Son Doong’s Garden of Edam peeked through the next passage like a half moon keeping a wary eye on foreign travelers. Hiking once more in the dark, our headlamps illuminated bulbous calcite deposits left by a millennia of rainy seasons carving its way through this ancient waterway. In another million years our passageway will likely be sealed by this natural cave evolution.
Sending Deb and Mr. Ky ahead as our models, we made use of the vantage point provided by the calcite domes. Setting up the photograph wasn’t too difficult with such natural beauty. The tricky part was accounting for the clouds that kept rolling in. At first I thought they would bring some stunning contrast to the shot but quickly realized we would have to wait for them to clear.
Finally the clouds dissipated with a resounding “ooo, ah!” and “holy f*ck!” from us white folk. Snapping a shot of the Garden of Edam’s lush entryway with white stalactites completing a scene that will be ingrained in my brain forever. Eager to join the jungle’s chorus (or at least get a closer vantage point) we went out once again. Climbing down the calcite stalagmites proved to be a simple task. As we reached the left wall. a dried up riverbed lead the way among boulders as we headed straight for the doline’s base.
Slick, but not as fickle as Watch out for Dinosaurs’ red carpet we were able to make the ascent as a group. Of course Thanh, Carla and I trailed for some excess photography. By the time we reached the mouth of Son Doong’s second jungle (that former watchful eye) everyone was relaxing on a vine-laden outcropping while a misty cloud surrounded us. We joined for a water break and some friendly banter about the differences between British, American, Canadian and French Canadian English.
Garden of Edam’s lush overgrowth was littered with all stages of life. We found dozens of crushed snails, many as big as a baseball! Monkeys descend the treacherous walls of this doline from the deep jungle outside, especially when it rains. Once down below they smash these snails for a quick snack.
Massive trees loomed 30 meters above while Thanh pointed out 3 stages of a gorgeous mystery flower. It bloomed by sprouting a pink stalk that eventually fanned out for a peacock like display. We climbed over downed banana trees and every moss or fern you can imagine as a cacophony of birds and bugs echoed from nearly 300 meters above!
The heat & humidity climbed the further that we did. Coupled with the thought of our next feast being prepared by Mr. Tu and the porter team, we were convinced not to dwell up here for too long. It took about 30 minutes to get through three doline where we could barely make out the campsite below. At first on our right was an archway massive enough to house a skyscraper! Howard let us know that passage was sealed off although the river previously flowed through it. Within the last few million the calcite formations grew too large and diverted the river. That very change in course created the cavern we had just passed through and rewarded us with a wonderful vantage point after a brief climb. The river is apparently now creating a 3rd path since ours was nearly stopped up and may be impassable in a few hundred million years.
Moments after arrival Mr. Tu and the porter crew laid a new feast before us. It was impossible to predict that fried chicken & french fries would be freshly made this deep into the jungle but they were just as delicious as the Vietnamese stir fry that accompanied tonight’s dinner. After eating we switched over to Vietnamese card games and challenged the porters managing to walk away a little cleaner than the night before. The bad news was that we walked away cleaner because of a new penalty, we still lost 9 out of 10 games and were delivered rice wine and kneeling penalties which meant you had to kneel on the hard rocks until you won a round!
After the sun set we went into overdrive setting up a night shot of the campsite surrounded by the green mouth of the doline. Thanh, Mr. Ky and Chris hiked partway up the boulders and used our headlamps to illuminate the scene. Half of the remaining crew lit the foreground while Carla and I snapped these once in a lifetime pictures of the entrance to Son Doong’s 2nd doline.
When Howard brought the BBC reporter to this very same location he approached from the darkness behind us. They rappelled down the Great Wall of Vietnam (which I would get to see tomorrow); upon turning the corner the commentator saw The Garden of Edam and exclaimed “Fuckin’ Hell!”
“Cut!” shouted his director. BBC is family friendly so they had to reshoot the entrance a few times before finally managing “Fffffreaking hell” which was usable. Howard’s anecdotal stories like this were a great addition to the trip. ONe of my other favorites was his adventure to Coral Reef, 18 hours beyond the Great Barrier Reef; well maybe the camera man he brought to Son Doong who accidentally burned Howards hand and then forced him to carry all the equipment in a climb after nearly breaking his “good” hand. If you want to hear them the best thing is to head to Phong Nha and join one of these trips!