From lovely little Hoi An, where we wished upon lanterns we let afloat in the river, we transitioned to Dong Hoi. We wanted to see the famous Phong Nha caves. This was the closest place to the caves, that’s still on the train line.
The owner of the place in Hoi An asked us if he could book a bus for us, and stupidly I assumed this wouldn’t be a sleeper bus. Or better to say, I did not think about it at all. We were picked up with a mini van, to change into a bigger bus. Then I saw the bus, and the nightmare started all over again. Another sleeper bus, and this staff was even more rude than the previous trip. Well, now we know. No more buses at all!
We arrived in Dong Hoi late at night. We were meant to stay for 2 nights, and go to the caves the next day. We were both tired though, so decided to have a rest day and extend our booking with one night.. In the afternoon we went to a restaurant to have breakfast, or lunch better to say. This was interesting, as the menu was in Vietnamese. It was hard for us to translate, especially with two waiters standing there, waiting for us to order. We ended up pointing at pictures of tofu and morning glory, a Vietnamese vegetable, similar to spinach. After this we went to get an ice coffee. I ordered one iced latte – with the help of google translate – and got two drip coffees with a layer of condensed milk. Bummer. I really have built a resentment against condensed milk. It’s sickening sweet, and makes the coffee taste like cheap chocolate milk. Next time I’m going to have to show them a picture instead.
Road side assistance
In the evening we rented a motorbike, so we could also use it for our trip to to caves the next day. Unfortunately it wasn’t the best bike, and it shook and rattled a lot. We changed bikes in the morning and went on our way. We had driven about 15 kilometers, when this bike started shifting, and then shaking. We stopped on the side, and checked. Flat tire. That’s why it shook so much. I called up the hotel, and they talked about a mechanic on that road at first. I explained them I wasn’t going to walk on the highway with a motorbike, to try and find a mechanic. They ended up coming with 2 motorbikes and a pump. They pumped up the tire and swapped the bike for one of theirs, which was quite new and had 18000km on the meter. As opposed to 400’000 on the previous one. Now that we finally had a proper vehicle, we could continue our trip to the caves. The drive to Ke Bang national park was beautiful. A green scenery, with rice fields and quite a few locals sitting on the side of the road, selling fruits and drinks.
Phong Nha cave
Within the park, we found the ticket booth to get our cave ticket and the boat. The boat would take up to 12 people, and cost 340’000 dong. We found a group of 3 that wanted to share a boat with us, so the five of us took of together. The Phong Nha entry ticket was 150’000. So all up, it had cost us about $13 AUD per person. The group consisted of Amina (Austria), Hugo (France) and Joe (Lebanon). They had done an exchange program in Korea together, and were now travelling Vietnam and Cambodia. They were great company.
The boat ride to the Phong Nha cave was beautiful, along the mountains and fields. The staff peddled the boat through a fair bit of the cave, until we turned around and got dropped off to walk around for a bit and take some photos. Beautiful limestone formations, with many stalactites and stalagmites. While walking around, a little boy had a phone with music blasting out of it. Quite surreal in such a beautiful natural setting, but he seemed to be having the best time.
The boat took us back to the shore, and all of us agreed we got a lot for what we paid. I definitely did not expect the boat ride to be that long, or to be peddled that far into the cave.
Dong Hoi beach and the train to Hanoi
It started to get a bit hot, so we rode the bike back to Dong Hoi, and had a rest in the cool room with ac. In the evening we went to the beach to have a dip in the ocean and watch the daylight slowly disappear. The moon was already out, and full. We paid a lady 4000 dong to park our bike, and she wrote a number on it with chalk. They do that everywhere, but I still find it odd they just write on it. Also, they keep moving the bikes around, so you’re not meant to put the steering wheel on lock.
Yesterday we took the train up to Hanoi. We rode along a beautiful track. The view was gorgeous with lots of green, mountains, streams and little houses on the side. Locals were walking or working aside the tracks. Even though the carriage was packed, and the television was on loud, it was one hundred times better than the bus. Normal, upright seats, no beeping horns, and no staff yelling at me. Hallelujah!