Tu Lan 3D2N. We had high expectations for this tour, due to both the price and the reviews, and our experience was everything we had hoped for and more. There is no element of the tour that has not been considered and refined to make this as enjoyable as possible. The guides were exceptional, as were the porter and the jungle-men who do the heavy lifting. The food is delicious and abundant. The campsite is semi-permanent and very well organised, but the whole arrangement is still very harmonious with the natural surrounds. This is among the best (if not the best) tours I have done anywhere in the world.
The caves are truly wondrous, and the experience of swimming through them unforgettable. Want to be reminded of how brief and insignificant your life is? Well, swim or stand in a 3 million year-old cave and you will!
Note: I am very fit, and on a day which was dry and not too hot I was puffed getting up some of the hills. Don't let this deter you, but be aware that day 1 is no cake-walk. The waterfall-fed swimming at the end of the hike will make the effort completely satisfying!
Apart from the enjoyable and exciting elements of the tour listed above, while in the jungle and the caves I also felt very 'present' in a way I didn't elsewhere in Vietnam, nor ever really do at home. It is a remote and serene location where the daily grind is left behind and people just occupy a small place alongside the insects, birds, trees and karsts. On reflection, maybe this is what I relished most about the tour.
Gear-wise, on this tour you only need one set of socks, long sleeve shirt and pants as you swim immediately on days 2 and 3 so there is no point putting on clean/dry stuff. We picked up The North Fa(k)e socks, pants and shirts in Hanoi beforehand and they were ideal and cheap (zip-off at elbows and knees were very handy). Recommended extras to bring: wet wipes, torch, long pants for campsite (to keep mosquitoes at bay). If you do Tu Lan, which has lots of swimming, use the Oxalis boots, but be aware that they seem to be for quite a broad foot, so don't be tempted to go too big as your feet will be sliding around in them which makes hiking harder.
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