31st of January 2016:
My alarm went off at 6:45am, ready to catch the morning train to Dong Hoi. The receptionist told us it’s only a 20 minute walk, so we headed off down the street with a map he highlighted for us. A main skill I’ve realised I need to learn is how to read a map. The street signs didn’t seem to always correspond to what the map would tell us, so we had to ask a few locals and foreigners if they could possibly help us. All of a sudden Nick starts turning around telling me to go faster, hurry up. I’m so confused as to why, I know I’m a slow walker but what’s the hurry! As we arrived at the train station with 10 minutes before boarding closes we then had to navigate the maze of the station. As our ticket is in Vietnamese we have no idea what platform we are meant to go to. Miraculously we step foot in the correct train and carriage, we place our bags down of where we thought our seats were. One minute later, a Vietnamese man is standing at our door with a bellowing angry mother behind him, for what I gathered she was cursing at us for being in her seat. So we were happy to say we were wrong and realised we were in the next cabin along. As I pick up my bags and squeeze past the angry mother I take one step forward and realise we cannot go in that cabin as a old lady with a baby has literally the whole grocery store in garbage bins filling up the walk way in the cabin and the corridor. At this point I wished I knew Vietnamese as she was yelling at us, then the two cabins next to us helped us out, and she was yelling at them. After 5 minutes of me just standing there absolutely clueless as to how to solve the issue a man from the train station tries to help out. At this point the lady next to me pulls me to her softly, which i was thankful for because I’m pretty sure I would of got thrown some sort of vegetable at my head. This lady was yelling at the man, and from what I could gather she just didn’t want to move for us. After 10 minutes of me just standing listening to the huge debacle unraveling itself in front of me the man said we can go in there. I never want to make another Vietnamese person angry again! It was terrifying! After she took all her garbage bags out we sat down and just were in shock that we couldn’t help but laugh the situation off.
I wish the rest of the day was as eventful, but unfortunately when your stuck on a train for 13 hours during the day, I’m pretty sure you go a little bit insane! Especially when your the last two people left on the train!
As our train arrived at the station of Dong Hoi, I was so thankful to see the ground again. The train had been so rough that for the rest of the night I was still swaying, like the feeling you get being on a boat.
A organised taxi from Easy Tiger picked us up and took us to our hostel. At this stage it’s 10pm and we were exhausted that all we did was order onion fries and go to bed.
1st of February 2016:
We arose bright and early at 7am to get ready before the 9am talk. We had breakfast at the hostel which was overpriced and not very nice. I just ordered bread and peanut butter with hash browns on the side. The hash brown came out as a Side-plate pizza shaped, that had little potato chips stuck together. At 9am we went to the campfire where the Irish guy from the hostel explains what you can do around here, and how to actually do it. It was so insightful, especially when he was explaining the different bombs, ammunition etc that is still left around here. In addition, he explained what they do, if you do find one as it has been reported it will still take 10,000 years to clear up the national park alone from any unexploded bombs and land mines. Another fascinating fact was Laos had more bombs dropped on it then anywhere else and it was a neutral country. They worked out a bomb would drop in Laos one every 8 minutes. That’s horrifying, for a country that is doing no wrong.
We organised a group of 11 of us from Easy Tiger to catch a boat to Phu Ne cave. The boat ride only took 15 minutes and then you arrive at what looks like a opening of the mountain. The two drivers turn the motor off, take the roof off and start paddling. It was absolutely breathtaking. The whole boat just went silent for 30 minutes as an 80 year old local man rowed us through a forever changing cave at every corner. There are no words that can describe this amazing ordeal, but I will attempt it.
The smell of the cave engulfs your senses. The still turquoise water sits so naturally with the cave, as if the two and two are partners in this magnificent creation. The ceiling changes from a smooth red and white colour, representing no other than a reincarnation of Jupiter, to ragged, icicles hanging down in different shapes and lengths to represent the ever so changing past the cave has endured.
After the boat ride we got to hop off and enjoy first hand what it feels like. This part of the cave was filled with sand and crevices hollowed out over centuries, to make the picturesque cave it is today.
To reach the second cave you had to walk 490 steps. At first I didn’t think much about this but apparently the cold air told my body another story. By three quarters of the way my breaths were getting hard and faster. As we reached the top, we arrived to a huge opening with something jumping in between the caves crevices. At a closer look we realise there are black monkeys living within the opening of the cave. It was exciting and daunting having to walk under the monkeys when they were kicking rocks down but no one got hurt. The cave was huge, opening up to what seemed like a long way till the end. The path takes you through numerous turns and at some point you have to squeeze in between two rocks to continue through. As we reached the end, we lied down and just looked at the roof. It was amazing to feel so at peace and free from all the drama that continues to haunt you in the daily life. It was like the cave was your haven, it blocked all the noise and the people and allowed you to feel like you were living within the moment.
2nd of February 2016:
Today we slept in, which was peaceful and relaxing. Our plan was to buy the bus ticket to Laos, then go see Dark Cave and Paradise Cave. Simple, right! As the Vietnamese still haven’t figured out what simple plans are we had a bit of a nightmare day. The bus ticket that we had enquired about the day before has now sporadically just stopped going to Laos because of the New Year. So now the lady is telling us the next bus is on the 12th! That is so far away! We ran back to the hostel to see if they know of anything or can help us in anyway. The Irish guy laughed and was like of course there’s buses going to Laos, so he gave us a number of Tam from Dong Ha and we organised everything through him. Which in the end worked out to be the same price for both of us, compared to what the lady was quoting us for one person.
However as a result of the hassle we only had time for one cave, so we choose the Paradise Cave, and I’m so glad we did. We hired two local men to take us to Paradise cave as we had been told, so many people have accidents because it’s very hilly and as a result of the rain very slippery. As we arrived at the entrance, we headed off down a path that felt like we were the only people there. No one had told us how long the walk was but the flat part was around 800m. Then it comes to a hill and as you look up and see a sign saying 500m this way to a ramp that wraps around the mountain so many times you can’t see the top you hope to yourself that the cave better be worth it.
After 15 minutes of walking up hill we reached a very tiny hole in the mountain, with stairs leading down. As you start to ascend the little opening, opens up to a massive chamber, the size of a football field. As you make your way to the bottom it’s breathtaking, but you wonder if this is it. Then the path seems to turn around a corner to more and more huge openings that one makes you wonder what the first person thought when they discovered this. We walked 1km within the cave, and not once was I disappointed it was continuously picturesque, every step you took. The cave is about 30km long and more people have gone to space then reached the end of this cave.
3rd of February 2016:
This morning we checked out of Easy Tiger. We were very relaxed today so we had breakfast and spent the rest of the afternoon by the fire talking to a couple from London. Our bus to Dong Ha was due to arrive at 3pm, but as usual an hour later it arrived full of tourists. As we squeezed on, we headed off, when all of a sudden we had to make a U-Turn and head back because apparently we forgot two people. Thankfully we had only driven a couple of minutes so wasn’t so drastic, then like what I now expect of Vietnam, the people cancelled their tickets and the company never told them so we made another U-turn and headed back to Dong Ha. The drive was short only 2 and a half hours which was a pleasant change to what we are use to. As we get off the man from Tams cafe came and picked us up, well… He walked us 20 metres to the hotel then we paid him 900,000 for our ticket and went to our room. As Nick opened the door, the smell of mold engulfed your senses. It smelt like the room hadn’t been opened in months! Then we just watched four episodes of Hellcats and drifted to sleep. Was a very relaxing day, one that was well deserved!