Paradise Cave: Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

Paradise Cave was discovered in 2005, and have now taken over in popularity the better known Phong Nha Caves that are announced by a huge sign on one of the hills outside the town of Phong Nha. The latter caves can only be reached by boat then walking to the caves so we opted for Paradise. Which was just as well as we discovered later, which also explained why Paradise seemed to be suddenly getting crowded at one point, the Phong Nha Caves were closed due to high water. It took four years for experts to fully explore over the next four years before opening to the public –  31 km long, the largest dry cave in the world, we only explored the ‘easier’, monstrously large, dry section. 100 metres at its highest point and up to 150 metres wide. The boardwalk inside this section of the cave, once down the steep, steep stairs, is an impressive one and 1/4km long that provides many wonderful views of the various formations one would expect in a cave. The more intrepid can choose to stop at – before or after – one of the more challenging sections for dark caving (no thank you), wading in water through a cave, rafting, (I think that is what they meant when our guides were telling us about the activities) and cave climbing. There is also the very carefully protected cave in which only 300, carefully vetted, visitors per year are allowed to explore. This particular cave, Hang Son Doong, could fit an entire Manhattan city block insid and takes a week to explore! Like I said, we chose paradise (need I suggest, over Hell?)


These reminded me of ancient blades melded together over time.


My only fear was having one of these fall on us!

Readers may note I say we versus me, I was on a four day motorcycle tour with my youngest daughter. She ended up not being a happy camper during the significantly long uphill, switchback trek to the mouth of the cave. (Rather than tell me she was hungover she just complained – most likely because I would not have felt a bit sorry for her. The blisters on her feet however were another issue) It took me 45 minutes to an hour to the mouth, she took longer.

There were maybe 3-4 places with coloured lights; my preference would be none. (In and around Guilin, China, also known for its caves, lighting is a garish art form

Once there we had to climb down a short set of steps, enter the somewhat narrow mouth to the cave, adjust our eyes, then be wowed by the spectacular, disorienting view, in the eerie darkness. Plus the stairs. The steep stairs. Wooden, vertigo inducing stairs. I had a few moments when I did not think my equilibrium would balance on time to go forward or back. Fortunately my brain and feet worked in unison and I sallied forth. My daughter was somewhere behind me taking pictures and finally enjoying herself despite the muttering of ‘I’ve seen caves, why am I here’ that were audible enough for me to hear until I was further away – I never did remind her that sound carries. I focussed on being awed by the natural, internal world. White walls, cathedral surmounting ceiling, a couple of degrees cooler than outside, naturally formed, marbled statues that outclass even the most perfect of all statues – which is of course up to debate. I was happy to note this cave is tastefully lit, just enough light to not trip over your feet. We were also there, until as noted, more visitors were arriving, when it was relatively quiet. At one point it felt as though we were the sole inhabitants of a lost underworld. 

Although called a dry cave there was water on many of the surfaces. I did wonder where it came from.
This was like time had suddenly stood still in mid bubble.

Photos cannot do justice to the magnificence of huge spaces unless taken from above, and, although I took a few pictures from the top of the stairs’ the feel for the space – I never felt I was literally under millions of tons of rock, well not until now – cannot be depicted unless perhaps a drone (heaven forbid) were to be used. I hope I managed, with help from my daughter who has a much better eye for photo ops than I, to find enough shots for others to enjoy. 

This was the end for us although my daughter thought the sleeping guard gave us the opportunity to slip over the guardrail. I did read later that it is possible to explore further with a guide. The fact a guide is necessary made me happy to turn back.

Advertisements

Pretty F***ing Useless

Perhaps it is important to stress at the outset that I had a rotten week and was ready to throw in the gloves. If it had not been for my eldest calling me after I sent out a stressed message, then her sister and I going over an edit, I might have turned tail in Vancouver to head home. So, the title is due to World Nomad travel insurance – or lack thereof.

It seems their site is down and the Canadian office (head office is in Australia) has not been given any information other than to say keep on trying. All very well except I had been trying since 24 hours earlier – prior to departure! I sent two emails, no response. To be told that once out of the country any insurance purchased has a two day hold before it is valid! Absolutely unacceptable in my opinion. I will be making a major stink about this once I can figure out how to do so on Twitter etc.

Other than that significant issue seems were smooth. The drive to the ferry was quick. I was so early the ticket booth was not even open. The ferry was fine until announcement there would be a “man overboard drill” that would possibly delay our arrival by 15 minutes. I was beginning to see this as a sign. We were on time. The bus was waiting for passengers – no use leaving empty. I nearly left on the wrong Sky Train – a security person called me (lady in green works when wearing a lime green rainshield on my pack) to say I had to wait for the next train, about 3 minutes. Then off to the airport. I still had not turned heel to run home.

I may have to rethink future packing – these are heavy!

Check-in was a breeze, as was security other than my leg brace that I had not even considered. So, day 1, still sad, not quite as stressed, and hanging out with my travel companions.

This is what I am leaving – sunrise. Going home is always easy.
Yes, taking pandas and a fan to China- sort of like coal to Newcastle.

Saying Farewell 

By the time this post is published I will be in Shanghai. By the time this post is published I will have had long enough to stop crying. By the time this post is published Mozzy, my 15+ year old kitty, born in Nanning, China will have had his last bits of candied salmon before meeting his ancestors. This is a safe enough place to write what I am going through emotionally before we say goodbye to Mozzy. The decision was not easy to make – even with the support of our veterinarian. The practical side of me – a word I think was voiced far too often because what else can be said – knows the decision to stop treatment and let Mozzy be pain free is for the best. We know the decision has not nothing to do with my looming departure. And loom it does. Like a monster of guilt. 

My favourite photo of Mozzy, from about three years ago when he was still healthy.
This is Mozzy’s, “You’re what?” look.

Guilt with wondering if I did enough. We did. Guilt with wondering if Mozzy could have lived longer. Yes, but in a deteriorating condition. Guilt wondering if he is happy on this, his last, day. I think so, he ate a little salmon. Guilt also, wondering if I waited too long. That thought alone is what will get me through the day. During a long talk with the vet we both voiced our amazement that Mozzy made it beyond the end of August. Did I prolong his life for him or for me? Perhaps a little of both. Until last night Mozzy was making every attempt to appear well despite the severe weight loss and pain. By morning he was not. I can only hope he understands and will still love me until the end. 

A screened, open window, a Tibetan pillow – life of a Mandarin cat.
My youngest daughter called Mozzy, ‘My Prince’. The chair became his favourite place to sit.

 My daughter threw a birthday party for my that Mozzy took control of. I think he thought it was for him – typical kitty. However, I needed to let loose some of my sadness before it swallows me up. I could not post anything to friends, not yet. So, by the time this is posted time and distance may have helped with the healing. Mozzy is just as much a family member as my children. They know.

Wasn’t that a party! (After everyone had left and Mozzy’s chair was in the wrong place)
Post Script: I did eventually write something on FB, there are people who would want to know. It dawned on me that some friends even knew Mozzy when my youngest daughter first brought him home at seven weeks old from the hole in the wall store outside the school I worked at in Nanning after seeing a child kick him. Mozzy had been promised to us but I was not ready for him at such a young age. He immediately squirmed his way into our hearts. Either my sister or the vet said perhaps Mozzy will be with me in spirit when I am in China. I like that. I miss him.

Pins and Needles

Did I really say I would blog twice a week? While still at home, revving up my engine to leave, I have time. Once in China I might have the time – just not easily accessible sites. I do have a VPN, it worked last year. I do hope I will post about the trip at least once a week plus the mother of the bride insights on Wedding Wednesday. Not that any of this has to do with puns, nor needles.

Pins, I had a notice from Stillpoint Community Acupuncture offering a free session the week of my birthday that I thought would be foolish to pass up! Considering one session is $40.00 – although the sliding scale starts at $25.00 – it was a great way to prepare my poor aching knees for lots of walking and climbing. I will still wear the interchangeable stabilizing brace, just not right now as it seems to have scratched and rubbed my leg below the knee (unless it was Mozzy my cat, although possible it is a strange mark for it to be a cat scratch).

Needles, I know it is a good idea to take along a small sewing kit, I just cannot seem to find mine! If I do not I will most likely just throw a standard needle (with a wide enough eye I will not need a magnifying glass) and spool of thread into my tiny first aid kit. Perhaps a bobbin will fit better. The whole plan being prepared without overdoing it. 

Pins and needles. Perhaps needless to say but I am now approaching that waiting on pins and needles stage. All the last minute changes, items to still pack, currencies to buy, and visas are pretty well dealt with. I have my visa for China and ordered the Vietnam visa letter that is supposed to fast track things once I arrive. Unfortunately, although most likely easily fixed, I ended up ordering three visas! All because my debit visa would not work. A call to the bank showed no problems. Thank goodness http://www.cheapvietnamvisa.net has several ways for payment to be made. I chose this company solely because my daughter used them last year – time will determine if I am satisfied. I am also pleased it was only 7.55CAD (6.00USD). The actual stamp will be paid upon arrival – 25.00USD.  

We were using his chair for guests so he found a bag to curl up on after.

No more needles? I hope to cut the Cartrophen for Mozzy, it is not making his leg better and he hates going for the 30 minute drive – one way – then being poked and prodded. We have a weigh-in appointment, discussion with the vet to decide if Mozzy might survive the next two months, then some serious decision making. I may need a needle, or a shot of something.

Eternal posy for my 60th birthday the other day – my daughters said this way I will always have flowers from them.

The Final Countdown

I have noticed I often take snippets of song titles or snippets from lyrics when I am working on a Blog title. They just seem to pop into my mind with the result of having a catchy start and an ear bug for much of the day. I think this is one reason I do not listen to music when I travel. Also the fact I have no idea how to download music and my earbuds (which I hate using) and earphones plug do not seem to fit into my iPhone. I guess that is what one should expect when trying to save money by purchasing a ‘slightly’ used product. Which is why I am at a countdown of sorts.

My previous Blog discussed packing; I have not yet attempted to make everything fit although I remain confident it will. I am counting down the days – fewer than 30. I am counting on Mozzy – my cat – to be well. I am counting on not going crazy when my youngest daughter arrives from Honduras – recently a hurricane went by there and she is much like that force. To my knowledge she is still planning to join me on my Vietnam leg which will certainly help cut costs other than the actual motorcycle tour – we will have our own guides and probably not share rooms until we reach Hoi An. 

Family here are planning a celebration for my birthday – I am not looking forward to counting candles! Last time we had a cake with many, many candles (50, for my sister) the smoke alarm went off. Perhaps I will request six sparklers. There is not really anything I want – or rather, what I want will not happen. I do not need anything – besides money or free accommodation of course. I am also counting virtual money –  CNY, USD & VND – to work out the various exchange rates into CAD that go along with accommodation and transportation I know I will be using. (My whole budget is based on CAD – readers can now feel sorry for me)

Despite promising myself I would try to not rush about from place to place I have so far booked thirteen hostels and hotels, and that does not include the nine I will stay at during my Vietnam tour! I also have to figure out where I will go for the last six day of my trip. I will also take 8 – 10 trains, one motorcycle, a few subways, some short distance buses and who knows what else. However, even after factoring in three transit days and adding in Hoi An and Hanoi (I love saying those together) plus the six days I need to figure out, I believe my final countdown will still remain at 100CAD (80USD for anyone who does not think in Canadian dollars) per day. I could make it less if I were not springing for three nights close to two sections of the Great Wall at a boutique hotel. My birthday present to myself – they even offered to bake a cake.