If you are interested in caves, adventures, relaxing and meeting great people from all over the world you should definitely visit Phong Nha-Ke Bang national park. It is home to some huge and amazing caves and “The Easy Tiger Hostel”.
After another long drive, this time by night bus, we arrived in Phong Nha. A small town located in the wilderness of the Phong Nha-Ke Bang national park. In our previous destination, Ninh Binh, we were offered a free night stay at one of the hostels here. An offer which we (obviously) took advantage of.
As we were dropped off at 4 in the morning we booked that hostel for the same night to get some extra rest. Our thought was to go and explore the area the next day and look for a different hostel as the one offered for free wasn’t a real pleasure. It consisted of 2 dorms containing about 20 double beds with unclean sheets in a big room filled with a rather foul smell.
Hence, the first thing we did after waking up was moving our gear across the street to the “Easy Tiger hostel”. Here we were met by another super friendly Vietnamese crew that spoke a very good English and their manager Seamus. After a delicious breakfast and a short wait at the Easy Tiger bar, we were brought to our rooms. A 4 person room with two high double beds that had comfortable and surprisingly soft tiger sheets on them. Very sexy indeed!
Once comfortably installed in our rooms we went back down to the bar. Here we found out it had started pouring rain outside. We safely observed the wall of water that came pouring down from our table at the bar as it is connected to the front and backyard of the hostel by a big opening. The weather would stay like this for the rest of the day so we decided to stay in. This was obviously never a good idea, staying in at a bar…
One beer soon became more (I won’t talk numbers here…) as the happy hours started 5 o’clock and we had a great night where we met many people from all over the world. One even friendlier than the other. And this was not even because of the alcohol. The next morning they were just as friendly. We decided to go on a bike ride to one of the attractions in the area called “The Pub with Cold Beer” with a group of people that we met the night before.
Although the name suggest differently, at this pub it is not (necessarily) about the beer. The real reason most people visit the pub is because they give you opportunity to pick and kill your own chicken which is then prepared for you by the chef. For some people this is a real bucket list experience. For me it wasn’t but it was still very nice to go there. The bike ride was a great but bumpy ride through the Vietnamese farmlands filled with herds of cows and enormous buffaloes that sometimes stand in the middle of the road. And once you have reached the pub you do not HAVE to kill a chicken. You can also choose to order some other food and drinks, hang out and relax in the hammocks outside. A real delight after the ride. We spent the afternoon here with great conversations and a lot of laughing and turned back for dinner at the bar where they had live music.
The third day we decided to go for the real attraction that makes Phong Nha famous. The Caves! There’s a great amount of caves in the national park but we heard some are worth the visit more than others. As we were already on our third day in the same place we decided to not see all of them but only the most famous. They are called “The Paradise Cave” and “The Dark Cave”.
We took our motorcycles to get to the caves as they are located 45 minutes away from the hostels by car or motorcycle. Once again a superb ride through the beautiful hills filled with banana and palm trees that first brought us to “The Paradise Cave”, which was only discovered in 2005 by a local. We bought our tickets at the entrance for 250.000VND (€12,-) and started a 45 minute up the stairs that led us through the jungle. We reached the final step and the mouth of the cave. Stepping through the small mouth we laid eyes on the biggest hole we had ever seen in our lives. An immense cave filled with huge structures of stalactites and stalagmites. We were led down by a stairs that walked us all the way to the end of the big cave. This is only the area of the cave designed for “normal tourists” though. For the true adventurers (with money) it is possible to take a trip 7km into the cave. We did not do this as we had to move on the next cave and the tourist area was impressive enough.
“The Dark Cave” was completely different from the Paradise Cave. You will find it at another 20 minute drive from the Paradise Cave. The main difference lies in what you do in the cave. Where the Paradise Cave is about observing the Dark Cave is about experiencing. Unfortunately I did not manage to film any of the Dark Cave as my battery had run out but it sure would’ve been great footage.
After buying our ticket for 350.000VND (€16,-) we were asked to change clothes and we were provided with a harness and a helmet. We were led up the stairs of a building at the end of which we found a zip line. This zip line led us right over a beautiful river in between the mountains and down to a little sand patch. Here we got rid of our harnesses and got into the water. Being a bit unfortunate and a little too excited I jumped into the water right on a massive pointy rock, hurting my knee with an open wound that has lasted up until now.
However I decided to move on (since I am super tough) and we swam into a very dark cave. We had to put on our lights on our helmets as we were led through the water while dodging other pointy rocks on the bottom. After about 30 minutes of slowly moving further into the cave we got on a little muddy shore and carefully walked through a narrow tunnel filled with mud. The deeper we went the muddier the cave became. The walls, the floor and even the ceiling was muddy. It became harder and harder to move as we kept sinking deeper into the mud causing a lot of people to laugh and others to be grossed out by the feeling of chunks of mud between their toes.
Once everybody had reached the final chamber the lights on the helmets went off. Not a single bit of light could reach this part of the cave and it was absolutely amazing to experience. Complete darkness while floating in the mud.
After this the lights went on again and people played around with the mud for a bit. We then were led back to the entrance of the cave where we found canoes waiting for us. We canoed back on the river that we first zip lined over and here we were allowed to take another zip line that would drop us into the river in order to get rid of the mud on your body and in your swimming clothes. After the trip was over and everybody was allowed to take a shower.
We drove back in the dark and had our last dinner in Phong Nha at “The Easy Tiger”. We stayed at the Easy Tiger Hostel for a total of 4 days. It was a great time with great people and a couple amazing adventures but it was time to move on our next destination, Khe Sanh.
Source: quangbinh.gov. vn
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