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Published: April 26th 2017
I left Hue once again heading North and again via train in the economy section ($60,000VND) for a four hour journey to the coastal city of Dong Hoi which was to serve as my base for exploring Phong Nga-Ka Beng National Park. The National Park is about 50km outside of the city and is home to some massive limestone caverns and cave systems just recently discovered in the early 2000s. Some of the caves are so big they are still being mapped out and are not yet accessible to the public. The ones that are accessible are an incredible sight to behold. I've been in some caves in my day and "Paradise Cave" that I was to visit in the park was one of the most impressive I've seen. Ya, it's not true spelunking as their was a walkway and the cave is lit up, but with this infrastructure in place I was really able to appreciate the size and natural wonder that filled my eyes.
Arriving at the train station in Dong Hoi I performed the usual song and dance of avoiding the dreaded taxi mafia that awaits the trains outside of the terminal gates and made my usual
move of walking off into the city like I know what I am doing. I noticed a sign that pointed to the city centre and stated the distance of 1km. I of course decided to walk. 2km later I was in the middle of nowhere. I don't know why I bother trying to follow signs in languages I do not understand. But at least I tried. A lot of hand gestures and motioning with a local I realized I was on the road out of town. I bit the bullet and hailed a mototaxi for $20,000VND and was dropped in the city centre where I found the rare dorm accommodation for $5. It was the cleanest - but not the nicest - hostel I have stayed in to date. Once sorted I set out into the pleasant city that is on the banks of a tidal river and boasts a few great beaches where the locals come out to enjoy the fresh seafood on the beachside stalls that set up every afternoon. A great place to sit, relax, and observe.
Of course I wasn't just here to hang out on the beach, it just happened to be a nice
by-product of my location. I was here to visit the National Park. I had two options - 1. Take a tour for $900,000VND like all the other "budget" travelers, or 2. hire a motobike for $150,000VND and go by myself. I don't need to tell you what I decided. The ride to the park was beautiful - as all my rides have been in Asia. All around me were fluorescent green rice fields amidst towering limestone karsts jutting up from the Earth like jagged daggers piercing through reaching for the sky. Peasants worked in the fields and old women tended to the water buffalo by the riverside. It truly is a different world out here.
The beauty above ground was every bit as spectacular as what I was about to discover by going below ground and into one of the mighty karsts in the park. I came to Paradise Cave and paid my $120,000VND entry fee and began to hike up the mountain to the entrance of the cave. When I entered the temperature dropped significantly which cooled my overheated body. Once my eyes adjusted I was in a massive cavern that was filled with deformed and mutated stalactites
and stalagmites created by slightly acidic water carving its way through the soft limestone over the millennia. It looked as if the walls were melting. Was I having a flashback? No, not quite. Just one of Mother Nature's wondrous tricks. The place was most impressive.
Dong Hoi and Phong Nga-Ka Beng National Park are really beautiful areas of this country. The colors in Vietnam just seem to "pop". I just cannot get enough of the limestone karst scenery and the fields and farms of the rural peoples of the region. My next stop was to be Ninh Binh which is about 100km South of Hanoi. Ninh Binh also is famed for its ancient limestone formations and beautiful rivers in rural Vietnam. I booked a sleeper bus for the 10 hour journey for $280,000VND. The sleeper bus was very nice and one of the better buses I have ever been on. It reminded me of the nice buses of Argentina. The bus was so nice in fact that when I awoke 12 hours later I was in Hanoi. Either the driver did not stop in Ninh Binh, or no one bothered to wake me to tell me to get off
of the bus. Without a plan and not expecting to be here I had to scramble in the haze of the early morning to sort myself out and figure a way out of this mess. With the massive five day independence public holiday looming this would prove more difficult than I would have hoped. But that is for another blog.
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