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Tu Lan Cave system by Boris

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Published on Nov 13, 2014

Trekking through remote, untouched jungle. Crossing through buffalo fields. Being surrounded by giant, looming,limestone mountains on all sides.

Plunging into deep, cool, underground rivers that wind gracefully through mountains and river valleys alike. Watching flurries of butterflies surround camp.

Sleeping under the stars, in a hammock, with the breeze floating lazily around you. Sitting by a campfire telling stories, singing songs, and drinking rice wine.

Listening to the beautiful waterfalls gush around you. Learning the words to popular Vietnamese songs, singing national anthems, and playing games.

Eating barbecue pork, fresh fruit, springs rolls, and more. Venturing through areas that are almost completely unexplored, and boast some of the greatest biodiversity in the country.

The jungle is hot, and the water is refreshing. If you’re looking for a true nature here in Vietnam, this is it. When you enter the misty jungle, and expansive river caves, you will feel that you have been transported to somewhere else entirely.

The magnificence of the caves is almost indescribable. The river caves in this system such as Ken Cave and Tu Lan Cave are very young, only about 3 million years old. The higher, dry caves (dry Tu Lan and Ton Cave) are much older, and date around 5 million years old.

Because the tectonic plates in this region are always moving and bumping into each other, the mountains are still rising and moving up. The rivers continue to cut into the bottom of the mountain, carving new caves over time. Hence, the river caves that are at a lower elevation are much younger than the higher, dry caves as they were more recently created.

Tu Lan Cave System is comprised of over 10 caves in all, some of which were originally discovered and explored in 1992, and some of which were just found in the past couple years.

The system lies 70 km away from Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, next to the minority village of Tan Hoa, just past the fields of grazing buffalo and rapidly growing peanut and cornfields. After the fields, it’s a splash through the river until the first ascent is reached. An ascent over the rocky slope is followed by a descent into the jungle valley below. The first cave on the horizon from there is Hang Ton cave, accessed through its dry entrance.

Hang Ton, first found in 1992 and explored more in depth in 2012, appears first on the horizon on a trek to this intricate cave system. Its dry entrance provides an outstanding view of the valley below, and promises many more adventures inside. A ladder inside leads to the floor of the cave, and from there the journey truly begins, where one must swim through the cave to reach the exit on the other side.

The stalactites and stalagmites are enormous and breathtaking. One of the caves in the Tu Lan cave system, Ken Cave, even had it’s beautiful formations featured recently in National Geographic by world renowned photographer Carsten Peter.

Aside from the beauty though, it’s the adventure of swimming through the river caves that makes this tour unmatchable to anything else around. As you swim through each cave, you’re surrounded by gorgeous limestone formations, seen only by the light of your headtorch, and the fading daylight of the cave entrance behind you.

It’s quiet and serene, and definitely an experience to have at some point in this lifetime. As you finish each swim and exit the caves, the view that you’re presented with will blow you away: beautiful blue lakes, green trees, and a small waterfall… tourists have described it before as paradise on Earth.

The campsites are spectacular to take in, with limestone mountains breaking out of the ground on each side, and gushing waterfalls sending bubbles frothing across the surface of the water that completes the feeling of this utopian scene. Hammocks swing gently between trees, leaving you to be rocked to sleep in the light breeze, under the canopy of trees and a blanket of stars in a moonlit sky.

Oxalis is the sole tour operator and investor in Tu Lan cave system, a title recently granted by the Quang Binh Provincial People’s Committee, and the local authorities of Tan Hoa, Minh Hoa district. No other tour company has the rights to bring travellers through here, so you are truly in a remote wilderness area with no one else around but your fellow trekkers, tour guides, and porter team.

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