Published: April 18th 2012March 30th 2012
Dong Hoi to Phong Nha
Dong Hoi had a relaxed and friendly feel, the streets were lined with trees and we enjoyed our tastiest bowl of Pho. Tender juicy bits of beef; yum. We cycled the 40kms inland and arrived at Phong Nga farmstay that overlooks paddy fields with large hills as a backdrop. The farmstay is aimed at Westerners and is publicised throughout Vietnam. The owners are very friendly but are overstretched, ruining that 'homestay' feel. We enjoyed chatting to other tourists but were a little disappointed about the food (slightly expensive and of variable quality). Tomorrow we are off to explore the caves. Phong Nha Caves
Phong Nha lies just north of the narrowest part of Vietnam and boasts some beautiful mountains and national parks. There are also still remnants of the real Ho Chi Minh trail to be seen and some amazing caves.
The first cave we visited involved a boat ride into the cave which was illuminated by coloured lamps. There were huge stalagmites and stalactites, 'flowstone' and terraced pools formed by the limescale. It was the most beautiful cave we'd ever been to.
The next day the ante was raised yet
again when we visited the Paradise cave. Our animated, comedic and knowledgeable Australian guide, Dave, told us that the Paradise cave had fulfilled some measure of biggest (we never quite got a clear answer as to which dimension it was biggest in!) until a new cave had been found by a mushroom picker a couple of years ago. This bigger, better cave is currently inaccessible to tourists, so we had to make do with the Paradise cave and it certainly had a 'wow' factor. The Paradise cave continues for 32km and geologists are stlll unsure how it got to be so large given the water flow it had experienced. The cave is now dry and the first kilometre is kitted out with boardwalks and plain coloured lights in an attempt to be classier than Phong Nha cave. The formations were incredible and the open spaces immense. I almost wore the shutter out on my camera (see below)!
After this cave visit the tour continued (which was a big relief as I'd felt $50 was a lot for a 1km walk through a cave!) by taking us along a section of the Ho Chi Minh trail, visiting a martyrs shrine
to those who worked and died to keep the trail open during American bombing. We then visited a river where we were able to swim and drift along with the current, on walking away from this attraction we were shown a beautiful blue pool with a tell-tale bulge in the centre where water was streaming up from underground. The water was blue due to the limestone minerals and we were told this water had come from Laos since without fail it turns brown roughly three days after it rains in Laos. It was a beautiful spot. We were then taken on a trip to another much less interesting cave that we accessed by kayak, which was fun but a little short for the bother. In the end this tour had been one of the most informative of our whole time in Vietnam and certainly the best value.
The following day we rode back to Dong Hoi to catch a night train to Ninh Binh ('Halong-bay-on-land') and took advantage of the hourly rate at a local guesthouse to allow us to shower and relax before getting on the train. Unfortunately, the train wasn't able to take our bikes so we
booked them on a train to Hanoi were we could catch up with them a few days later.
There are more photos below