Ok, I know I said Hoi An was probably my favourite place (and I stand by this!) but Phong Nha was by far my favourite experience. Phong Nha national park is a beautiful area of stunning caves and breath-taking mountainous regions. We stayed at a fantastic hostel called Easy Tiger (well, to be honest, we stayed next door – but I believe this is now fully owned and run by Easy Tiger). It was super friendly, had a gorgeous view by the swimming pool and had a brilliant happy hour. What more could an excitable backpacker ask for?
Day one we knew we wanted to book a guided tour of Phong Nha national park. At the beginning of our Vietnam expedition, we weren’t sure if we’d have time to stop off at Phong Nha and the guidebooks weren’t overwhelmingly useful when it came to directions and hostel recommendations. However, I am very glad we did. Luckily, our hotel in Hue booked us a bus which drove straight to Phong Nha – perfect! The bus ride was hilariously bumpy – at one point I actually smacked my head on the roof of the bus…
When we arrived at Easy Tiger, we dumped our bags and had a great introduction from the owner of the hostel. Next we grabbed some drinks and a folder which documented all the tour options for Phong Nha. We opted for a full day tour of the national park (which included kayaking and swimming in caves). I think it cost around £45. The rest of the day was spent exploring the very small-scale surrounding area and reading by the amazing swimming pool. We couldn’t quite believe this little slice of heaven was so affordable!
The day of our tour finally arrived and we set off with a group of other backpackers from Easy Tiger. Little did I know that this tour would include ziplining! I am the first to admit that I am no dare devil. In fact, I’m pretty timid when it comes to heights. So, the day began with a distinct feeling of butterflies. One boy actually said to me, “Do you not really like adventure?”…
Firstly, when we arrived, we toured Paradise cave. Paradise cave was a beautiful, majestic and awe inspiring cave – it was huge and like nothing I have ever seen. After a torrential downpour of tropical rain, we headed to lunch on a cute little golf buggy through the trees. We had lunch altogether which gave us a chance to chat with lots of other backpackers and to swap stories about our individual trips.
After lunch, the real adventure began. We headed for the zipline. I remember feeling a mixture of nerves, sickness and excitement. To make matters worse, I was fitted with a child-size life jacket! The man attaching my harness grinned and said “Oh, you’re like a baby!” Not helpful words at the top of a 200m drop…
However, with some incredibly supportive words of encouragement from my wonderful backpacking buddy, I jumped off the tiny ledge and soared down the zipwire. It was the most amazing experience. The views of the forests and mountains were exhilarating as I zoomed over the water towards the entrance of the Dark cave. I could not recommend this any more highly!
Once my feet squelched into not-so-dry, muddy land, I joined the rest of the group as we swam towards our kayaks. We shared a kayak and managed (not without some difficulty!) to paddle our way to the mouth of the cave. From here, we swam deep into the icy cold, pitch black cave. It was a surreal and magical feeling to be so tiny inside this huge, majestic, natural tunnel that sunlight and warm air couldn’t reach. We swam until we reached thick, gel like mud and extremely thin passages which we had to weave our way through. I was actually quite hard to pull ourselves across the gloopy mud and to navigate deeper inside this unspoiled cave. It was fascinating to just be there because the cave hasn’t been altered to make it easy for tourists – it’s as it should be, untouched and natural.
Finally we reached a huge pit of gel-like mud. We simply floated in this peculiar liquid/solid. The instructor told us all to turn off our head torches and just appreciate the sensation of this indescribable mud. As we sat in complete, utter darkness, I felt very far from home, as though suspended in some other time and space. It was fantastic. On our way out of the dark cave, we turned our lights off again and swam towards the opening. The only light to guide us was the sunbeam at the end of the cave. It was so beautiful and serene as we glided through the black water.
Hopping back in our kayaks, I remember thinking that this was an experience I will never forget and that the memory of the Dark cave will be with me forever.
So, for a girl who doesn’t “really like adventure”, I flipping loved it!