Phong Nah, not far from the city of Dong Hoi is famous for its caves included the worlds largest cave costing $3,000 to enter.
We stayed in a lively backpackers hostel, Easy Tiger, a business started up by an Australian and his wife to draw tourism to Phong Nah.
On the first day, we arrived at 5am in the morning after our first night bus experience (which was surprisingly okay). Once we’d refuelled, we joined some friends in going to visit Phong Nah cave. You have to travel by boat to the entrance of the cave and then you are steered through the cave on a smaller paddle boat. I’m not exactly a cave enthusiast but this was pretty cool…
We spent the evening drinking 241 beer (that was already less than a £1) and stumbled in to our dorm beds with a belly full of beer – as someone who hates beer, it’s not how I thought I’d be spending most of my evenings in Vietnam but it’s easy to be converted when beer is cheaper than soft drinks.
The second, and best day in Phong Nah was a day of new experiences… Despite all good intentions before setting off on our travels we got on the back of bikes… Actual motorbikes. The hostel helps promote a local, young, Vietnamese man run a service that provides jobs to under privileged locals. They are fully licensed drivers and you hire them for a day (£10) and they shuttle you around wherever you want to go, waiting for you at each destination.
Our Californian friends, who are much more comfortable on motorbikes, rented there own and followed us and our guides to the caves. The total loop is 75km with incredible scenery, and it’s an experience neither of us will ever forget. For the first 30 minutes my knuckles were white from holding on so tight, because I was terrified, but it wasn’t long before I was loving it. That said, motorbike taxis will be left for the remote areas, being on the back of a bike in the city centre is more danger than I’m ready for!
The first 1km of the cave is paved with steps that resemble something from Hogwarts. Unfortunately, without a guide/tour group, you can only enter 1km of the cave but there is a trip that Easy Tiger hostel runs allowing you to do a 7km trek which people said was well worth the money (roughly £80).
There are a number of tours run by the hostel allowing you to see different things, but as budget (or stingy) travellers we’ve been finding the cheapest most efficient way to do things and tours are never the cheap way. Running a tour is a business, therefore money is being made somewhere, so cut out the middle man and you’ll save money. That being said, tours offer the opportunity to meet like minded travellers and hand over an element of responsibility to someone else for a change! If you do your research some tours are well worth the money and offer experiences you can’t do alone!
The Dark cave is a whole different ball game. Less about the cave and more about the activities, the Dark Cave costs £10 a person to enter and includes all the safety equipment, a zip line over the water, swimming into the cave, walking through the cave and bathing in the thick mud, a mud slide, a kayak back to land and an optional zip line jump into the water! Definitely a must if visiting Phong Nah.
Unfortunately, we haven’t got pictures as you experience the cave in nothing but swimwear… Apparently there are 2 engagement rings and 5 go pro cameras at the bottom of the mud right now!
The caves at Phong Nah are pretty awesome but that’s not all the place has to offer.
On our last day we rented bicycles and cycled 14km to a Wild Boar Eco Farm, the roads were practically silent but extremely uneven and the lack of suspension on the bikes meant we were feeling it later on that day! After the farm we followed a Belgian couple (because we got a little lost trying to find it) to the ‘Pub with cold beer’, where along with cold beer, they also serve a fresh chicken dinner. They offer you the opportunity to select and kill your chicken… And then they prepare you a chicken lunch. As vegetarians this wasn’t a major attraction for us (obvs). However, we did witness a number of guys step up to the mark and perform the act. This sparked some pretty interesting discussion about whether promoting this killing of an animal as a money making business is morally right but also raised a good point that if you’re going to eat it then maybe you should be able to kill it.
After our veggie only fried rice and spring rolls, we cycled back to the hostel and collapsed on our dorm beds, and listened to our roommates horror story of leaving their passports in the previous city… Luckily the next morning, after a lot of aggro, they got them back. But we are definitely double and triple checking we’ve got ours on us now.
So after 3 days in Phong Nah, we are both in agreement that it’s an unmissable destination in Vietnam. Whether or not it beats the beauty of Sapa is still undecided but I think it might…