Phong Nha Ke Bang has to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth. We took a personal day, aka a day off from tromping through the caves, and rented bicycles from the Easy Tiger Hostel to check out the surrounding village. The road winds through small villages full of working men, women, and the most friendly kids you’ll ever meet. Every single kid we passed yelled out, “Hello!!!!” eager to strike up a conversation to test their English. We stopped for a drink at the Duck Stop (more to come on this later), and made friends with a couple kids. They all loved Chase’s stash. We wrapped up the evening at our spot, The Lantern, and ordered our usual… Chase: make your own pork spring rolls. Lauren: bbq pork rice noodles with peanut sauce.
We got an early start the following morning. A motorbike was rented–we paid upfront without a deposit and they gave us the keys, such a trusting move–and we scooted off to the Dark Cave. Just as it sounds, the cave is creepily dark, but hadn’t the slightest idea of what we were getting into. We waited for about an hour for another group to come (they make you go in large groups), and we put on our harnesses, hard hats with headlights, and life jackets. Three girls our age joined our group, and they were a great addition… especially since they are all as ‘scared’ of the dark as I am. :0
The tour starts with a long zip line over the green/blue river, highlighting the areas extreme beauty. Then we all jumped in the chilly water, and swam to the caves entrance. The best way to describe the entrance is what I imagine fairyland to look like. The water is a deep, crystal blue, the green plants and trees are vivid in color, and there are butterflies floating around. We took a short walkway into the cave, and it immediately turned dark. Both in light and mood. The stalactites looked almost evil, with the backdrop of the black cave. They had warned us of snakes in the water, so that didn’t help my trepidation. Turning our lights on once the natural light was gone, we trekked through shallow water for a while, and then turned into a ‘hallway’ within the cave itself. Walking through the narrow ‘hallway,’ our guide pointed out various (huge) spiders, and that the ground and walls had turned to mud. We finally reached out destination, a mud pool. We all dove in, and it was honestly the freakiest thing I’ve ever done. The muddy ground under the water gripped at your feet in a slimy way that felt like snakes grabbing your feet, and it was SO dark. We all nervously laughed, treading water. Once we were out of the water, we rubbed mud all over ourselves, since it supposedly is therapeutic, and made our way to a mud water slide. We slid down the mud, and shot into clean, fresh water to wash off the mud.
After exiting into fairyland, we hopped in a kayak and floated to the play area. It is an actual paradise. The water, as I mentioned, is crystal blue, with zip lines to jump into the water, a jungle gym over the water, swings, among other toys.
When we had enough of splashing around, we made our way to the Duck Stop that we had visited the day before. The moment we rolled up, the kids pointed at Chase, remembering him because of his stash. The Duck Stop is now a top tourist attraction in the valley, and for good reason. It takes farm to table to a whole new dimension. Everything they offer, from activities to food, is grown/exists on their farm. We sucked down a Fanta, ate peanuts mixed with sugar and black peppercorn (everything grew 20 meters from our table) which is an amazing combination. The first stop on the ‘tour’ is the duck stable. We walked in, and immediately were surrounded by quacking ducks. Our guide put food in our hands, and told us to squat and feed the ducks. Immediately, they attacked and pecked away like they haven’t eaten in 87 years. It was a bizarre, insanely ticklish experience that left me dying of laughter.
In Vietnamese culture, it is good luck to throw a duck. So, we did. They were incredibly calm when we held them, and then on three, tossed them into a lake and they gracefully flew into the water. I’m waiting for the good luck… maybe my tooth will regenerate from chipping it a couple days ago.
Anyway, the next stop is to the water buffalo’s ‘office.’ I knew that we were going to ride a water buffalo, assumed water was involved, so wore a swimsuit. When he pointed at me to go first, and told me to hop up and didn’t mention the jean shorts or shirt I was wearing, I got on the buffalo’s back. Seconds later, the massive creature is guided into the water nearby, and I’m shocked, laughing… So much for wearing my suit. When the guide says ‘nap’ the water buffalo submerges in the water completely, leaving me dunked in the water. I’m then taken to the pasture, and the tour guide has a ‘beauty photoshoot,’ or so he calls it, directing me into hilarious poses. Chase’s pictures are by far the best.
We titled the day, the best day of the trip. So far, that is. It was so weird, kind of freaky, but absolutely amazing. We went back to the hostel, drank a couple free beers, chowed at our favorite restaurant (which by the way, the owner came to our table and said he’s seen us the past couple days, and wanted to thank us for coming so often!!), and passed out.
The next couple days will be spent in luxury, aka not in a hostel, at the Lake House in Phong Nha. See ya there!