It was a luxury to wake at dawn but sit quietly looking at the spectacular view across the lake emerge, rather than busy ourselves getting ready to cycle.
The ‘dawn safari’, with a 6.40, start thwarted about half the group so there were some advantages at being used to being up early. After a quick coffee we were back in the boat – again perfectly timed to see the sun peak above the mountain top. .
Low cloud drifted across the lake and enveloped the mountain peaks. It was a magical scene morning we saw long tailed macaques, lemurs, gibbons, hornbills and a variety of other unidentified birds. Although monkeys are seen quite commonly on the road or attached to temples it was completely different seeing them in their natural habitat.
Back for breakfast and then the main trip of the day. A walking trip into the jungle to Nam Ta Lu cave. We were warned we would get wet! Another 20 minute boat trip took us to the start of the trail – or in fact about 1km down from the official start as the water level was so low the boat could not get that far. However soon we were walking through thick jungle with bamboo, enormous fig trees and a huge variety of vegetation. A variety of spiders and butterflies were pointed out, as were the occasional chameleon. Although there are some big beast in the national park it was unlikely they would ever come to one of the few tourist tracks.
At a junction in the path we were advised to leave our bags and keep one camera that would be put in the guide’s dry bag when we got wet. We trekked on another 1.5km to the mouth of the cave where we were all handed out headtorches. No lit up walkway here. It was a cave that was used by communists in the area about 30 years ago, although now free of any dissidents!
Instructions given, we headed off in single file through the most brilliant cave excursion we have ever done. Everyone’s head torches lit up fantastic rock formations and stalactite and stalagmites as we waded along a small river. For the first few hundred meters, the walls were dotted with thousands (or probably millions) of bats.
As we ventured further the bats disappeared and the cavern narrowed and we plunged into our first deeper water, up to our waists. A narrow channel twisted and turned as we went in and out of deeper water, sometimes needing to swim short distances. After about 45 minutes we suddenly saw daylight and emerged through a small hole back into sunlight and the jungle. It was an amazing experience. For some (particularly the “larger” members of the group) it was quite a physical challenge but they were encouraged through and the whole group was elated.
Then back through the jungle, back in the boat and a quick lunch before we were fairly unceremoniously ushered out into the main boats back the dam so they could be ready for the next group. As David mentioned yesterday, we were slightly processed but it was all very efficient and friendly and the tour company packed in loads into the 24 hour trip.
At the other end, everyone had their onward transport arranged and we were soon back in our little van being taken back to the hotel at frightening speed to be reunited with our bikes and kit. It was about 3.30 by then and we weren’t about to set off again so we booked ourselves back into a bamboo house to plan our next stage. All in all a fantastic interlude.