Tagged: caves

Dong Hoi, Vietnam – Phong Nha Caves

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We took the 9 hour bus from Hoi An to Dong Hoi. We had to change buses in Hue, where we chose not to stop after a few people said it can be missed. We arrived in quite winter-like Dong Hoi at 10pm. Scotland, Wales and I stayed at Nam Long Plus Hotel in a 6-bed dorm. Our room was incredible. New and modern with tempur-pedic mattresses, an ensuite bathroom with 2 sinks and 2 showers, complimentary toiletries and water, a tea kettle and a TV. Plus we were the only ones in the room. Breakfast was included and the cost was $7 a night. However, there was no heater in the room the first night and we were absolutely frozen.

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Our first day we did a full-day cave tour for $50. The tour included the Phong Nha Caves, Paradise Cave and National Park. The drive was about an hour outside of Dong Hoi. First we went to the Paradise Cave. We trekked up to the entrance and entered a tiny hole into a massive cave. The entrance size surpassed a planetarium. We were able to walk only 1km into the cave but it continues for another 64km. The colors were all shades of grays and browns with occasional patches of gray blue. Stalagmites jetted out from the floor, and stalactites from the ceiling. It felt like another planet- a scify movie. One stalagmite was shaped like a mushroom treehouse guarded by a muppet dog. Another looked like a gremlin, and another like a demon about to eat someone. Like any cave the temperature was cool and crisp.

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After Paradise we went to lunch near Phong Nga Cave. Entrees were delivered to our table to share. We had kale soup, spring rolls, french fries, white rice, river fish, chicken, pork ribs, beef with peppers, beef with green beans, sautéed cabbage, and bananas. I tried to get coffee, which I thought was free, but after she poured me a quarter of a cup of the cold pot coffee that had been sitting out and asked for $1.50 I declined.

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After lunch we boarded a boat to take us through the Phong Nha Caves. The boat trip took us along the local village and past the town church. There were other boats in the water with locals collecting seaweed. By doing this they were cleaning the water and getting food to feed the animals. On the town side of the river there were water buffalo feeding on the grass. Apparently at night (every night) they swim across the river to graze during the day.

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With our boat we entered into a large cliff side, Phong Nha Cave. [Locals believe that the God of Spirits lives here because it's an endless water source.] What appeared to be a wide entrance ended up being very short and our boat paddler in the front had to duck. He paddled us through the whole cave, about 15 minutes deep. The cave (a water cave) was also incredible. Personally I liked Paradise better except the coloring in Phong Nha was prettier. The water, which was clear, caused the rocks to turns green. Many of the stalactites looked like jellyfish. The boat then parked on a sand beach in the middle of the cave. From here we walked through Fairy Cave and Imperial Cave, by far the most amazing. I truly felt like I was in a fantasy. We took “tanning” selfies on the waving beach hills. White/tan/silver-ish ceilings allowed the lumpy sparkly purple/blue/green stalagmites and stalactites to shine. One looked like garlic cloves, others waves, coral, etc.

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When we got back we went to Buffalo Pub, the only bar in town. The bar has a garage door that was open the whole night so it was just as cold inside as outside, 14 C. We played pool, ate dinner, did a sing along with Wales playing a guitar, and drank until closing at 11:30pm. One local girl working there, named Ky, talked to us the whole night. Her English was perfect so before leaving I took a shot in the dark and ordered steamed veggies and tofu, and it worked! For the first time I had a meal that wasn’t covered in grease.

We got a late checkout the next day. At 3pm we left our room and headed to pick up Ky so she could take us to the market. We had lunch at Buffalo before leaving, another plate of steamed goodness for me. We quickly learned how nuts Ky is. She’s 20 years old and a feisty little flirt. She doesn’t like Chinese people or Christians, and doesn’t date Asians. She really only likes British men.

The market was pretty small. It consisted of fish and meat stands next to the water, then vegetable stands, then fruit and flower stands on the street. At the fish stands they sold frogs that were tied together in pairs to keep them from jumping out of the bowl. We also saw a few new fruits but no one could tell us what they were. One looked like a reddish orange oblong grapefruit, and another looked like a deformed yellow squash. Next to the outdoor market was a building that had the clothing and accessories market. The winter clothes were too small (Asian sized) and too expensive- $50+ for a down jacket, $8 for a hat, and more for a scarf. I didn’t buy anything since I only need winter clothes for a few days and it’s not worth it to pay that much. I’ll just freeze or buy a massive sweatshirt somewhere.

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We were picked up at 7pm for our 9 hour bus to Hanoi. We ran for the back of the bus and all got the last rows (top and bottom of a sleeper.) Scotland and I took the bottom- 2 out of 5 beds. Shortly after 3 toddlers got on the bus and they all sat next to us. One boy, directly next to me, was wearing the most amazing flannel Cheetah onesie. During the drive he had the most offensive smelling farts, and coincidently each time the driver stared smoking a cigarette. Scotland and I thought we were going to suffocate from the smells.

We got to Hanoi at 6am and took a 30min taxi to Luong Yen bus station where we booked the Hedeco bus package to get us from Hanoi to Cat Ba Island. First we took a 2.5 hour bus, then transferred to a 1 hour bus to Hai Phong ferry. The boat was docked in the middle of a shipping yard, no official ferry dock. The ride was about 20 minutes followed by another bus to the town.

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Vang Vieng, Laos

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Took the 8 hour bus from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng. VV is known as the party village of Laos. It used to be famous for non-stop drinking and hard drugs; however, in 2012, the government cracked down after a few drug related deaths. It’s definitely still a party scene though set in a serene setting described as an oil painting. Caves, kayaking, rock climbing and hiking are all popular activities. But the biggest thing it’s known for is the daytime tubing/bar trip down the river. Everyone rents tire tubes and as you float down the river bars throw ropes out for you to catch and be pulled in. There are 4 bars left on the river. There are also 2 restaurants in town that play Friends episodes non-stop, and 2 that play Family Guy. I couldn’t wait for it all.

I stayed at Easy Go, the cheaper party hostel. Not known for it’s cleanliness but I needed to stay in a cheaper spot this week, plus my Canadian girlfriend from Pai stayed there and recommended it. The dorms were bigger than I expected (4 beds and not bunkbeds) and it had a great common area. All wooden and laid out like a tree house almost. The place however is very small and therefore you can hear absolutely everyone all the time. I didn’t sleep at all while staying there. The beds are rock hard, the worst I’ve had to far.

The nighttime circuit is Sakura bar, then Fat Monkey, then the club. Basically beer pong, beer pong, then dancing. The bars sell Happy Balloons. I thought it was helium so after inhaling I started talking. Fail. All the Europeans who apparently do these regularly were blowing the air back into the balloons, then inhaling again, then back in. Apparently you do this until you can’t physically do it anymore, and you’re left with a 10-second high. It’s definitely just suffocating yourself, which is crazy. I didn’t try it for real.

The two happy pizza places in town are Milan Pizza and Tifalcony Pizza, which both sell weed and shroom anything. Definitely not legal but I assume the bars pay off the cops since they even advertise it.

My first morning I got a egg and cheese sandwich, without cucumber obviously, and extra tomatoes. The second morning I repeated the same order to the same woman and she was like “I know I know same same.” After 20 minutes she came out with a cucumber and cheese sandwich, without tomatoes or egg. That’s Asia for you.

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I went tubing twice. The first time was crowded and really fun. The second time was a lot tamer but it would have been hard to beat the first time. The first bar has beer pong tables, beach volleyball and grass soccer. The second bar has beer pong tables, a muddy volleyball court and a sumo wrestling water pit. Everyone is covered from head to toe in the copper mud color after playing volleyball here. The third bar has a dance floor and DJ- but first they always do a game of musical tubes. The last bar has a basketball court in the middle of the bar. For all the bars the activities are always the most crowded.

The tubing is surreal. The partying feels just like college but you’re surrounded by huge green mountains and a river. It’s a 5-10 minute tube ride from bar to bar and it feels incredible when you lay back and take it all in. Older kayakers passing are common. When you get close to a bar the workers throw out a string with a plastic bottle attached and they pull you in. They take the tube and you’re free to go party. All you have with you is money and maybe a shirt if you want it. On my first day I got a bar shirt in a XL which was popular for girls- like a daytime party dress. Mine’s neon green from Apple Bar.

At the third bar my second time around I decided to order noodle soup, mostly because I’ve become obsessed with soup and eat it a few times a day. I was siting at a table alone when a bunch of local Lao men invited me to their table. They were all in their 40s and owned guesthouses in town. I drank BeerLao Gold with them and ate a grilled fish head that they caught and cooked. It’s common here and was really tasty.

My forth day I got another massage. The girl who massaged me was very hungover, which was a complete shock. It’s common to see local drunk men but not women. As she massaged me she kept falling over onto her face. About halfway through she started hiccuping and ran for the bathroom. I could hear her throwing up as I laid there. Another girl finished the massage, but there were no apologies or anything.

Favorite meals. One day I had breakfast at The Veggie. Carrot juice and Veggie spaghetti with garlic bread. My daily go-to was the rice soup from the Friends restaurants. I had the soup at least 10 times and got a few other people obsessed with it too. Just thick rice soup that over-powered with chili flakes. The ham and cheese baguette from the street vendors was to die for. They fry the ham a bit first and used real cheese, not laughing cow like everywhere else. They also heat the bread on the fry pan too. But there’s a massive lack of passion fruit and avocado in this town.

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My last day I did a cave, kayaking tour. We went through a dark cave with flashlights on our heads. Pulling our way through the darkness along a rope. There ended up being nothing at the end and we just turned around and went back. For lunch there was a BBQ and sliced papaya. Next we went to the Mekong and kayaked down the river. The kayaking was rough at points which was really fun. My kayaked never tipped but our friends did. At the end of the 50 min ride we stopped at the last bar. We were much earlier than the tubers but it was still relaxing. I re-found my two small puppies, Calvin and Sam, and played with them for over an hour. We then continued down the river and landed in town.

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All in all Vang Vieng destroyed me, which I think it does to most people. Two to three days really is enough. Most people go straight from all day day-drinking to the night circuit. I couldn’t. I have scrapes and bruises all over my body from tubing (walking all over rocks to park it.) My first time tubing I didn’t know there was a metal part sticking out for air and I landed right on it scratching my lower back. My second day tubing I ran right over a jagged rock that was underwater, which bruised my butt and scratched my back pretty hard. You don’t wear shoes at all, which means you’re also walking through the dirty town streets barefoot.

Lost: My first time tubing I came home with different sunglasses, the second day with none.
My flip-flops were missing from the club the first night. I stole someone else’s to walk home and when I woke up one of them was missing. I think someone put on two different shoes by mistake.

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