Phong Ke Bang National Park
Out of HCMC and to Phong Ke Bang National Park. Dramatic landscape. Jagged mountains rise like ill kept molars from deep valleys and cascading streams. Forest impenetrable to all but the most dedicated; poachers, wood collectors and explorers.
Highway 20 snakes through the region. A road built to move war supplies. Where the ‘volunteer’ builders were given two days of rations. Their expected survival time.
Never really attracted to life below ground it was with a little trepidation that I signed up for a few forays underground. My introduction was magnificent and awe-inspiring. Paradise cave has been opened for its first kilometre to accommodate tourists. But done well. Boardwalks protect the rock formations. Lights illuminate the stalagmites and stalactites. Colours bounce off the walls and pools of soft clear water linger between.
Infinitely varied the the eye is convinced that soft icing folds over giant cakes, massive molars hang from the walls while lace is littered softly and delicately over floors.
100m high ad 150m wide. More beautiful and inspiring than any made cathedral, with a richness of colour greater than my imagination.
Dark Cave presents more of a challenge. Named ‘Dark’ because of the colour of the ancient limestone. A deep slate grey, not the soft soapy white of my South Cumbria home. Constantly water bound, the only way in is to kayak or swim. Kitted with head torches and lifejackets I entered the dark, watery world.
Swimming in with limited peripheral vision there is a stillness not achievable in the outside. Our guide pointed out fossils from ancient aquatic creatures decorating the walls. In situ far more inspiring than in a museum tray. Tiny translucent crickets raced away from head torch beams. Oversized antennae taking the place of eyesight. Water washed in debris and soft sand. Before long I was swimming in a watery mineral fondu.
The constancy of chocolate soup. It coated the rocks so we slid and slithered through tunnels and over protruding obstacles. Instructed to turn off our lights the dark silence wrapped around. There was no light. No stars, no indication of life outside. Silence punctuated only by the soft irregular drip of water. A moment of total stillness in an all too hectic world.
Returning to clear water we shed our muddy skins and scrambled back into kayaks. Back above on firm, dry ground hot soup and tea helped reintroduce us to the world.