I love exploring caves. I love trekking through the jungle to find the entrance to a subterranean cavern, hanging on for dear life to small hand- and footholds, wading thru small underground pools and rivers, and yeah, finally jumping into a deep pool to cool off and cleanse myself.
I’ve done some caving in the Philippines, of course. I’ve been to the Sumaguing and Lumiang Caves in Sagada, the Danakit Cave in Surigao del Sur, the Bat Cave in Biak-na-Bato in Bulacan, Cantabon Cave in Siquijor, Pamitinan and Bat Caves in Wawa Dam, and more recently, the Gray Caves in Norzagaray, Bulacan (post coming soon!).
I haven’t had any experience caving abroad until I went to visit my friends Jazz and Malou in Beijing in 2011. They told me they would take me to the largest cave in northern China, the Silver Fox Cave (or Yinhu Dong), a massive, multilayer karst cave system discovered in 1991 by miners. I remember being very excited then. I couldn’t wait for my first experience caving in China!
On our way to the Fang Shan District, I imagined myself caving like the way I do in the Philippines, although I did wonder why we didn’t bring any caving gears. We were wearing jeans and a thick coat, since it was spring in Beijing and quite chilly. Where were our headlamps? It’s the number one gear needed by spelunkers.
I later learned why we had no gears when we finally arrived in the Ying Shui Village where the Silver Fox Cave was located.
The cave was really huge, and there was a number of stalactites and stalagmites in different shapes, with stone formations given names ranging from names of people and animals to (I think) whatever the first thing that came to mind when viewing these formations.
All these would have made it such a wonderful caving experience for me. Yes, would have.
Going to the Silver Fox Cave, you see, seemed more like going to an amusement park. Even calling it “caving” seems like a misnomer. The pathways were cemented, there were metal railings everywhere, some of the stalagmites and stone formations were encased in bars, and even the two-meter-long white stalactite that looked like an upside down fox (which gave the cave its name) was put behind glass.
The stone formations were labeled too, to represent what they (were supposed to) look like. There were formations called “Magical Brush of God,” “Praying Sea Lion,” “Bear Climbing the Tower,” “Lamp on a Snail’s Head,” and “Chairman Mao,” among others, no matter that the rocks did not in any way resemble any of these by any stretch of the imagination.
The cave was really quite deep and large. We went down for some time, passing through narrow and steep places, and coming out in large caverns. There was one thing in common there; multi-colored lights, and lots and lots of it! Stalactites and stalagmites alike were lighted up with green, yellow, blue, and red spotlights. All that was missing was a disco ball and you could have a dance floor underground.
There’s more, too. After around 30 minutes or so, there was an underground stream, a kilometer-long of clear, inviting, and cold river. All the tourists were herded into boats, and there was one boatman in each boat who navigated the river by standing up and pulling on the cables strung above. Except for a few spotlights, it was quite dark and from far away, we could hear the sound of a waterfall.
If you have any doubt of the Silver Fox Cave as an amusement park, seeing a train deep in the bowels of the earth would dispel that for you. Yes, there was a mini-train there, and the guide said it would take us to the stairs leading to the exit. My friend and I took one compartment and when the train was moving, we could see the stone wall through our window just a few inches away.
After the train ride, we ascended a hundred or so steps to finally come out of the cave after two hours. I realized then that for some people, the train was a good idea. Otherwise, we’d have trekked back for another hour just to go back to the surface!
I remember feeling extremely disappointed at that time, expecting so much of the place. On hindsight, though, I realized that the Silver Fox Cave has its own charm. Not everyone likes extreme adventures as I do, and converting a cave like this into an almost-amusement park makes it more accessible to the general public.
Have you ever been to a cave like this? Would you want to go?