Monday, September 21, 2015

2013 Hanoi Trip - Halong Bay Part 5 - Hiking Dao Go Cave (Hang Đầu Gỗ)

Location: Hanoi, Vietnam

Full experience of my visit to Hanoi can be accessed through the list below:

More about Hanoi can be read through the list below:

After departing from the floating village, we cruised through the waters for some time, admiring the lowering sun and its reflection from the churning wake of other passing vessels. Our next stop ahead was much more secure than the floating structures of our last stop, for it was a concrete pier built on a side of an island.

Cruise vessels amassed on the pier and the size of it allowed them to comfortably line beside each other, their captains and crews sharing light conversations and cigarettes before the return of the passengers. Upon disembarking from the ship, we followed our guide to begin our hike.

Window to the Sky

Arrival at the pier

Although I termed this leg of our journey as a hike, it was merely climbing a flight of stairs, not as arduous sounding as it seemed, Even so the unfit among us would still break a sweat before reaching the caves.

Stairs to the cave

If Dao Go caves were not duly prepared for tourists, it would have been an eerie series of tunnels past uneven floor and ceiling courtesy of stalactites and stalagmites. The cave was long and deep and without any man-made lighting, its shadows could only be broken by shafts of light from an occasional oculus.

Understanding that the unadventurous tourists would not be impressed by stumbling in the dark, seeing nothing and scared of every jumping shadows, the caves were lit up in brilliant colors. The guides, with practiced smoothness, would point at an imagined face here or told a legend of a hole there, granting the cave stories to remember by. Shadows cast across the surface of the cave coupled with a tendency of the human mind to seek parallel comparisons made selling their legends much more easier.

While I did not pay attention to most of those stories (I couldn't hear from the back anyway), I did notice that the caves were relative clean for a natural locale. I guess they really do keep the place neat and tidy, which my guide confirmed. Coins sparkled in shallow pools and banknotes curiously piled near some shallow holes, which the guide explained as offerings for good luck. He also elaborated that the janitors would collect the money while cleaning up and it would join a separate fund used to maintain the place.

Money for good luck (and maintenance)

Hole of money


Stark shadows

Shallow pool

The cave sloped upwards gradually, and steps were cut here and there to make the climb a simple one, much easier than the first flight of steps required to gain access to these caves. There was a memorable oculus which beamed a shaft of light down, and our guide explained that it was through that opening that the cave's existence was known. The opening even had a name, which was literally "Window to the Sky".

Early fishermen took to this island to escape from raging storms and explored the island for shelter. The opening allowed them to access the caves and they realized that it was much bigger than they thought, thus fueling subsequent explorations. Of course I doubt if his explanation was real, but the entrance was nevertheless marvelous, so I took his story to heart.



Gnarled faces

Exploration of the caves took little time, and if it was not for the guide's stories, it would have been shorter. Its eerie beauty was marvelous but was still not a reason for most to linger around. The end of the tunnel opened out into the island's outer spaces, steps and paths winding through the foliage, allowing us to take in the vista on viewing platforms. And once again I was slightly disappointed that the supposedly natural Halong Bay was filled with so many vessels. It was not as natural as I would like it to be.

Viewing platform






The end of the path took us back to the pier and the waiting ship. It was not a really exciting experience but it allowed us to get an up close and personal look at the islands, maybe even allowing us to imagine ourselves as castaways or pirates of the Halong Bay. I am not one to complain about it though. After the passengers were fully on board, the ship took off and the island of Dau Go caves faded off into the distance.

The Halong Bay boat tour ended before the sun was fully set, and with a tired body and exhilarated mind, we disembarked our ship and boarded our van. It was a memorable day tour, and even though it was generally recommended to stay a night on board the ship, we were rather content with our experience. It really deserved its UNESCO status and anyone leaving Hanoi without a memory of Halong Bay would be a shame indeed.

Environment:         A UNESCO Natural Heritage Site with beautiful karst formation
Suitable for:            Landscape lovers, UNESCO hunters
Visit worthiness:   8/10 (I have to cheat here by marking up the worthiness value, because it is truly beautiful!)
Historical value:        4.0/5.0 
Architectural value:  0.0/5.0
Photographic value: 4.0/5.0
Landmark value:       5.0/5.0
My cheating value:   +1.5

Entrance Fee:                  usually included within the tour
Opening Hours:             anytime
Best Moment to Visit: Anytime, but most probably your time is decided by the tour
Length of Visit:              >8 hours (can last overnight)

Website:                   -

Contact:                    -
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