Story: Hoang Bui
Photos: Nguyen Thanh Hai, Nguyen Hai, Nguyen Luong Sang

Adventure awaits in the jungles of southern Quang Binh Province

Quang Binh Province is renowned for its pristine white-sand beaches and the majestic caves of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park. A lesser-known destination lies in the southern district of Le Thuy, where untouched natural beauty awaits discovery.

Trekking in Dong Chau

There are many professional tour operators in Quang Binh, including Oxalis Adventure, which focuses on high-end adventure tours to Son Doong and Hang En (Swallow Cave); Jungle Boss Tours, which introduces travelers to jungle camping tours and extreme adventure tours like exploring the Kong Sinkhole or Pigmy Cave; and Netin Travel, the only company to operate public routes in southern Quang Binh, outside of Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park.

Conquering Duong Cam Waterfall – Conquering oneself

After about an hour’s drive south along the curvy western branch of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, we reached Dong Chau – Khe Nuoc Trong Nature Reserve. The meeting point was at the Monkey Bridge (Cau Khi) Ranger Station. We changed into trekking clothes and loaded our backpacks with only drinking water and some essentials. The tour guides and porters briefed everyone about safety regulations,  emphasizing nature conservation etiquette.

This nature reserve is located at an altitude of nearly 700m above sea level and spans over 22,132ha. It is an evergreen tropical forest with over 98% green coverage, likened to an “emerald” in the Truong Son Mountain range due to its high biodiversity. Scientists note that the variety of flora and fauna found here is higher than in other Vietnamese forests.

En route to Duong Cam Waterfall

From the edge of the forest, the trail sloped straight down to Tien (Fairy) Stream. We followed the stream as it flowed under the primeval canopy, passing numerous rapids, and finally reached the foot of Duong Cam (Piano) Waterfall. It was a sight to behold – the waterfall was over 50m high with a slope of about 70 degrees and overflowing with foamy white water. From above, the waterfall looked like a striking white piano key amidst the verdant forest. Standing before this majestic creation, it felt as if human beings were tiny creatures compared to the vastness of nature. The porters helped us don safety belts and introduced the equipment. They showed us how to use ropes and safety clips and introduced climbing techniques. We were thrilled by the challenge of climbing the waterfall in one of the first tours of its kind in Vietnam. One by one, we approached the waterfall, grasped the rope, and pulled with both arms as two porters supported us from above, allowing us to slowly advance. The waterfall roared thunderously, splashing water as if to halt the climbers’ nervous feet. Shouts of support from the porters were lost in the waterfall’s rumbling. Toes gripping the rocks, eyes blurry with water, heart drumming in my chest, and mouth gasping for air, I looked up to the seemingly endless climb to the top. I had to stop mid-way to take deep breaths and calm my nerves before continuing. After a long struggle, thanks to the porters’ relentless support, I made it to the top. My whole body came alive with a sensation of victory after completing a task that had seemed impossible.

This waterfall-climbing tour is among the first of its kind in Vietnam

There were eight porters supporting our group, including two Bru-Van Kieu people living in Rum Ho Village, adjacent to Dong Chau Nature Reserve. Netin Travel has twin development goals: to grow tourism and support the locals’ livelihoods through tourism services and activities.

After a good post-climb rest, sipping hot tea while contemplating our emotions, we were ready to continue trekking out of the forest toward our campsite for the night.

The green meadows and Cha Loi Cave

Our campsite lay in the middle of a valley in Coi Da Village. There were only three stilt houses here, where Bru-Van Kieu people live without a care in this picturesque meadow. When the sun gently set on the mountain top, it was time for dinner. Dishes were plated on banana leaves and served on trays, prepared with local ingredients from the village: fried stream fish, roasted pork skewers, steamed crabs, roasted chicken, and special black sticky rice grown by the Bru-Van Kieu people themselves. As the group gathered to savor the delicious food, we enthusiastically shared our most memorable moments of the waterfall climb. Nightfall came faster in the valley. As crickets chirped in the wind, everyone soon fell into a deep sleep after our energy-zapping journey.

Camping in the Coi Da Valley

We woke to the valley’s fresh, pure air in the early morning. Lots of photos were taken at sunrise before our group continued trekking to Choi Loi Cave. On the way, we visited the stilt house of Ho Thi Mom, a Bru-Van Kieu woman who is over 70 years old. She cheerfully told us about the Bru-Van Kieu people’s custom of worshipping living family members. She also sang along with a traditional musical instrument of her people, the Tinh Tong lute.

The mountains of southern Quang Binh

After saying goodbye to Mrs. Mom, we prepared to enter the cave, having been briefed by the porters about the strict regulations. Cha Loi Cave, a three-storey structure with maze-like tunnels, had an easy entrance that was not even 5m above the ground. In the cave, there were many small clear lakes. Some areas were so narrow that we had to squeeze in and crawl through. Some other areas were so high and wide that our headlights could not even reach the ceiling. We took a break in a flat sandy area and had a light lunch of sticky rice, sesame and salt, and shredded chicken. Such meals seem tastier than usual when eaten in a forest or inside a cave. The rest of the trail was quite easy, so everybody was excited. Cha Loi Cave may not be as majestic as the famous caves in Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park but it offers diverse activities like climbing, swimming, and crawling, which spark different emotions. Near the entrance, there was an interesting heart-shaped tunnel, where we took our final photos before we departed.

A heart-shaped tunnel near the entrance of Cha Loi Cave

It was a different kind of journey: two days and one night completely cut off from any phone signal and urban noise. Despite our tiredness, we experienced a transformation as we conquered ourselves and explored the untouched, magnificent nature of mountainous southern Quang Binh.