Bus from Hoi An
After two magical and mesmerizing days in Hoi-An, next stop was the Phong Nha National Park. It is a major tourist attraction because of its thousands of unexplored labyrinth of underground caves. I took a bus from Hoi-An to Phong Nha with a stopover at Hue, which is also a World Heritage Site. I booked a bus-ticket with a private bus operator which provided the stop-over option at Hue, sometimes the drop and the pick-up location at Hue can differ and depends on the bus operator. I was dropped at the local bus station of Hue but was asked to be present at a different address for my onward journey.
Phong Nha National Park
I reached Phone Nha late in the night and hit the bed straight away. The Phong Nha National park is the house of the largest cave in the world, the Son Doong cave which supports life with its underground rivers and rainforests. The river Son, which originates from Laos, gets underground in Son Doong cutting across karsts and hence built the largest cave system. The adrenaline rush of visiting this cave comes at a hefty cost and a waiting list. The second and the third largest caves are also in Phong Nha. Phong Nha houses innumerable caves and four are open for public. There are guided tours to other caves and are mostly a multi-day excursion. Since I had planned to stay in Phon Nha for two days, I settled for a one-day guided tour to one of the most beautiful caves: Tu Luan cave, and planned to spend the next day by myself exploring caves which are open to the public.
In March, Phong Nha was a paradise, surrounded by limestone formations, blanketed by lush green vegetation and covered in fine mist. Have you ever thought of getting transposed to a different world? It felt like that. I walked freely alongside the river reflecting the greenery of this place. Countless boats ruffled the shadows of low hanging clouds. Clouds led me to believe in a timeless evening even though it was early morning. The women on the other side of the bank were steering their boats in the river for their daily chores.
I visited the Phong Nha cave and the Paradise Cave. These caves are of mammoth sizes crisscrossed by underground water streams. The Stalagmite and Stalactite structures are sharp, intact and truly spectacular, a fine testimony of nature’s creativity. After spending considerable time in these two caves, I rented a two-wheeler and drove in the National Forest for more than two hours. My hotel receptionist had warned me not to stray on unpaved roads. Phong Nha is one of the most bombed places in Vietnam which still lie dormant under thick forest cover. I drove past the winding lanes, thickly covered mountains and trenches, sometimes accompanied by a fine splatter of rain or mist.
Entry to Laos
Phong Nha national park is also the place where tourists can cross the border to Laos, another 15 km of driving west would have taken me to the Laos border. At that moment, a little nudge would have made me abandon my plans in Vietnam, alas, I didn’t get any.
If you love to get lost riding a two-wheeler on meandering zigzag roads surrounded by lush-green hills shrouded in mist, if you want to see a place where each house owns a boat and daily chores are incomplete without possessing one, visit Phong Nha, You can just sit by the bank of Son river and spend hours looking at boats trudging up and down the stream, look at the lush green mountains covered and wonder how one place can have it all
Around 4:30 pm, I started towards my hotel and stopped on my way to take one last sip of tea in a riverside- café. The day was still fresh and new, no signs of dullness brought by the dusk.
For dinner, I randomly picked any restaurant which seemed lively to me. I gave a thought if I should extend my stay for one more day, but I had booked my tickets already and decided to leave while reflecting on the curse of committing things in advance.