Caving

March 12, 2013

Vang Vieng turned out to be such a nice town, we opted to stick around for a second day to explore a little more. Our hotel didn’t turn out to be as great as expected. The wifi wasn’t available in our room and neither was breakfast. The bed was uncomfortable, so Chandler didn’t sleep well. After one more dip in the pool, we left to find something a little cheaper.

On our way to cross the river, to find some cheap bungalows, we ran into two Korean bike tourists. They invited us to a bonfire that night at the very bungalows we were going to. Looks like it was a good idea to leave the other hotel.

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Our bungalow for the night

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Bulls fighting

After checking out the bungalows (30,000 kip/night less than $4), we dropped off our stuff and headed out to one of the many caves in the area. We traveled along a very bumpy dirt road for 7km before reaching the Tham Phu Kham cave and the “blue lagoon” which was actually kind of brown. We paid an entrance fee of 24,000 kip or $3 USD and had access to both attractions.

The blue lagoon was a nice looking swimming hole with areas to jump from and rope swings. However, the scene was like a frat party, with a hoard of backpackers drinking and admiring themselves in their bikinis. Not something Chandler and I were interested in joining. We headed to the cave instead.

To reach the cave, there is a short, but very steep climb up the side of a mountain. The rocks were slippery but there were rickety bamboo poles to hold on to the whole way up. When we reached the cave, there was a cool breeze coming from the entrance, which was much appreciated.

The cave starts out open and lit by sunlight coming in a couple openings. There is a scramble down past columns to an open chamber with a reclining Buddha. Besides the Buddha, this part of the cave was kind of boring with no interesting features. We brought our headlamps and decided to head to the real cave. We had to climb over some big rocks through an opening and suddenly it was dark and we were reminded of when we went to Carlsbad Caverns.

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Buddha in the cave

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Cave formations

The cave was beautiful, full of stalactites, columns and stalagmites. It was interesting to see the differences between a cave which had been preserved, Carlsbad and one that had not, Tham Phu Kham. We noticed where the rocks had been smoothed from so many people touching everything. While some of the columns were sparkly and beautiful there were no really intricate or delicate crystal formations. There was also quite a bit of graffiti, mostly in english, which we thought was sad that people would deface such beauty.

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Graffiti

We did turn off our headlamps to check if it was dark and it was pitch black. We were surprised to see bugs down in the cave where no light was penetrating. What do they eat? They were super creepy, like cricket spiders. There antennas were about 6 inches long, so we assumed they had grown to adapt to the darkness.

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Extra creepy cricket spider

By the time we exited the cave and climbed back down the hill, the sun was beginning to set. We made our way to our bikes through girls posing for photos in bikinis and guys throwing footballs. We rode back to town for a quiet evening around a fire. There were 6 Koreans including our cycle tourist friends and a Japanese couple. Everyone spoke some English, so we had good conversation and ate potatoes and corn they had cooked on the fire. We went to bed pretty early as we had plans to leave at 5:30 in the morning to beat the heat the next day.

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850ft underground

October 30, 2012

After our very chilly night, Chandler and I popped out of bed the moment the alarm went off. We wanted to get to the Carlsbad Caverns in time for the lower cave tour and still had several hours of driving to ahead of us.

The driving was uneventful but entertaining thanks to a few “This American Life” podcasts. We made it to the park at 11:40, which gave us time to kennel Lucy and check out the self-guided upper cave tour. The Caverns has a cheap kennel service for animals if it is going to be over 75F so people don’t leave their pets in the car. So awesome, Lucy loves AC!

The self-guided tour began with a quick elevator ride down 750ft to the upper cave. There was a designated concrete footpath around the cave with specific features illuminated. We only had 35 minutes to look around before we had to get back for the tour.

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Giant column

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When we signed up for the lower cave tour we didn’t really know what would be happening except that ropes and ladders were involved. We met up with our group only to discover there were more park employees than tourists and would have a nice small group. We were given gloves, hard hats with lights and rules about safety and touching cave formations.

The entrance to the lower cave was a small hole at the bottom of a pit in the upper cave. We had actually walked by it on our self-guided tour completely unaware of it. Everyone walked down a slippery slope, aided by a rope, to reach the hole. We descended a series of three ladders down an additional 100ft.

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The descent

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Down the hatch

Once everyone was down the ladders, we were led around the cave and shown interesting features. Normally, the guide just spouts off memorized facts, but the guy we had was amazing. He has his master’s degree in geology and really knew his stuff and our questions weren’t brushed aside with bs answers.

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Stalagtites

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Bat in stalagmite

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Aragonite bush

Since our group was so small, and we hadn’t smashed any ancient cave formations, the lead ranger asked us if we wanted to take the longer route out of the cave. This was exciting because we were able to go a more challenging route that was a lot tighter than the normal trail and also had a lot of delicate features much closer to the path.

The tour went an extra 30 minutes so the rest of the caves were closed when we got done. Chandler collected the dog and I took care of our gear. Our next stop was Austin, TX to visit my brother and his wife. We didn’t quite realize how far away Austin was from the caverns, so we decided to drive a few hours to shave off some time.

Mexican food was in order again and we found a busy and sketchy looking place in Pecos,TX. The moment we walked in the door it was obvious we weren’t from around there. Almost everyone had cowboy boots, one guy even had spurs, and cowboy hats. The food was good and everyone was very friendly. Chandler had a steak covered with a “long green chile” which was cut open and roasted. I had a chile rellenos. Again, it was too dark to find a suitable place to camp so we stayed at the Walmart of Fort Stockton, Texas.