More zip lining and a via ferrata

The next morning started bright and early. Maybe not so bright since it was raining again or still raining. Who could tell with the constant rain?

I got picked up by Sinsay shortly after 7am. He felt bad since the treehouse I got had not been properly prepared. He had only realized shortly before the evening ended that Dudley and I were not a couple. So he came to my treehouse first to check if everything was alright. Which it was since my bed got only a bit wet.
The waterfall in the morning was almost invisible behind the fog and mist.

After a hearty breakfast in front of it we started the day with more zip lining. It was so beautiful and exciting, the longest zip line went for about 450m and we did 13 of them that morning.


       And here I am with our guide Sinsay.

We also had to cross some interesting bridges to get back to the tree house station. I was glad that Dudley waited for me to finish crossing first before he went on. It was already shaky without an extra person on it and a challenge to get across. Suzanne was not ready to do it on her own and got a ‘lift’ from one of the guides.

We had lunch back at the treehouse station and after that our biggest challenge waited for us. Since we had been zip lining down the day before we needed to get back up again and the only way to do that was through the via ferrata. I hadn’t really been sure what it was but after 90 minutes of trekking uphill we were standing before it.

It’s probably not really visible on the pictures but we had to go up a couple of steps and then horizontal for a while around an overhanging rock and up again to a small ledge where we had a short break to wait for the others.

After the first two steps up on the wall I felt my legs shaking so hard that I had to take a deep breath and tell my brain to shut up. There was just no room for panic on this wall. It was better after that I was extremely focused. When I got around the overhanging rock I noticed that I had forgotten to change the carabiners to the new line. I had to go back around the bend and was so grateful that Sinsay was right there and helped me. When I finally pulled myself up on the ledge which was halfway through the via ferrata I was exhilarated and happy. A couple minutes later Dudley also made it to the halfway point.


Shortly after Suzanne arrived who had had a panic attack on the wall. Sinsay organized a guide in front and in the back of her and with these two guys she made it up.

After a short break we started on the second half which was a lot better since it didn’t involve any horizontal climbing. My problem was though that Suzanne with the guides were right behind me and her front guide grabbed my foot to let me know that I had to hurry. Suzanne was getting more and more hysterical and they needed me out of the way. This of course put pressure on me which I hated on the vertical climb. Eventually I made it to the top and couldn’t have been prouder of myself. I did it on my own, unbelievable!

More trekking waited on top of the wall for us and after another two hours we arrived at the point where we had started the day before.

   
We had a short rest to take off all the gear and to just breathe evenly again. Our two day adventure had come to an end and we were all more than happy to have survived it. I had never felt more alive than at the top of this wall. Not sure though if I will ever go on a via ferrata again. Yours, Pollybert

Zipping through the trees

After a long discussion the night before Dudley and I had finally settled on a plan for today. We left our Hotel Inthira and Champasak at 7am on a tuk-tuk in the rain. We were both miserable since it was so wet and cold. I at least got a spare rain coat from the tuk-tuk driver.

Once we arrived in Pakse we got the driver to go to the office of Green Discovery Laos because we wanted to check if we could go on a 2 day tour with them today. They hadn’t answered our online inquiry nor the email I sent the evening before and we both really wanted to do the Treetop Explorer Tour.

And really, we made it there in time and signed up for the 2 day tour. So good that we tried it because they were booked for the next two days and we wouldn’t have waited that out.

Within 10 minutes I had my smaller backpack ready and we were on the go. We were a group of 10 people, one couple from England, another from Australia, mother and son from the Netherlands, two girls from Vientiane and us.

I was not really sure about the itinerary, I read it yes, but after reading about the zip lining I was already hooked. I had tried that the first time at the Adventure Cave in Phong Nah and was a bit nervous about it. But in a good way.

Anyway it took us a good hour on the road and another hour on an ‘adventure road’ (Sinsay’s more than generous description for the worst dirt road ever. There were holes on this road in which you could have easily buried an elephant).

Eventually we arrived though and we’re all outfitted with a harness. By that time it was still raining and cold. At least 10 degrees cooler than in the city and I was very happy about my long sleeved shirt that I found in the backpack.


I put the rain coat which I had bought in Sapa on top of it and then we started into the wild. It was not really adventurous the first hour. Just walking along a dirt road in the wet and cold.


But eventually the scenery changed and we entered the national park.


If I said before that it was just boring trekking, all that changed in an instant when we had to cross our first ‘bridge’.

The boring part was definitely over! When we got to the other side I was sweating so much that the rain coat was not necessary anymore and Dudley had already some leeches attached to his calves. This was going to be one interesting trip.

More walking through a wet and misty forest brought us to our lunch destination. The guides, Sinsay and three locals prepared the ‘table’ and then we ate in this beautiful meadow.

  

Further trekking was necessary after lunch, it was very slippery going downhill in these woods. Until we came to the next bridge which was a walk in the park compared to the first one. I actually took a selfie in the middle of it. Which was going to be my only selfie while doing stuff (with the petrified look on my face already on that bridge maybe understandable, I seem to be holding on to my safety line for dear life).


After that it was zip line after zip line with a bit of abseiling in between.

  

Over time the zip lines became longer, passing in front of the waterfall and it was the best feeling ever to step off the platform knowing the zip line will catch me. Just the one step into nothing until you get caught from the line was such an exhilarating experience! Best thing ever!

     

The zip line above was done together. So I was attached to Dudley and he to me and together we zipped across. If you want to see a regular zip line click here and for abseiling here.

We were almost at the end of our first day, just a couple more zip lines and then we arrived at our tree house location for the night.

        
I went for a swim in a natural pool and later we had a great dinner in front of the waterfall. To get to our treehouse we had to zip line in the dark and just a while later it was lights out for all of us. Lying alone in the dark and hearing the sound and noise of the forest was pretty intense, more so when another downpour started and I had to move my bed a bit to not get wet. Yours, Pollybert

National Park Tour

I arrived in Dong Hoi relatively well-rested (it’s loud and bumpy on the train) and ready to start my day. With just a 10 minutes delay the train was also remarkable on time. Something that changes the further South the train travels (as I have noticed the last couple of days).

My pre-arranged driver was waiting with a sign for me. Since I was the only one arriving it was quite expensive (500k Dong = 20€) for the 45 minutes ride. But I was not in the mood to wait for the bus only to later pay for a taxi after all to take me to the Farmstay. It’s so far out that there was just no public transportation.

Around 7:30 we pulled up in front of the Farmstay and there were lots of people already milling around. I got greeted by Guillaume, shown to my dorm room and had a quick shower.

I had booked a dorm room to save a bit after spending a lot up North and due to the expensive cave tours. I would be sharing the room with an Australian guy and a German couple. My first mixed dorm on the trip and I liked it a lot.

The tour I had booked for the day started at 8:30am which left ample time to get accommodated to my new surroundings and have breakfast. At the breakfast area I saw one woman sitting alone and asked if I could join her. And sometimes chance plays a wonderful trick on you. Veronica happened to be the mother of Ben, the owner of the Farmstay. Furthermore she had worked for seven years in Vienna and lived just around the corner from me. And during our morning talk she mentioned that she would make a tour with the Easy Riders to Hue and the other woman who had initiated the trip was going to Hoi An. If that would interest me? And since I had been wondering how I was ever going to leave from here, I said yes. I had really no idea what I had agreed to but it sounded like a plan. Plus I liked Veronica from the first and felt comfortable around her. If she could climb on a bike, so could I.

Eventually my national park tour started and we drove into Phong Nha and picked up some more people from the Backpacker hostel in the village and then drove into the National Park. We had a couple of stops where a local guide explained a lot about the karst formations and some flooding that had happened just a couple of years ago. Apparently the water went as high as the bridge we were standing on.

      During the Vietnam War the Americans would bomb this area to achieve road blocks. The Ho Chi Minh Trail was going right through the Park. Here you can still see where the rock was hit.

Next stop for us then was a cave where 8 young people looked for shelter during one of the attacks and were buried alive.

After that it was on to the Paradise Cave, a cave that really deserved its name. The first kilometer into the cave is open to the public and perfectly illuminated.

                  

I am not a religious person (and even less so after reading the Zealot book; review is coming soon) but this cave was awe inspiring and I could almost start believing again. Truly a spiritual experience.

Once outside it was time for lunch (again not great, really don’t know why the food was always so bland on the tours since Vietnam offers so much good food) and then we were off to the Dark Cave.

No pictures from there because we started our tour in bathing suites and nothing else. First there was zip lining over the river (a first for me and it felt hilarious! When was the last time I did something for the first time?), then we had to swim into the cave. We had all been given life jackets and helmets with a lamp. These were switched on upon entering the cave, the cave after all was not called Dark Cave for nothing.

The trail started to get muddier and narrower as we walked along. In the beginning I really tried to stay clean but after a while I had no choice since it was slippery and I had to hold on to just not fall. I had wanted to keep a pristine butt, which was alll for nothing in the end because we ended in a mud bath; and the shrieking and laughing told me there was no escape. The mud felt as dense as the Dead Sea. I could float on it without going under.

We all closed our head lamps and tried to shut up for a minute but that didn’t work. When your group consists mostly of girls in their early twenties there is not a chance for a minute of silence. Especially not when every movement in the mud produced a fart sound.

Eventually we left the mud pool and walked back, cleaned ourselves in an underground river and then had to swim through it for about 10 minutes just to be told on the other side that we would have to turn around and swim through it again but without the light. Oh, and yes there were eels and other animals in the river. Great, we all had to do it since the exit lay in that direction. Once done, it felt good though, very liberating.

Outside the cave we kayaked back to the zip lining place. I was placed together with Christiane, a girl from Germany also traveling alone after finishing her PhD in neuroscience. There were always some very nice people on the road with me to share a day or more.

Christiane and I made it back to the start not with a lot of help from my side though. As I told you I am just not made for kayaking. But once there we tried another round of zip lining only this time I jumped into the river during it.

We finished the tour off with refreshments next to the river while we waited for the rain to abate. It had been the perfect first day in Phong Nha.

Back at the Farmstay I had an early dinner (kitchen was only open until 8pm) and went to bed. I was exhausted after all my adventures. Yours, Pollybert