The Adventures of The Roving Route #24
Another week, another gorgeous town. If you like lush mountains or unique geological formations, Vietnam is a must. Other than the major cities, every place we stop in is stunning with nature at your fingertips. Phong Nha is no different.
As we mentioned last week, the biggest caves in the world are hidden in the mountains around this town. The caves are so well hidden that most have been only found within the past 2 decades including Hang Son Doong Cave the world's largest. While we haven't been able to get into it (cost is about $3,500 USD/person for 4 days) the sheer size is insane. Its largest cavern can fit an entire New York City block inside including 45-storey skyscrapers. Just to give you a bit more of a picture, an Airbus A380 can easily fly through it without fear of its wings ever touching! It also has its own weather system so it can be raining inside the cave but clear outside! Tours here are quite expensive so we had to resort to renting another motorbike and cruising through the national park towards one of the most popular caves in the area. The roads were extremely windy but the views were absolutely gorgeous as we maneuver through the dense jungle and around the hundreds of mountain humps. Even though there was only 1 main turn, we still wound up going in the wrong direction. About 30 minutes down the road we figured it out by looking at our phone and realizing we were on a collision course with the Vietnamese-Laos border!
Not all was lost as we were still able to stop at a couple of the memorial caves for people who lost their lives in the Vietnam War. One cave entombed 8 people (4 women and 4 men) when an American bomb went off. Although all efforts were tried to free them, nothing could be done and they perished. This site now holds a small temple where many Vietnamese come to remember those they lost and pay tribute to those who sacrificed their lives.
The main cave we visited this week was Paradise Cave. It is not as wide or tall but it is significantly longer and is actually the longest dry cave in Asia at over 32 KMs long. You can only wander through about 1 km of it without a guide but what you do see is stunning. Its largest point can easily fit a 19-storey building! Amazingly the cave was only found in 2005 and is still unveiling new species and offshoots. As the cave was formed by running water, it does not have any coloured crystals or geological aspects, but it does have the largest stalactites and stalagmites that we have ever seen. Some had to be 60 or 70 feet tall with a width of roughly 30 feet. At other points, there were calcified waterfalls that reach up towards new tunnels 60 feet off the ground! Though we were only 1 km in, it still took us almost an hour to walk out as we were constantly stopping to admire our surroundings.
Back at the bike parking, we hopped on to leave and found that something was wrong and our bike wasn't turning on! Even with the help of 3 workers, nothing could be done and we had to sit looking awkward until our hotel brought us a new bike! Finally, back on the road, we wound our way down and out of the national park passing Derek's dream hotel; an upcycled shipping container hotel surrounded by peanut fields and water buffalo.
As we have spent the whole week here, we are very happy that the hotel that we stayed at offers free bicycles as it allows us to explore this beautiful area. The town is pretty much just two streets of hotels and homestays with restaurants attached so it is really easy to get out of town and explore the countryside. One side of the city is flanked by the lower edge of the National Park which has the unique Phong Nha Cave. This cave can only be accessed by taking a boat into its depths and at almost 8KMs long, it is the world's longest wet cave. That being said, there is an old path that takes you to the very edge of the cave and past some beautiful mountainsides. On the other side of the town is a river that cuts through rice fields for as far as the eye can see! Biking along the edge of the river, we noticed an interesting bar named the Bomb Crater Bar. Phong Nha was one of the main spots the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail came out of the mountains and supplied the North Vietnamese fighters. This bar is located at a spot that once was a major fuel depot and was thus targeted by the Americans. What was left after the many bombings were massive craters though 40 years of sediment and soil have help to fill them in. This bar has made use of its location on the edge of one of these craters as a unique place to grab a drink. One of the days out biking we ran into a couple who we had met and spent the afternoon with back in the Philippines! We knew they were in Vietnam and in Phong Nha but it just goes to show how small this town is.
Our next few weeks are going to be a bit different but exciting at the same time. Over the past year while working on our own website we have spent a lot of time developing our website design and writing skills. As we said, tourism is exploding in this city and hotels and homestays are being built everywhere. Less than 20 years ago (before the massive caves were found) there were only a dozen homes in a very small village surrounded by rice fields and mines leftover from the Vietnam War. Now, there are over 150 hotel/homestays in a rather densely developed city centre. Many of these hotels were built very recently with the owners not very experienced in hotel management or even English. This has left a massive opening for us. It looks like we are going to be spending about 3 weeks in this city developing websites for a number of hotels in exchange for room and board! We completed the first of these hotel websites this week and are moving over to another one just outside of town next week!
As we mentioned we will be staying at a homestay with a family to help with their website and social media presents. We are quite excited because not only does it allow for a great experience with locals here but it helps to keep filling our portfolio for the future.
Cheers from Phong Nha, The Roving Route