Apart from the thousands of limestone karst and small isles that adorns the whole of Halong Bay, there are small islands that also provides additional attraction like the Dau Go Cave (Wooden Stakes Cave). According to local stories, while planning a counter attack on their Mongolian enemies in 1288, the men of General Tran Hung Dao hid an enormous number of wooden stakes inside this cave. The wooden stakes were then flowed into the Bach Dang River to serve as obstacles against the attacking Mongols. It was a risky plan that tricked the enemy as the men of Kublai Khan got entangled with the wooden stakes as it tried to cross through the treacherous river bed, drowning a number of Mongolian warriors.
Dau Go is a limestone islet 8 kilometers south of Bai Chay. The mouth of the cave is located more than 180 meters above sea level, visitors aboard the iconic Halong Bay junk boats can view it from afar. At first, I wasn't really keen on this side trip as I just wanted to lounge around the rooftop of our boat and just enjoy the cold winds and amazing scenery around Halong Bay. But since I am a history junkie, listening to our guide Mr. Nguyen (yeah a very unique Vietnamese name), tell us the interesting history of the cave, I got a bit excited and stood up from my chair and fixed my sight at the direction of Dau Go islet as our boat negotiated its way towards it.
The cave already has a lot of man-made structural additions, like the cemented stairs, the hand railings, the lighting system and even a centralized air-conditioned system. A flight of around a hundred steps greets visitors before reaching the entrance. Going deeper into the cave, we passed by different chambers with spectacular stalactites and stalagmites formations, each one coming to its own unique shapes sculptured by thousands years of kart process. Like the previous caves I've been to, some of the formations can be easily imagined to resemble some human and animal figures.
Referred to in the late 19th century as Grotte des Merveilles (a site of many marvels), it has three chambers and the spots of sunlight emanating from holes upward provides a stellar composition of lighting, combined with the man-made colored illumination, the vibe inside resembles a club scene without the blasting DJ remix music.
The visitors trail takes you to an encircled path leading to a small pool of water near the third chamber. Our guide Nguyen proudly told us that, Emperor Khai Dinh (12th Emperor of the Nguyễn Dynasty in Vietnam) came to visit the grotto in 1917. See, I love it when you got a guide who knows a lot about the history of the place you are visiting. While I was clueless at the stories he was telling us back then, I get to Google a lot of it when I got back home and that is where the educational part of traveling comes in.
I took mostly blurred images inside, but the roughness of the details, textures and different layers of the stalactite and stalagmite all present such visual feasts. It also doesn't help when your junk boat-mates are composed of four couples and I am the only solo-flight on the group, so I always find myself as the designated "can you take a nice picture of us two" guy.
It was alright though, I became the favorite photographer of the Spanish couple who barely speaks English, they would just say "cuse me Mork" and signal their hand to take a picture and when it was my turn to see a nice spot to have my picture taken, they were all busy planting a kiss to each other. Downer!, next time I plan to bring a girlfriend here. Promise.We stayed inside about an hour, it was an easy stroll inside and kinda reminds me of our own Callao Cave in Tuguegarao minus the man made lighting system. Over-all it was a nice side trip to the whole day of sailing around Halong Bay.
Halong Bay is 3 hours away by land from Hanoi. Cebu Pacific Air flies thrice a week to Hanoi from Manila.