After a night on the inaptly named ‘sleeper bus’ we slouched, somewhat comatose off at our stop, Phong Nha – at 4:30 in the morning. Back in England I never even knew we had two 4:30’s, perhaps we really do not have two maybe this is an Asian thing and, for one I am not that sure it even translates that well into Vietnamese but there we were, downtown Phong Nha at the ridiculous time of 4:30! I say downtown, the main street was also just about the only street, it was in Wild West terms ‘a one horse town’ and we had arrived in on it. At such an ungodly time one would expect everything to be shut up and everyone fast asleep but this was not so, our bus stop also housed an entrepreneurial fellow selling trips and tours of the area’s caves. So what do you do whilst you are waiting for your own hotel to open up, you buy a trip for later on this morning, that is what you do – we booked a trip for 9am to go to Paradise and Dark caves!!
We went for our morning staple of noodles whilst our room was being cleaned/opened – who knows what was going on in there, either way we were happy that they would let us in so early without any extra charge – back home we would have had to pay for an extra day. Our room was a big old thing but it was very strange as the hotel seemed so very thin, possibly our room took up some of the space in the next hotel, who knows!
Well after a somewhat short rest – what rest – we had to get back over the road to be ready for the minibus that would collect us to take us to the caves. The drive to the caves was a bit of a way – I had originally propositioned Liz with the idea that we would hire bikes and do this tour on two wheels – good thing she saw through the error of my ways.
The Paradise (Thien Duong) cave was to be the biggest cave we had seen and this is not even the biggest cave in the area that award goes to Son Doong reputed to be the World’s biggest by the British Caving Association – and it does not come much higher than that. The cave took a bit of a climb to get to from the car park we were dropped of at, where mating butterflies seemed to be the order of the day. When we got to the cave though it looked great and unlike some not too gaudily lit up with a very tasteful lighting arrangement. Traversing the cave was easy enough too as there was a boardwalk, once again whilst we were trying to be the polite English-people we were being butted out of the way or being unintentionally photo bombed by wandering Chinese – argh! It was a most beautiful cave to have a look around but we were soon again to be winging our away out of there for our next rendezvous.
When we arrived at the Dark Cave we had a delicious lunch set out for us, just the thing before a spot of adventure caving (the posters words). It was great though plenty to eat and all of it good. To get into the Dark Cave you have to first zipline in, which I love to do. It was a really decent length of slide too so even better. From the end of the line you then jump into the small lake that is outside and swim the short distance into the cave, everyone had helmets with lights and first we progressed through gravel then after a while we hit the mud and it just got muddier and muddier until we reached the mud chamber, which as you can imagine was a chamber of mud! Not content with getting muddy all over I decided to submerse myself in the mud, which looked great – to my mind anyhow – but some got in my eye so was stinging like mad.
We came out of the cave and next up was a bit of kayaking and although we had jumped in the water once again there was still a lot of mud hanging out in places where mud should not be – if you know what I mean. The last event of the day was a bit more ziplining where you simply fell off the end for a bit of a drop into the water – this was great and me and Liz had a few goes at this but at the end, when we were getting showered mud was still being found in various orifices!
At night it was easy to eat good and cheaply so we did a bit of both before crashing out back in our room. Phong Nha is a nice place to visit for the caving and is geared up for visitors but there were very few about when we were sat back having a drink or two. The entertainment ended up being a couple of Vietnamese kids kicking a ball back and forth and when that is the only thing going on you know it is time to call it a day! Whilst out though we planned for tomorrow when we were going to hire some bikes and venture forth into the countryside.