In Hoi An we took the bus to Hue. From there, we traveled in a minivan to PhongNha. A whole day of traveling, but it turned out quite fine.
Phong Nha-ke Bang, the official name for this region, is located in the middle of Vietnam, close to the border with Laos. The highlights of this area are its fantastic caves — which were in fact only recently discovered! We decided to visit Paradise Cave and Dark Cave as part of an organized tour.
Our tour started at 8.30am, on the road to Paradise Cave. After a visit to the temple, we arrived at 10am. It was obvious that we were here as low-season tourists — in the enormous parking lot, we were just one of three buses. Good for us!
After a short walk, we arrived at the cave — which was so big and beautiful. We followed a 1km long path through the cave — an amazing experience. In some chambers, it was even just the two of us.
After our visit to Paradise Cave, we traveled on to Dark Cave. After lunch, the adventure really started. Dark Cave can only be reached with a zipline and a bit of swimming. The cave itself isn’t really that special, but what’s really awesome is the mud pool inside the cave. This was such fun, especially because the cave was completely dark and we could only see what our headlamps illuminated.
Once you slip into the pool, you’re covered in mud right up until your shoulders, it’s almost like being covered in melted chocolate… The fact that you stay afloat in the pool, causes some hilarious scenes. On our way out, we got the opportunity to rinse off the mud. Near the exit, a set of kayaks were waiting for us to navigate us towards the park exit. We took a shower to wash off the last bits of mud and ended the day with a rum coke to flush away the remaining adrenaline.
The next day, we rent a set of motor bikes and drove to the botanical garden, which had a charming waterfall. We broke a sweat during our walk through the park, but we were finally treated with some amazing views and a beautiful waterfall in the end.
When we wanted to drive back home, my motor bike didn’t start. When we called the owner and explained the problem, he simply told us we should leave the bike at the parking lot — and that’s how simple life gets here. So we drove back with one motor bike. Later we found out that this was a common problem. During the flood last week, water ran into the tanks of the gas station — so my motor bike wasn’t the only one experiencing technical issues. Nobody made a fuss about it though, so it wasn’t a big deal.
After Phong Nha, we traveled on to Ninh Binh. In a night bus for the first time! It was such a super comfy bus, with seats that could be completely set horizontally.
Traveling by night bus has two major advantages. One, you travel while you sleep (so you have more time during the day to do fun things), and two, you save on accommodation. The bus was supposed to arrive at 6am in Ninh Binh, but we were there already by 4.15am. We jumped into a taxi and kept our fingers crossed that someone would be awake by the time we arrived. Luckily, someone was awake and we were even guided to our rooms straight away.
We decided to catch some zz’s until morning and had breakfast at 9am. Ninh Binh isn’t really such an interesting place by itself, but the area is definitely worth a visit. The most fun thing to do here, is to take a boat trip through nature, amongst the beautiful karst rocks. While the landscape is wonderful, the boat trip is a little too touristic — a bit like an ‘Efteling’ experience.
In the evening, we had dinner with everyone who stayed at the homestay. A cosy evening around a table loaded with delicious Vietnamese food.
At the moment we write this, we are on the train from Ninh-Binh to Hanoi, our next stop.
Our hotel in Phong Nha was called Midtown Hotel. You can also book the cave trip there. We did the ‘National Park Tour’. Bamboo Cafe is a nice spot to eat. We booked the motor bikes and the bus to Ninh Binh in our hotel. The homestay in Ninh Binh was XXI homestay. You don’t need to book in advance for the boat trip. Tip: try to take the 12pm boat trip. Most organize tours plan their trips in the morning or afternoon, so they start at 9al or 2pm. The trip at 12pm is more quiet.