Cave in to the spelunker craze

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Vietnam has certainly made a name for itself as a spelunker's delight, with spectacular options on offer in many provinces.

If you have that explorer's itch going, one of the best ways to scratch it is trekking through caves with streams murmuring below in the Madagui Forest in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong.

Located 152 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, the Madagui Forest Resort, part of the Nam Cat Tien National Forest, is a popular tourist attraction thanks to its rugged scenery and refreshingly cool climate.

The highlight of the 1,200- hectare park is a chain of caves, formed by volcanic activities long ago that are surrounded by a primeval forest that adds to the feeling of a great adventure.

We reached the Thay (Master) Cave as the first place in our exploration. The cave has a semicircle shape and a length of around 60 meters. It is formed by many huge and slightly slanted rocks. Listening to the sound of water flowing underneath us was a special experience.

After the Thay Cave we entered the Than Nui (Mountain God) Cave. About 15 meters deep and 120 meters long, the cave has three floors. We felt like we were going through a tunnel with alternate wide and narrow paths. The cave, where Vietnamese soldiers once lived during the Vietnam War, still has flat rocks that had been used as tables by the soldiers.

We chose the most impressive cave, Tu Than (Death), as our next destination.

In the old days, the cave was a shelter for beasts and birds. When villages were founded, ethnic minorities there named it Tu Than Cave because of the danger, obstacles and difficulties in accessing it.

This cave is formed by many huge stones piling up on one another, creating deep, narrow and tortuous sub-caves about 20 meters deep and 200 meters long with streams flowing below. The cave grows smaller and smaller the further it goes down. Exploring the cave, is an unforgettable, thrilling experience.

We left this cave and crossed a bamboo garden with 37 different varieties. As we did so, we saw a relievo of nine bats flying eastward, guiding us to the main entrance of the Doi (Bat) Cave.

Doi Cave is home to thousands of wild bats. They hang in great crowds on the cave walls and tree roots to sleep during the day. At night they leave the cave in flocks noisily in search of food.

Exploring the Doi Cave at night promises to be a hair-raising adventure.

Madagui offers other breathtaking landscapes apart from caves. The forest has rare and valuable plant species, very old trees and a number of endangered animals.

The path to the Voi (Elephant) Stream is also very beautiful. Those interested in a bit of adventurous trekking will love the approach to the upper reaches of the stream where one can bathe in its cool waters.

Sports fans can also have a good time at Madagui, as it provides a range of activities including terrain cycling, shooting and horseback riding.

HOW TO GET THERE

Madagui Forest Resort is halfway between Ho Chi Minh City and Da Lat. It is 152km northeast of HCMC and 148km southwest of Da Lat.

From the center of HCMC, take Hanoi Highway (Road No. 13) to National Highway 1A. Take 1A north for some 67km until you reach Dau Giay Crossroads. Then turn left onto National Road 20 until you reach kilometer marker 85. The gate of Madagui Forest Resort is on the left hand side 500m past the marker in Madagui Town, Da Huoai District, Lam Dong Province.

For further information, tourists can visit the website at www.madagui.com.vn in Vietnamese and English.

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