Exploring the Amazing Caves in Vietnam

We saw many fascinating things during our trip to Vietnam, but one of the things that we found interesting were the different caves that we explored. We went to caves in the Ninh BinhPprovince as well in Halong Bay. Some of them were caves where we went through the cave by boats or canoes as well as others where we walked through the caves. Each one of them was a unique experience in their own ways and it was it was interesting not just from a geological perspective, but from a cultural perspective as well. There are other caves that can be explored, but these are the ones that we visited during our time in Vietnam.

Going Through a Cave
Rowing with Their Feet in Vietnam

Tam Coc Cave – One of the more popular day tours from Hanoi is to go to the Ninh Binh Province, especially to do the Tam Coc caves (which actually means three caves). There are a couple of styles of boats that will take you along the Ngo Dong River, but the ones where the oarsman rows with their feet are different from anything else that we’ve done. The caves themselves are quite interesting as they have been carved out by the river and they actually create tunnels that take you under the mountain by boat.

The Second Chamber, “Serene Castle”
Contrasting Formations

Sung Sot (Surprise) Cave – Of the many fascinating places that we visited during our Halong Bay tour, seeing Sung Sot or Surprise Cave was certainly unique. There are many caves throughout the region, although most of the other ones that we visited were on the water. Surprise Cave is completely different as it is more of what we would consider to be a cavern with large ceilings, stalagmites, and stalactites. It is another very popular location, so the earlier in the day that you can arrive, the better off you will be.

Exiting Huong Tich Cave
Chua Trong Inside the Cave

Huang Tich Cave – Perfume Pagoda is a complex of Buddhist temples located about a couple of hours outside of Hanoi in Vietnam. At the heart of the complex is Huong Tich Cave and within the cave is Chua Trong or the Inner Temple. During the festival time, from late January through early March, thousands of people visit the temple and the 2.5 km (1.5 mile) path that takes you up to the cave is lined with vendor stalls selling food, gifts, and objects to use as an offering. In order to reach the Perfume Pagoda complex, you need to take an almost hour-long boat ride (less if you take a motorized boat) through the beautiful countryside.

Amazing Views of the Ninh Binh Province
The Lower Viewing Point

Mua Cave – A visit to Mua Cave in the Ninh Binh Province isn’t only about seeing the cave, many of other caves that we saw were more impressive, but it is all about climbing the over 540 stairs to see the incredible views of the countryside. To be clear, the steps are steep and uneven throughout much of the ascent to the top, so bring plenty of water and take your time. Despite the effort to reach the summit, the views along the way as well as when you reach the top are well worth the muscle pain. At the base of the mountain is a beautiful park with statues of horses and a fountain. It is a perfect place to sit in the shade and unwind after completing the long climb up the staircase.

Entering the Cave
Monkeys Walking Along the Shore

Luan Cave – Another popular excursion when doing a cruise on Halong Bay is to explore Luan Cave (Hang Luan). You can either go by rowboat or by kayak depending on your preference, but either way it is an enjoyable experience. After passing through the cave, you enter an isolated inlet with stunning cliffs and turquoise water. Near the mouth of the cave, you will likely find several monkeys who climb across the rocky shore hoping for some treats from the many tourists who visit.

Boats Going One After Another Through the Caves of Ninh Binh Province
Tiger Cave

There are obviously many unique places to see during a visit to Vietnam, but if you take the time to get out of the cities and go to these interesting caves, you will be well rewarded. Seeing them was certainly a highlight of our two-week trip to this wonderful country.

Making the Most of a Trip to Hanoi, Vietnam

Visiting Hanoi in northern Vietnam is truly an amazing experience. We spent a little over a week exploring Hanoi and taking excursions into the countryside. We also did an overnight cruise in Halong Bay, which was certainly one of the highlights of our trip. We stayed in Hanoi’s old quarter, which has a variety of restaurants, street food, and many different boutique hotels. With so many options of things to do when visiting Hanoi, these are some of our favorite memories of our trip.

Halong Bay in Vietnam
Enjoying Our Time on the Cruise
Luan Cave

Halong Bay – One of the most popular tours to take when visiting Hanoi, Vietnam is to go to Halong Bay. It is certainly one of the most recognizable places in all of Vietnam with the mountains jutting up from the bay, which according to myth is the result of a dragons descending to earth. Halong Bay actually means “descending dragon” and even though the mountains are the result of natural forces over centuries of time, the result is still incredibly beautiful. Halong Bay was recently named one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and was designated a World Heritage Site in 1994. Some of the key sights from the tour were Titop Island with the amazing views, Surprise Cave (Sung Sot Cave), and Luan Cave.

Rice Paddies at the Base of the Mountain
Amazing Views of the Ninh Binh Province
Boats Going One After Another Through the Caves

Ninh Binh Province – Known as the “Inland Halong Bay”, visiting Ninh Binh Province makes for a perfect day trip from Hanoi, Vietnam. There are several potential locations to visit when doing a tour of Ninh Binh Province and, unless you are planning to spend more than one day, you are going to have to choose which sights you want to see. One of the tours included the Bai Dinh Pagoda, which is the largest pagoda in Vietnam, as well as the caves of Trang An where the movie Kong: Skull Island was filmed. We chose to do what seemed to be the more popular tour that included Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam, the caves of Tam Coc, and the incredible views from the mountains above Mua Cave. It was a full day tour that include lunch with a meal that is representative of the Ninh Binh Province.

People Eating Street Food in Hanoi
Turtle Tower
Selling Flowers by Bicycle

Hanoi’s Old Quarter – When visiting Hanoi in Vietnam, most of the hotels and rental properties are located in Hanoi’s old quarter. It is a very busy district with plenty of shops and restaurants making it a perfect location to explore the best of Hanoi. Some of the highlights of the old quarter are “Sword Lake”, Hoan Kiem Lake, the night market, and St. Joseph’s Cathedral. You will find plenty of street food and vendors walking with sweets and fruit for sale. Regardless of the time of day, the old quarter in Hanoi is extremely busy and the streets are packed with motorcycles, cars, and rickshaws. In fact there are so many motorcycles parked on the sidewalks that it is often easier to walk in the street than on the sidewalks.

View as You Pass Through the Gate to Thien Tru Pagoda
Exiting Huong Tich Cave
Statue in Thien Tru Pagoda

Perfume Pagoda – The final tour that we took in Vietnam from Hanoi was the Perfume Pagoda tour. It is a day trip that takes you along a river with beautiful scenery to a complex of several different pagodas as well as the actual Perfume Pagoda, which is located in a cave called Huong Tich Cave that is at the top of Perfume Mountain. The tour started with a visit to the Thien Tru Pagoda, which is at the heart of the temple complex. The Thien Tru Pagoda is over 500 years old and is truly spectacular with wonderful architecture, artwork, and cultural features.

Ingredients for the Spring Rolls
Cooking Pork Meatballs and Barbequed Pork
Banana Flower Salad

Cooking Class in Hanoi – One of our favorite memories of our trip to Vietnam was taking a cooking class in Hanoi. This was a true cooking class, not a demonstration, where we purchased the food from a local market, prepped all of the ingredients, and did the cooking ourselves with our chef’s instruction. There were only five of us in the class, making it very intimate and interactive. We created a four course meal, which we enjoyed eating family-style after cooking everything.

Journey into the Jungle

We had spent the night in an eco-lodge, which in and of itself was an interesting experience. We woke up early and ate breakfast with our guide, Remy, who asked us if we’d checked under our bed before we went to sleep, to which we replied that we hadn’t. Apparently tarantula spiders are quite common in the area and are often found under the beds, a fact that would probably have been helpful to know.  There was an interesting bird on the porch of our cabin as we prepared to make the drive to the Carrasco National Park, which was just the beginning of the interesting things that we would see that day.

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Bird at Our Front Door

Inside of the Eco-Lodge
Inside of the Eco-Lodge

Outside of Our Lodge
Outside of Our Lodge

Plants Outside of Our Lodge
Plants Outside of Our Lodge

Road to the Lodge
Road to the Lodge

As we neared the entrance to the park, we stopped at a home of the park’s official guide, who had some incredible wood carvings.  From there we continued to the park entrance where another couple were also waiting to go on the tour.  Before starting on the trail that led into the park, the park guide, who only spoke Spanish, told us about the poisonous snakes in the area, which Remy translated for us.  Fortunately we didn’t see any of the snakes as we trekked through the jungle.

Wooden Parrot
Wooden Parrot

Poisonous Snake Display
Poisonous Snake Display

Map of the Trail
Map of the Trail

The Start of the Trail
The Start of the Trail

Butterfly
Butterfly

As we started into the jungle from the ranger hut, we quickly came to a river.  It wasn’t the rainy season, so the river was fairly low, but still running fast enough that we hoped that we weren’t going to have to walk across it since the previous day we had walked through streams with water that was knee high.  The park guide attached a harness to one of two cables that stretched across the river and started scooting across, perhaps we were going to have to zip-line again.  Wrong again, the guide pulled a yellow cage across the water and we all climbed in.  This was apparently common transportation across the many rivers in Bolivia and the coca growers were required to use them to transport their coca leaves.

How We Would Cross the River
How We Would Cross the River

River that We Crossed
River that We Crossed

Into the Jungle
Into the Jungle

Part of the Trail
Part of the Trail

Another Buttefly
Another butterfly

The area is famous for the guacharos, a bird that lives in a cave and was once thought to be blind, but is actually not.  To get their cave, we would hike along an overgrown trail and cross many streams while learning about the various plants and animals that inhabit the jungle.  We saw several gorgeous butterflies, a poisonous frog, a giant centipede, and lots of ants including the famous leaf cutter ants and a couple of poisonous ants.  Trees infested with red fire ants are used to punish local tribe members who are accused of committing violent crimes.  They tie the offender to one of the trees, which are barren of any leaves on their trunks, and ants swarm from inside the tree and bite the person, killing them in less than ten minutes.

Rare Owl Butterfly
Rare Owl Butterfly

Ants that Will Put You in a Coma for 24 Hours
Ants that Will Put You in a Coma for 24 Hours

Frog that Spits Poison When Threatened
Frog that Spits Poison When Threatened

Guide Next to Tree with Fire Ants
Guide Next to Tree with Fire Ants

Moth at the Lodge
Moth at the Lodge

Finally we reached the cave with the guacharos who nest high in the walls of the cave.  Remy and the park guide banged on the walls of the cave to stir the birds.  In unison, the birds in the cave joined together, making a noise that can only be described as a growl.  The first person to discover the birds had gone back to his tribe and told them that there was a jaguar living in the cave because that is exactly what the birds sounded like, the roaring of a large cat.  The birds were difficult to see, but we did see a couple of them flying around inside of the cave.  This, however, was only the first cave that we were to enter.

Cave Entrance
Cave Entrance

Information About the Birds
Information About the Birds

Crossing a Ravine
Crossing a Ravine

Part of the Trail
Part of the Trail

Guide Leading Us to the Caves
Guide Leading Us to the Caves

As we continued on the trail, the guide told us about the importance of the various bats in the area.  There were vampire bats, who secrete a liquid when they go to bite animals that numb the bite area, allowing them to suck the blood without their victim knowing that they’ve been bitten.  Using flashlights, we entered a cave with the vampire bats, trying not to make too much noise, but several bats swooped by our heads as we moved deeper into the cave.  We were able to see hundreds of bats on the ceiling of the cave, but did not take any pictures, afraid that the sudden flash would cause them to all take flight at once, something we’d prefer not to see coming at us.  Next we went into a cave with fruit bats, holding our breaths as much as possible as the floor of the cave was covered in guano and could be toxic.

Beauty in the Heart of the Jungle
Beauty in the Heart of the Jungle

Carnivorous Tree
Carnivorous Tree

View of the Canopy
View of the Canopy

Remy Showing Us Fruit that the Birds Ate
Remy Showing Us Fruit that the Birds Ate

Just walking through the Amazon jungle would have been fascinating enough for us, but going into the caves and seeing the guacharos was truly amazing.  On the way out of the jungle, the guide took us to a coca leaf farm, one of many that are now allowed on national park land.  As we neared the farm, the guide whistled, obviously announcing our presence so that any farmers wouldn’t take us for trespassers.  Coca leaves are an important part of the Bolivian economy, but it is a shame to see the farms intruding onto national park land.  Eventually we made our way back to the lodge where we ate a well deserved late lunch before driving back to Cochabamba.  This was definitely one of the highlights of a trip that was filled with highlights.

Fauna in the Jungle
Fauna in the Jungle

Large Mushroom
Large Mushroom

Termite Nest
Termite Nest

Bolivian Spaghetti
Bolivian Spaghetti