OZO CAVE – UNDERGROUND PALACE
On the journey of discovering the central heritage road I chose Quang Binh as the third stop after visiting vibrant Da Nang and peaceful Hue.
Coming to Quang Binh on the South to North train, after passing Hai Van Pass with spectacular views of mountains and seas, what caught my eyes was how simple yet charming this place was.
Phong Nha Heritage – a newly-found tour company sent Tam whose build is sort of plump unlike what I expected from a ‘trekking guide’ to pick me up. Tam started off with a greeting in familiar ‘Quang’ accent reminded me of the time when I was in college. The tour departed from Dong Hoi – a city is undergoing lots of remarkable changes and headed to Phong Nha.
It’s been awhile since the last time I visited the area, the Ho Chi Minh road remained almost unchanged, still beautiful and scenic. Along the legendary road were greenish corn fields on which some Western tourists driving motorbikes pass by, innocent cows at times became main traffic while little squirrels caught chasing after each other in the bush.
Tam told us many stories along the journey, 4 youngsters from Ha Noi and a family of 3 from Da Nang were my companions on this trip. The tour I did this time was quite different from what I’d done the last time. Since I’d already visited public caves in the area like Phong Nha, Paradise on previous visits; the chosen destination this time was Ozo – a newly-opened cave recommended by some of my friends.
The bus stopped at Ozo Treetop Park – a new destination in the area situated right in the heart of Phong Nha Ke Bang national park. The place seemed pristine with environmentally-friendly materials. We were accompanied by a porter team of 4 people who were all locals knew the jungle and terrain really well. After briefing, we were equipped with safety gear including a helmet, a pair of trekking sandals, gloves and water bottles. The rest of equipment were carried by the porters.
The trek to Ozo cave for an experienced traveler like me is not that difficult. We trekked through a short section of jungle before wading along So Dua stream which was a good way to cool down during hot days. The beauty of nature in Phong Nha Ke Bang was gradually captured by our eyes as we heading towards the cave. It’s hard to believe this charming land boasts more than 400 caves.
The path to the cave is roughly 2 km long, before getting to the entrance we encountered a century-old tree standing in a welcoming manner.
Here came the entrance,
Life-jacket, helmet, gloves, light all on. Everything was ready!
We started the adventure by swimming through a narrow opening in cool water while trying to avoid hitting cave straws upon the ceiling. Our bodies gradually started getting used to with the water temperature as we swam further in.
Finish swimming, we began to walk and explore beautiful stalactites and stalagmites of the cave. The ceiling is high and low at points just like how the path is narrow and wide at different parts. There were passage with 40m high and 15m wide together with water gurgling somewhere in above. What impressed me besides cave formations were sandy sections on the floor and some fish that we encountered. According to our guide, some of the fish were blind since they had lived without sunlight for ages and eventually got adapted to the living conditions.
I have seen many limestone formations at different places from caves in Quang Ninh, Ninh Binh to Central Highlands, but the stalactites and stalagmites here still amazed me with various shapes and glittering covering. Bypassing 2/3 of the way, we could hear echoes of our voices lasted for a few seconds while chatting about the national park. A cool breeze blew through from the exit of the cave which signalled we were about to finish the adventure inside this ‘palace’. Before getting to the end of the cave, we could admire some crystal clear water sections that when shining lights on it turned into blue color as magical as scenes at Disneyland.
The ladder in front up us was like underlines for yellowish sunbeams from the outside shining down. A girl in the group came up and raised her hands to catch the beams after a memorable journey which somehow reminded me of a novel by Anthony Doerr “All the light we can not see” but here the light was tangible and could be seen by all of us.
After taking some cool shots at the cave exit, we climbed up and made our way back to the park. The path of return was full of light and pristine unlike darkness and some bit anxiety in the cave.
We got back to bustling Ozo park with full of sounds from visistors that you can here from afar after roughly 20 minutes of trekking. Our guide took us to the restaurant to enjoy our lunch feast. It was delicious and everyone seemed happy with it after the journey of 4 hours.
Ozo Treetop Park is situated in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park where it is somewhat bustle but not that busy and crowded, everyone still can find their own space to relax and enjoy nature. After lunch, we were informed of activities at the site and freely take part in interested ones.
My first day in Quang Binh this time was exhilarating and memorable, Ozo cave thoroughly brought many unforgettable moments that I have never experienced before. I call it ‘palace’ as mysterious and magical vibes the cave offered.
It is absolutely true to state Quang Binh is a beautiful land, but more specific to say it is beautiful in a truly ‘unique’ way.