Phong Nha national park is actually beautiful!
We arrived at night so didn’t even notice the mountain ranges that enveloped our hostel until they were pointed out to us an hour after arriving. All that was visible was dense blackness braking up the starry sky above us!
Easy Tiger Hostel
We stayed at the Easy Tiger hostel in Phong Nha and once we arrived it seemed like this was by far the best choice. Not only was the hostel busy with lots of back packers who we could get tips from but there was also a complimentary talk in the morning providing us with information on the national park…
There was also a swimming pool, pool tables, free bicycle hire and a bar which added to the experience…
On arrival we were told that the hostel was offering a third night free if you stayed for two nights so after paying and checking in we were shown up to the elephant room which was to be our home for a few days.
The Phong Nha caves
After the talk in the morning a group of us arranged to walk down to the river and hire a boat to take us through Phong Nha cave.
There is a really good system in place in the national park where each family that has a boat is only allowed to work on alternate days meaning that no family can monopolise the waters.
You pay to hire the boat and its drivers and it allows up to 14 people to board- this means that the more people on the boat the cheaper the price is per person.
We had 12 people on our boat (I later found out that within the 12 people, 2 other people were vegetarian as well as me being vegan).
Coasting down the river was beautiful!
It took us a good half an hour to get to the mouth of the caves and we passed lots of little villages along the way. We even saw a few Eagles flying over head!
Once at the caves we disembarked and walked up lots of steps to reach the temple cave and its look out point. From the look out point we got great views of the river and the neighbouring rice fields.
The temple cave was awesome!
There were only a handful of people in the whole of the cave system so we were able to explore at our own pace. We even had the differences between stalagmites and stalactites explained to us (thanks Will!) so we were able to fully appreciate the science behind the rock formations.
After the temple cave we re-boarded the small boat to row through Phong Nha cave.
Phong Nha cave was used as a supply route for the Vietnam cong during the Vietnamese war so it was amazing to imagine the work that went on in the caves for several years. Even though the American soldiers bombed the hell out of the caves facade, it didn’t make a dent to the internal structure.
It took us over an hour to get around the short cave system we were exploring (a little over 1km) and we were able to get out on a little sand patch at the mouth of the cave to explore further on foot.
Phong Nha nightlife
There isn’t much to do in Phong Nha after dark but luckily we had some great people staying at our hostel who provided us with a lot of entertainment.
After dinner in the restaurant opposite the hostel (there’s about 10 restaurants in total down the road and then nothing for quite a while) and a few drinks in the hostels garden, a group of us headed to the only late night bar around. The reason why late night bar is in italics is because it wasn’t so much a bar but a restaurant which allowed you to take over their music system with your iPod, then dance by the entrance once the tables and chairs had been moved out of the way…
Biking around Phong Nha
Most people hire scooters and bike around the national park but Leah and I were too nervous. Instead we made use to the hostels free bicycles and explored the area using peddle power.
Our first stop was to find the ‘best coffee in Vietnam’ as it was referred to by Shamous – the hostels personal guide for the region. After a quick 3.5km cycle we’d made it to a little cafe and was sampling the chocolate coffee that the shop was famed for.
Thick melted chocolate mixed with drip coffee into a cold glass with ice. It was delicious!
The ride here was a little more difficult because there was a lot of uphill climbs combined with a rocky surface (oh and our bikes were single speed, had no gears and the brakes didn’t work BUT we did have a little basket at the front).
We were accompanied by a group of children running alongside our bikes (attempting to jump on) for the last km of so.
By the time we reached the pub a cold beer was 100% needed!
The day was also really hot so we were looking forward to chilling in the hammocks in the shade for a little while.
This pub is famed for three things 1). The cold beer (pretty obvious) 2). The river nearby where you can go tubing and 3). You’re given the option to chose and kill your own chicken. I’m still not how I feel about the 3rd thing. I hope that if people are forced to kill their own animals then they would be put off the act or at least be a little more mindful when they next eat it.
A few guys from our hostel were already at the pub when we arrived and they had picked and killed their own chicken for lunch.
After a little while we all headed to the river to cool off before cycling back to the hostel. Leah, Nick and myself only went in for a little paddle because we didn’t want to cycle back to the hostel (8km) wet. The other guys swam out further and did some cliff jumping on the other side of the river bed.
The Dark Cave and Paradise Cave
We didn’t make it to either of the dark or paradise cave. Most people visited the caves on a motorbike as the actual cave admission was a pretty decent price. Those without bikes however had to go for the very overpriced tour service which Leah and I didn’t feel that we could justify on our limited budget for the year. The Phong Nha and Temple caves that we visited were beautiful enough that we thought we may regret spending the extra money seeing more caves if we run out of money in South America.
There are still a lot of unexploded land mines in Vietnam and Cambodia (left over from the Vietnamese war) and one organisation that is helping to remove these threats to the population is MAG. MAG is working towards finding and disabling the unexploded land mines which plague countries all of the world today. It’s crazy to think that ordinary people’s lives are still being negatively impacted because of a few decisions people in politics made 30 years ago! Here’s a link to their website: http://www.maginternational.org