The low season is upon us, and tour guide training is in full swing. The tour guides started off their training with basic refresher courses in our Phong Nha headquarters, led by Deb Limbert and Howard Limbert of the British Cave Research Association. Their two full days included reviewing ropes, practicing rope ascending, taking turns abseiling off of Oxalis Home, putting harnesses on customers, clipping into safety lines, making customers feel comfortable on ropes, as well as a public speaking & effective communication course to improve interactions with customers.
After the end of their refresher course, the team headed off on a group trip to Saigon, where training would continue both at the Vertical Academy and outdoors at Buu Long Park. The team was split into different groups and they started at Vertical Academy with theory classes run enthusiastically by Cedric Deguilhem, Director of Operations at the Academy. Cedric is a Petzl importer and distributor, and he trains people in occupational safety and rope access work. He certifies those working on offshore oil rigs, as lighting riggers, and he has recently updated his course to make it more appropriate for caving (which is perfect for Oxalis)! His friendly demeanor and excellent Vietnamese made him a huge hit with the tour guides.
The morning of the first day included lessons on proper use and care of equipment, including how to check, clean, and store gear. Cedric taught the history of how and why each piece of equipment is used, and how to determine the level of wear and tear on such equipment as harnesses, carabiners, ropes, helmets, lights and more. It gave our newer tour guides a chance to familiarize themselves with some equipment which was less well-known to them, such as hand jammer ascenders, grigri belay devices and descenders. Our more senior tour guides helped oversee our junior tour guides as they continue to acquire more caving and technical skills.
The afternoon of the first day continued with lessons on static vs dynamic ropes, the theory behind fall factor and why this knowledge is so vital in injury prevention, and an introduction to bolting and creating new routes. Cedric explained how on the final day they would go to the mountain to actually bolt and create new routes. In the meantime, he instructed them on how bolting is done, how to drill by hand, what part of the limestone to drill into, and then how to do a handline.
Most tour guide groups were given a couple days off to review the things they had learned so far, go over their notes, and practice on their own. Of course they also had time to enjoy themselves, country boys getting to explore the big city of Saigon — they had a blast!
The second official day of training proceeded with an extensive review of knot tying and its importance in climbing and use of safety ropes. Everyone went over the use of each type of equipment and gained practice in using it all quickly and efficiently. They had fun abseiling on descenders, climbing, belaying, and continuing their lessons in ropes. Cedric taught the importance of changing out ropes, how to do it properly, and what deviation is. Each tour guide had a chance to apply the lectures of the morning session and the previous day’s teachings.
On the last day, the great outdoors awaited the tour guides as they made their way to Buu Long Park, an hour away from Saigon, to test their prowess and get some last practice in before the course finished up. Here they were able to try out their new skills of bolting and creating new routes, taking everything they learned in consideration, such as fall factor and the best placement of bolts in limestone rock. They also had the opportunity to perfect their abseiling, climbing, and belaying capabilities.
The training course in Saigon has increased the excitement of the tour guide team, according to tour guide Kien, who said that the guides are all ready to come back to Phong Nha and further explore our caves with new exhilaration. He also noted that the training has made the guides more confident when using ropes and caving equipment.
The tour guide team is looking forward to honing their skills at our office throughout the rest of the rainy period, in preparation of a busy season ahead starting November 9. In the meantime, stay tuned for a posting about our upcoming annual team building trip!
Oxalis Adventure Tours
ONE DAY TOURS
If you are seeking a taste of the caves and really don’t have enough time then we recommend a one-day cave and jungle trek. We currently have three tour options for you to select, each with a slightly different style and suitability.
• Phong Nha National Park 1-Day: Our family adventure in the Phong Nha offers a great taste of untouched jungle and impressive wild caves. It is the easiest level of adventure but there is still 5km of trekking and 2km of caving, and optional swimming during warmer weather into one cave. It’s suitable for kids from 12 and above with good fitness, and so this makes for a great day for everyone! It costs VND 1,650,000 per person (USD 72).
• Tu Lan Experience – 1 Day: This is one of our original one-day tours and still one of the best adventures in Vietnam. This one-day tour includes rock scrambling, 50m swimming through a wild river-cave, and up to 9 km of trekking through the lush jungles. You will also strap yourself in for a 15m descent down a ladder. It costs VND 1,800,000 (USD 78) per person.
• Hang Tien Discovery – 1 Day: This one-day tour is perfect for trekking enthusiasts eager to see the largest cave of Tu Lan but without time for the two-day experience. Hang Tien is a dry cave so no swimming required, but still includes up to 4km of trekking through mostly flat jungle and about 500m exploring this incredible cave that will no doubt impress with its grandeur. It costs VND 2,000,000 per person (USD 87).
TWO DAY TOURS
Our most popular cave adventures start from two-days providing an immersive jungle and caving adventure, each targeting a slightly different kind of adventure-seeker, or perfect for those who want to combine a couple of tours to see different caves and areas on one trip to Phong Nha.
• Tu Lan Cave Encounter – 2 Days: Our most popular tour exploring the famous jungle area of Tu Lan. On this overnight camping excursion, you will trek through a number of different dry caves, swim up to 500m through a couple of river caves, witness outstanding cascading waterfalls underground as featured in National Geographic, and spend the night at our jungle camp beside a gorgeous waterfall. It includes 12km of trekking and 3km of caving in total and is for those with a good adventurous spirit. It costs VND 5,500,000 per person (USD 239).
• Hang En Cave Adventure – 2 Days: For two days, this is our best-value-for-money tour that includes one of the most jaw-dropping natural landscapes you will see in this lifetime. This cave is considered the second largest cave in Vietnam and third largest in the World, and it also makes up one night of the original five-day Son Doong Cave Expedition being so close to the largest cave in the world. It includes visiting Ban Doong Ethnic Village, located in the jungle, and a magnificent campsite on a sandy beach inside the cave. It includes 22km of jungle trekking at times quite rocky, multiple knee-deep river crossings, and elevation change of 400m (the ‘hill’ you won’t forget), and 4km of caving. This is a level 3 adventure on a scale of 1 to 6. It costs VND 7,600,000 per person (USD 330).
• Hang Tien Endeavor – 2 Days: A two-day trek into the jungle to see the largest dry cave of the Tu Lan area, exploring 5.5km of this truly stunning cave, with a variety of karst formations. This 13km trek is suitable for those not too keen on cave swimming or too many hills, but still up for an adventure. This is a level 4 adventure between 1 and 6, with 6 being the most challenging. It costs VND 6,500,000 per person (USD 283).
• Hang Va Expedition – 2 Days: A technically challenging, but equally rewarding two-day caving adventure in the heart of Phong Nha National Park. This tour takes you deep into the jungle to one of the most spectacular river-caves, with formations not seen anywhere else in the world! It involves rock scrambling, wading through an underground river, bouldering and rope-traversing within the cave, to reach the rarest tower cone formations. This involves quite a lot of technical work due to safety, but is not overly difficult, it includes 10km of trekking and 3 km of caving. This is a level 4 adventure, with 6 being the highest. It costs VND 8,000,000 per person (USD 348).
Now, if you really want to increase the adventure and soak up the wild jungle of Vietnam, with plenty of time to relax and enjoy the area, we highly recommend a three-day caving tour of our Tu Lan or Hang Tien.
• Wild Tu Lan Cave Explorer – 3 Days: This tour incorporates the very best of Tu Lan with two different jungle campsites besides stunning waterfalls, 3km of cave exploring through a number of caves, 1km of cave swimming and visiting some additional areas not included on our shorter experiences. Our three-day tour is very popular and tends to be booked out so get in quick to enjoy this thrilling jungle adventure. It includes 17 km of jungle trekking and with quite a bit of swimming you will need to have a good level of fitness. It is not for the faint-hearted, but still only considered level 3 adventure level compared to level 4 of the Hang Tien 3-day tour. It costs VND 8,000,000 per person (USD 348).
• Hang Tien Exploration – 3 Days: This three-day tour stands out for combining a taste of Tu Lan with some river cave swimming, before crossing a mountain range to reach the valley for Hang Tien – the most astounding dry caves in the region, where you will enjoy trekking, bouldering over various rocky terrains to witnessing breathtaking patterned calcite walls & ceilings of Hang Tien. It’s challenging and definitely more suited to adventure enthusiasts who have trekking experience and prefer more challenging routes. It includes a total of 22km of trekking, 6.5 km of caving and an elevation change of 150m over one particular hillside. You will get wet, you will be challenged, but you will not be disappointed. Hang Tien is located adjacent to the Tu Lan area so you will enjoy the best of both worlds – a level 4 adventure out of 6 adventure levels. It costs VND 8,500,000 per person (USD 370).
FOUR & FIVE-DAY TOURS
For those looking for the ultimate adventure experience in Vietnam, and thriving for the real grand expedition of the world, you should opt for these 4-day journeys to explore the entire cave system of Tu Lan and the largest cave on Earth
• Tu Lan Expedition – 4 Days: You will also explore all of the extraordinary caves in Tu Lan, including Kim Cave and Secret Cave that boasts phenomenal natural falls and karst formations inside these two unbelievable river caves. Complete a trek through Hang Tien Cave – famed for its vastness and magnificent formations. Our secluded jungle campsites are spectacular and mostly different from those visited on our shorter treks in the same region. This is a perfect alternative expedition for those who are unable to do Son Doong Expedition, still it’s challenging and not recommended for those without experience. It includes an additional night at Chay Lap Farmstay before the tour to ensure you are well rested and ready to depart early the following day. Level 5 on our 6 adventure levels. It includes 30km of jungle trekking, 5 km of caving, about 800m swimming through caves and one abseil in a cave in the pitch black – highly adventurous! It costs VND 15,000,000 per person (USD 652).
• Son Doong Expedition – 4 Days: By now you would have seen some pictures of Son Doong Cave, and even they don’t do it justice. The record-breaking Son Doong Cave is hands-down one of the most stunning places on this planet Earth. The expedition is tough, but not too difficult so long as you have a strong resolve to achieve. It is surely one of the newest wonders of the world. Son Doong is not just another cave tour – it is life-changing to say the least. It includes 25km of trekking, 9 km caving including rope climbs, and the 90m ascent of the Great Wall of Vietnam using a ladder, elevation change of 400m and many river crossings inside and outside the cave. Level 6 on our adventure levels. It costs VND 69,800,000 per person (USD 3000).
STILL HAVE QUESTIONS? Visit our FAQs section where we have a lot of answers for your questions and concerns. https://oxalis.com.vn/faq-general/
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