We were picked up early for the tour of Paradise Cave and Phong Nha. To be honest, I hadn’t done much research on it. I knew they were meant to be amazing but I hadn’t looked into them much. I kind of just gave up by this stage.
We go on a 1.5 hour bus ride to our first stop – Paradise Cave. Our tour guide, a quirky 24 year old jokes how we will see angels and that they are named paradise because we will feel like we have reached paradise.
We meet most of the people in our group. Not all are as talkative as Jason 😂. We are surprised, but at the same time not surprised that most in our tour group are actually from Australia! An older Vietnamese couple from Melbourne; a young couple in their early 20s – she is Vietnamese background and he is white Anglo also from Melbourne; a mother and son, Vietnamese background from Adelaide, and of course us. The other two couples in the group are Germans and they tend to just stick to themselves.
We finally reach Paradise Caves and are warned of the “steep walk up the mountain”. Frankly what I’m thinking is, “FINALLY I get to do some exercise!” I didn’t think the walk was bad at all.
We reach the top of the mountain and then climb down some stairs as we enter the small opening of the cave. Immediately we’re met with an enormous cave filled with illuminated stalagmites and stalactites! We are in awe as we continue to walk through the wooden path set out throughout the cave. These caves are bigger and better than the ones we saw at Halong Bay.
I don’t know where to look, as everything is just so unbelievable and although I try to capture the moment with a photo, it is just impossible to show the beauty and magnitude of the cave.
The cave is roughly 31 kms long, but only 1 km is open for the public on this particular tour. The cave was only recently discovered in 2005 and sections can reach as high as 70 metres high! The limestone formations are truly spectacular and I have never witnessed anything like it before. It surely gives the Jenolan Caves in Australia a run for their money..
We exit paradise and return to our bus that leads us to lunch. We are reluctant, as we imagine tourist western food that is not usually any good. Thankfully the food was ready upon our arrival and besides the hot chips, everything was typical of the region.
We proceed to Phong Nha. Again, I didn’t know what to expect. The only thing I knew was that it was part of some National Park, is a boat cave and were well known by most tourists.
We climb into a small 14-seater boat and make our way along the river for 10-15 minutes. The view is quite picturesque with the limestone mountains, similar to the ones in Ninh Binh and Ha long bay. There are small houses, some even look like shacks all along the shore, cows and buffaloes.
Once we get close to the entrance of the cave, the engine of the boat stops and the coupke running the boat start to untie some ropes and open up the ceiling of the boat. All this anticipation makes me quite anxious. The couple then commence to paddle into the cave (one at the front and one at the back). The experience is quite surreal.
The lighting is simple, unlike Halong where the caves are illuminated with various colours. Here they have tried to maintain a simple/elegant feel to the cave.
We are told that the river runs approximately 14 metres deep beneath the cave and no life exists. The French discovered the caves in the 1930s and only opened them up to the public in the 1990s. Up until then the caves were not known to the public. What is interesting though is that the Vietnamese hid in these caves during the war to avoid the American bombs. A great place to hide!! I drank some of the holy/lucky water and was told you will either get another husband or wife.
We had dinner close to the hotel at some local restaurant where no one spoke a word of English. We randomly picked things from the menu and some drunk guys at the table next to us tried to help us but we somehow ended up ordering chicken offal, steamed chicken – which wasn’t very nice and quite tough and a Kale meat sandwich dish, which was probably the best thing we ordered.
Again, we were not sure where to go next as we had originally thought of going to Hoi An, but then we noticed all the backpackers would head to Hue. We also watched an episode of “Vietnam: parts unknown” by Anthony Bourdain, who visits all the amazing street foods in Hue and then thought we should stay at least one night in Hue.
How quickly our plans changed when we asked the Vietnamese/Australian lady in our tour about Hue, she suggested we go to DaNang instead, as Hue was just an old imperial city full of tombs and history but probably not so interesting for the boys.
As a result, we decided DaNang it was! Jason quickly went and bought two soft-seater tickets tonight before dinner. Tomorrow we catch a train from Dong Hoi to DaNang at 7.40am!