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SE Asia

LAOS and VIETNAM KARST

October 25 - November 14, 2012

20 nights, 21 days

Dwight and Mary Deal, Focused Tours and Kim’s World Travel

Itinerary

PREVIEW

See Dwight's posts on Cave Chat describing our 2011 exploratory trip. You do not have to be registered to view it:
http://www.forums.caves.org/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=13148
Note that there are 3 pages to these posts including a number of new images added through January 1, 2012. When you get to the bottom of the first page, click on the small "next" on the lower right. If you click on the partial thumbnail image, you will see a larger view of the entire image.

Day Where Activity
Days 1-3 Flying West coast from San Francisco and
East coast from New York
Oct 25 Thursday home airport to SFO; flights per individual; arrive by 10:30 pm
Oct 26 Depart SFO 1:20 AM on Friday
Oct 27 Arrive Singapore on Saturday 11:40 am clear customs
  Transfer to downtown hotel; enjoy Singapore into the evening; overnight

Oct 25 Thursday, home airport to JFK; flights per individual
  Depart JFK
Oct 27 Arrive Singapore Saturday, 6:35 am clear customs
  Transfer to downtown hotel; enjoy Singapore into the evening; overnight
 
For all, only carry-on luggage with essentials will go with you for overnight. Your other bag will be checked through to Vientiane, Laos
     
Day 4
Oct 28
Sunday we board the 7:40 am flight to Bangkok and connect to Laos Arrive Vientiane, Laos at 12:55 pm. Clear customs and get a visa by completing the visa form and paying the fee....an easy process.
Our private vans take us to Vang Vieng. Arrive in time for sunset behind dramatic karst hills. Welcome Dinner on the deck.
Day 5
Oct 29
Vang Vieng Local caves and spectacular karst landscapes.

Caves are a warm 24 degrees C and if you want to go very far into them you may wade through streams or pools - it depends on how wet the June-October rainy season really was. Possibilities include:

Tham Jang (local "developed cave" with trail and lights south of town)

Tham Poukham (Cave of the Gold Crab) on west side of river. Reclining Buddha statue in large entrance room, some nice formations farther back after a bit of scrambling.  Great swimming hole (Blue Lagoon) outside. No trails or lighting in the cave.

Tham Nam Xang (water cave) and Tham Hoi (snail cave) north of town.  The lower one has inner tubes and a pull line for exploration.  You can go quite some distance in the upper one which is a large walking passage, mostly on cobble floors.  800 meters in you can drop down to the active stream passage.  No trails or lighting.

Walk or take a taxi into town for a chance to enjoy the local fare.

Day 6
Oct 30
Vang Vieng Local caves and karst

One option is drive north to Kasi. View the very large scale karst north of Kasi and visit a newly developed cave, Tham Khoun Lang, which is scheduled to open in April. Perhaps stop at Tham Nang Phom Hom (Girl with Perfumed Hair Cave - an old Lao story). A complex small cave with an active stream. No trails or lights. Alternative visit another cave or caves between Kasi and Vang Vieng.

Another option is to hike around the karst north of town, perhaps a special hiking trip to the "secret valley" and caves northwest of Vang Vieng. Also boating, tubing, swimming opportunities on the river. Dinner options on our own.

Day 7
Oct 31
Scenic drive Depart Vang Vieng and have a scenic ride into Central Laos, arriving late afternoon in the Hinboun Valley.

Hinboun means "limestone". Stay at the "base camp" where Claude Mouret and Jean-Francois Vacquie based (and still do) the French cavers over the years. Maps on the walls of local caves and the karst.

Day 8
Nov 1
Hinboun Valley River caves and karst

Visit Konglor cave (also called "Tham Nam Hinboun"). Great river trip via wooden long-tail boat. One upper decorated level is electrically lighted. No lights for the 7.5 km boat ride - bring a bright one! Lunch near cave, travel back down the river in a boat to our guesthouse.

Afternoon - Tham Nam Nom Cave, longest cave known in Laos (huge walking passage, probably wading and possibly swimming through some water - no trail or lights) or some other cave(s).  Or just relax by the river.

Day 9
Nov 2
Central Laos Move to a guesthouse in the karst east of Tha Khaek.

Visit another large cave on the way, perhaps Tham Pha Chan or Tham Luang. Great swimming hole behind the guesthouse where we stay. Option to swim across it and into the upstream entrance of Xieng Liap Cave, which goes about 700 m through the ridge. No trails or lights in these caves, either.

Day 10
Nov 3
Border Drive east across the border from Laos to Vietnam.

Perhaps stop in the morning on the way at the developed Tham Nang Aen (trails, boat ride, and lights).  Afternoon arrival at our guesthouse just outside Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park, a UNESCO's World Heritage Site.  Set up a tab that gives you individual choices for breakfast, dinner, and beverages.  Lunches provided for day trips.

Day 11
Nov 4
Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park, Vietnam
A leisurely day to enjoy the local rural landscape and lifestyle. Visit Phang Nha Cave (trails and lights), a boat ride up the river, and other activities.
Day 12
Nov 5
Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park
Tour of Phan Nha - Ke Bang National Park including Thien Duong (Paradise) Cave. A must see. Just opened - a world class cave with world class development. You see 1.5 km of the 31.4 km mapped, huge passage 30-150 m wide, 40-100 m high, straight sections 300-400 m at a shot. A well decorated, wet Carlsbad Caverns and then some. Not as wide as the big room in Carlsbad, but it goes, and goes, and goes. Excellent elevated walkway with good railings to contain the visitors and well lit with state of the art LEDs. This cave was discovered in 2005 and developed before it was impacted by casual visitation.
Day 13
Nov 6
Transfer from Phong Nha to Hanoi

A leisurely morning.  Drive to Dong Hoi for an afternoon flight to Hanoi. We stay in a convenient hotel in the Old Quarter of Hanoi.  We will return to this hotel after our visit to Cat Ba Island and Ha Long Bay, so now's the time to sort clothes, pack your small bag for the next 4 days and leave your other bag at the hotel.  There is the option of giving a laundry bag to the hotel to have clean clothes upon return.

Day 14
Nov 7
Cat Ba Island and Ha Long Bay Move to the Bay

Early departure with transfers by bus-boat-bus-boat (sounds complicated but it works smoothly) to remote beach-side cabins in a small bay. Settle in, kick back and relax. Swim in the bay if you so desire. Learn to use a kayak.

Day 15
Nov 8
Ha Long Bay karst, karst, more karst and caves
Explore the bay with our private junk to transport us to scenic karst and caves. Choose to use the 2-person kayaks to enter caves or relax on the boat, or go for a swim. As we pass a floating community of fishermen and families, we can stop to visit and learn of their way of life.
Day 16
Nov 9
Ha Long Bay  
Another day on our support junk with kayaks in tow for exploration. Travel further out to find incredibly scenery and more karst and caves in Ha Long Bay. Possible stops include Chopstick Rock, Dark Cave, Bat Cave, Hang Trong (2 Sides Cave), Hang Song Sot, Dong Thien Cung, and Hang Dau Go.
Day 17
Nov 10
Ha Long Bay and Cat Ba Town  
Pack up your gear and take it with you as we spend the morning back on the Bay with time to kayak, swim, visit new caves, including Ho Ba Ham Cave and interior drowned dolines on Dau Be Island, and take in the scenery. After lunch we come into port and transfer to Cat Ba Town for one night at a local hotel. Walk about town to see the land side of this island.
Day 18
Nov 11
Hanoi Transfer in reverse by bus-boat-bus to Hanoi
Early departure as we return to our hotel in Hanoi by early afternoon. Orientation and walk in the Old Quarter. Breakfast (groceries to snack on the bus), lunch, and dinner on your own today.
Day 19
Nov 12
Hanoi Options for activities.
Some of us visit the Vietnam Institute of Geosciences and Mineral Resources where we meet some of the Vietnamese karst scientists and discuss technical aspects of the Vietnam karst. Others will have the opportunity to explore and shop in Hanoi. Lunch may be included at the institute; on your own if in town. Farewell Dinner.
Days 20-21 Nov 13-14 Depart Hanoi Tuesday 1:30 pm
Arrive Singapore 5:30 pm
Time for dinner on own with choice of good restaurants in the Singapore Airport. East coast group continues 11:55 pm on flight to JFK. Arrive Wednesday 11:10 am West coast travelers overnight at the Singapore Airport Transit hotel. Depart 9:25 am on Wednesday, Nov 14 and arrive LAX or SFO same day

NOTE: The itinerary is subject to change as we travel due to weather and road conditions.

OPTIONAL EXTENSIONS

For those who desire to extend their trip, we can arrange add-ons to cities and sights as you wish.  A Singapore Holiday Package is enticing for a short stay in Singapore. 

3/26/12

What IS Karst?

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