In the Dark: Caves in the Mekong Delta
The Vietnamese border town of Ha Tien is overlooked by most travelers, but it serves as a great base camp for a day trip to the caves in the Mekong Delta. Renting a motorbike is a must, which can be done at most guesthouses or Mr. Trinh Ngoc The, who’s known at the Oasis Bar. It’s the only western bar in town and not too hard to find. Just follow the foreigners.
I rented the bike for about $7 a day and Mr. Trinh included a hand drawn map of the area (click on themap for his contact info). With the vague information he provided, I drove off to see what the region had to offer. Some of these locations aren’t even mentioned in the Lonely Planet Vietnam book, which had spotty and sometimes inaccurate information about the Mekong Delta region. Immediately, I found that appealing.
Near Ha Tien
Two of the best caves are just north of town en route to the Cambodian border. You can’t miss the big signs. The massive limestone outcropping 4 km outside of town houses the Thach Dong Pagoda Cave. The wind howls through the religious buildings built within the mountain and while it’s never crowded, it is the busiest of the caves in the region.Â
Just before Thach Dong Pagoda Cave is a small road that loops to Da Dung Mountain about two kilometers away. Inexplicably unmentioned by Lonely Planet, these many small caves built provide a brisk hike of a couple of kilometers around the limestone mountain. Some of the caves are little more than holes in the wall with an altar inside. Others can be walked through and aren’t often marked clearly, so there’s some fun exploring to be had. The thousands of bats I could hear kind of freaked me out and I didn’t venture too far, but the views were even better here and I only saw several people at the site.
Out of Town
The map gave of a rough itinerary for a day trip that goes 37 km outside around the Mekong Delta one way and passes several caves. A couple who travelled the route before me had trouble finding them all, and I ended up turning around after having a long lunch with a university student. Still, it was a beautiful route mostly sticking to the ocean side. The maniacal bus drivers speed through with little regard for other aside from honking their horn, but otherwise there are just a few motorbikes. It’s a quiet ride passing by various river ways and limestone outcroppings. Here’s what I found.
Moso Cave (also spelled Miso Cave)
The limestone quarry is a bit of an ominous site when you roll through the unpaved road more than 20 km from Ha Tien. A university student doing research told me this is creating all sorts of health problems for the people living in the area.
When I rocked up to the mountain I only saw a some empty food stalls. I wandered around completely alone until an enthusiastic shirtless man beckoned for me to follow him. I had reservations, naturally, but followed him from a distance. We passed some stunning grottos until we reached his â€œshop,â€ which was a small drink stall in a naturally lit cave. He introduced me to the university student, who spoke excellent English, and the two of us decided to venture within the cave. Lighting up the caves costs a small fee, so we opted to go in with nothing but our phones.
The bamboo walkway opened up into a stunning part of the cave where a ray of sunlight shone through. We ventured on and things got kind of hairy. The walkway was flooded, so we took of our shoes and waded. The water kept getting deeper and the ceiling kept getting lower. Eventually we had to scramble in some sort of squat-like position in the chilly water. After 15 or so minutes in darkness,we found a small exit. We probably should have had the lights turned on. Our foolhardiness made me feel much more rugged than I actually am.
Hon Chong Beach
The student and I decided to head out for a ride, and I learned he was studying in Chiang Mai but visiting home briefly. He’s lives an hour away and that was his first time at the Moso Caves. We headed along the coast to the town of Hon Chong. This beach town was quite popular with Vietnamese tourists, and the karst off the shore were impressive. A pagoda cave was near the main section of the beach, and it was as unlike as our romp through the unlit cave as possible. Everything was well developed and lit. If it wasn’t for the cool temperatures, it’d hardly feel like a cave at all. We spent a few minutes inside and headed off to lunch.
The traveler’s before me made to some of the other caves and were kind of unimpressed with the region as a whole. I loved the experience of clambering through caves practically by myself and keeping my eyes peeled on the road for the next obscure location. If you’re up for a little exploration, get up early and follow Mr. Trinh’s obscure map for a fun day. I regret not making it to all the stops, although I expect I’ll end up exploring the caves of the Mekong Delta again.
I'm an American freelance writer who spent a couple years living in Cambodia. Now I'm on the move again and traveling all over the place. I'm willing to try any bizarre liquor that's presented to me. Any recommendations?