It was time to leave Dong Hoi. We hopped on a local bus, paid 40,000 Dong each, a little less than $2 a person, and hoped that the bus would end up in Phong Nha. A bunch of rice fields and an hour and a half later, we pulled up to the Easy Tiger Hostel, where we are staying for four nights. We heard through the grapevine that this is the place in Phong Nha, and they were right. The hostel has a massive beer garden where they server free beer until the keg runs out, has a relaxing pool nestled into the mountain side, hammocks in the shade, cozy beds… this place is a traveler’s heaven.
The reason anyone comes to Phong Nha is to visit one of their many caves open for tourists to visit. Fun fact, Phong Nha is home to the 1st, 3rd, and 4th largest caves in the world. So, we signed up for the Jungle Boss National Park Tour through our hostel (I highly recommend doing this) that tours the famous Paradise Cave, the 8 Ladies Cave and War Memorial Temple, a jungle trek, and the recently discovered Tra Ang Cave.
Our morning began with a quick drive into the mountains, stopping at the Paradise Cave. It is absolutely incredible. The cave has multiple entrances, all surrounded by a dense forest. Walking into the cave, I thought I might be a bit claustrophobic, but I was wrong. It is HUGE. Not only is the cave 31km long, but has various globe shaped ceilings with spectacular limestone formations. We walked along the man made path, in awe at the shiny stalagmites and stalactites. Our tour leader, the crazy hilarious Lana, informed us that the cave is an astounding 2-5 million years old. The beautiful cave lives up to its name.
After walking 1.1km through Paradise Cave, we drove about 20 minutes to the 8 Ladies Cave and War Memorial Temple. Being a religious temple, we had to remove our shoes, hats, cover arms and legs, etc. Chase was wearing swim trunks and had to wear a skirt (JK.. kinda, he put on a sarong.) The cave itself was tiny, but the significance lies in the fact that 8 ladies were trapped inside when they sought shelter in the cave during the Vietnam War when a massive boulder fell in front of the entrance. Many had used the cave to hide, and after the war, the Vietnamese Government created a temple in honor of the 8 ladies.
Then it was time to jungle trek. We all wore special trekking shoes that have the most incredible tread–they resemble the jelly shoes I used to wear as a kid–and made our way through the thick jungle. Unfortunately (or fortunately…) we didn’t see any animals. I guess horned vipers are all over the jungle… It was about a 30 minute trek, and our reward was food. Our food was laid out on a tarp in a make it yourself style. We all made fresh spring rolls with pork, rice, tofu, cucumbers, lettuce, and other goodies.
After we stuffed our faces, it was time for the grand finale. Tra Ang Cave! We strapped on life vests, hard hats with a headlamp, and gloves, and trekked to the cave opening. It is a bit intimidating knowing that we are going to swim through the dark, dark, dark cave… Once we acclimated to the chilly water–it is rampant with minerals from the limestone, and is incredibly blue/turquoise and clear–we turned our headlamps on and started swimming into the dark. It was a hell of an experience. Without a headlamp, it is pitch black dark. We were able to see the stalactites, along with some bats. Correction, herds of screeching bats…
After about a 20-30 minute swim, we reached the end of the cave (the ceiling wasn’t very tall…) and all turned our headlamps off. It was so freaky and pitch black dark. With the lights off, we all yelled at the top of our lungs and then heard it reverberate for about 5 seconds afterward through the cave. Super cool, but freaky…
The swim back was an easy one, since we were cruising along with the current. I’m not going to lie, it was refreshing to see the light at the end of the cave. The caves blew my expectations out of the water. How beautiful and old they are is mind boggling.
Here’s a fun story to close my blog… Upon arrival back at the Easy Tiger Hostel, things took a weird turn. I’ve been sick for the past couple days, runny nose, sore throat, all that jazz. Anyway, getting ready for bed, I was brushing my teeth, and I sneezed. I have pretty aggressive sneezes where I throw my head forward in a dramatic fashion, and I did just that. But, the bathroom sink caught my face, and I cracked my tooth on the sink’s edge. Long story short, I cracked my front tooth, very badly I might add, by sneezing. Now I look like a hillbilly, am in a foreign country, and eating and drinking is a struggle. Whoops.
Our next stop is the Duck Farm. Stay tuned for more!