraid and depressed. I still remember the day when my Russian teammate was bitten by a squirrel, causing a non-stop flow of blood. While urban youths like us were quite frightened, the porters quickly looked for a kind of forest vegetable that could stop the bleeding.

They are also "living books" about the forest with its more than 200 species of plants and dozens of rare animals in need of conservation. At the stops for lunch or overnight, porters set up tents and cooking utensils at a very fast speed and always cleaned up before leaving.

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Camping at the mouth of Pygmy cave.

Yet, this core area of the World Natural Heritage site is called “the capital of the loggers” over ten years ago. At that time, most local young men went to the forest to cut trees, collect wood, hunt animals and trap birds. However, since eco and adventure tours began, the professions of tour guides and porters has been developed. As a result, the health and skills of these forces have been promoted, instead of taking away precious natural products, they have been making a great contribution to protecting and promoting the forests and the unique heritage of Vietnam.

Unfortunately, tours to the Tiger cave and sinkhole Kong Collapse dried up during the “frozen” period of the tourism sector in Vietnam and the world due to COVID-19; therefore, the number of tourists experiencing this journey is still small. I was very lucky to be one of them. Until now, I still feel the beauty of the sinkhole Kong Collapse and the mouth of Pygmy in the splendid light of the sunset as well as the pure and blue rivers, the towering mountains and white clouds.

Translated by NDO