We stopped off at Dong Hoi, a small town with hardly any tourists. It was almost like a ghost town. One of the reasons we came to Dong Hoi is because there’s a national park that’s about an hour drive away called Phong Nha, which is known to host some of the world’s best caves. I think that it is overlooked by backpackers/tourists because they go to other attractions in Vietnam, which was cool for us because there were hardly any backpackers/tourists.
When we lived in Sydney I found a cave online called the Hang en cave which is the 3rd largest cave in the world. The pictures of this place looked insane! Phong Nha is also home to the largest cave in the world called Son Doong. It was only discovered a couple of years ago and it is so big that it takes days for you to go through it. The sucky thing is you are only allowed to see these caves in a guided tour unless you have a permit, which was a real bummer as I wanted us to explore them ourselves (because we’re experienced adventurers..). The Son Doong cave cost around 4k Australian and the Hang En cave cost $360 each for 2 days and 1 night camping in the cave. We opted to do the Hang En cave and had booked to do that tour. Unfortunately the dates that we had booked our expedition for, was the same time as when we had fallen ill, so we had to cancel. After a lot of time being sick we had time to think, and thought that $360 each is a lot of money that we’d be spending to see a cave, and seeing as we are trying to make this trip last a lifetime, we reconsidered. So we canned the whole idea of seeing the big caves.
We did a little bit of research and saw there were other caves for a lot less money than the expedition caves we wanted to do, but the down side was they were the “touristy” caves. Most people book a mini van or bus to take them out of town to see the caves, but when our hostel has motorbikes (scooters really) that cost $5 to rent per day, well, ya know..
We woke up early, had breakfast, went to the bakery to get some snacks and then set off on our way to the caves. With our own bike each, it was so much fun riding out of town and into the country on open roads with not a soul for kilometres. Being graced with big mountains and lush rice fields, it felt so surreal to me. I literally had to pinch myself (not literally, but you get me).
After 1.5 hours, we finally got to the Phong Nha national park. We honestly had to stop every 5 minutes to snap a few shots and just take it in. The national park is huge and we got lost in there which was so fun. We eventually found a cave, it was called Paradise cave. We had to walk up this never ending ramp/stairs which felt like it took forever. Once we got to the top there was this little hole in the mountain which had a steep staircase that we walked down to enter the cave. This cave was FREAKIN’ HUGE. It’s amazing that places like this exist! It kind of stinks though because it had a “touristy” vibe to it as the whole cave was lit up and had board walks and stair cases everywhere, where as I wanted the raw kind of vibe (the expensive caves).
We finished Paradise cave and went for a ride, once again, soaking in the surroundings and getting lost in the national park. We actually ended up finding another cave which had this nice dark blue water surrounding it. It was called The Dark Cave and we ended up purchasing a ticket. To see the Dark cave we had to zip line over the nice dark blue water I was talking about, then get into the water and swim into the Dark cave! When we were inside we went down these tight little walk ways, sometimes we were on all fours, or hitting our heads on the rocks. Luckily they supplied us with helmets with a torch light attached to it. The further we went into the cave the more we would get covered in mud. At the end of the walk way there was this little mud slide that went into a pool of mud. It was unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before. You could literally float on this mud, it was impossible to sink in it. This was also, so surreal! I kept thinking, holy crap, we’re half naked, in a cave, fully covered head to toe in mud, its pitch black, and we’re in Vietnam! Is this real life? Haha
Even better, we got to kayak out of the cave and back towards land, and if we wanted to, we could go on the zip line and drop into that beautiful dark blue water. Hell yeah I did! I even tried to backflip off the zip line into the water. Massive fail. Eb was too cold to even try it – wuss.
I’m glad we didn’t do the expensive caves as this cave was so much fun, I was satisfied that we got to see it in a raw way. To top our day off (as the tour busses and mini vans are driving passed us with all the tourists) we got to ride our motorbikes back to Dong Hoi amongst the mountains and as the sun fell from the sky, with bugs hitting our faces and getting in our eyes and big trucks and busses almost hitting us. This was living! A GOOD DAY INDEED 🙂
P.S our GoPro photos didn’t turn out as well as we had hoped.