Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Country Caverns

While we were waiting for our night train to head out to the country, we went to a Bia Hoi in Hanoi where the fresh draft beer costs about 25 cents and you get to hang out with the locals on tiny plastic stools. The train itself was an interesting experience as you book individual beds in a cabin of four, so you stay with complete strangers. Our cabin mates ended up being completely fine and kept to themselves, but it is still just a new and different experience.

Arriving in the early morning and soaking in the rural sites of Dong Hoi, we were picked up by a van from the farmstay that we had booked phong-nha-cave. The farmstay was a stunning French villa with gorgeous sprays of  flowers tumbling down from the rafters and a picturesque view of rice fields and water buffalo. The staff and the tours that were organized and scheduled by the farmstay were exceptional, and the food and facilities were wonderful.

The first thing we did in the country was to get on the back of a motorbike to go to the Wild Boar Eco Farm to see the symbol animal of my Scottish Campbell clan and sway on a giant swing overlooking the valley below. When we were finished swinging, we arrived at the Duck Stop where we learned how to eat peanuts the right way, drank cold beer and rode a water buffalo named Donald Trump in the Son River. We also fed the ducks with our bare hands which is a terrifying experience for someone who has a fear of birds. Nonetheless, we had a phenomenal day and made memories to last a lifetime.

One thing we really wanted to do was to visit Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park and gaze upon primordial caves which are approximately 400 million years old. First up was Paradise Cave which is 31 kilometers and is the longest dry cave in Southeast Asia. Hiking the 500 steps in the heat of the jungle was a bit difficult, but the underground realm that lay beyond was worth the effort. The monumental size of just the one kilometer of this subterranean world which is open to the public is astonishing. The second cave we visited that day was Phong Nha Cave which you enter via boat. We rented a motorboat, and while skimming across the water we passed locals in sampans gathering seaweed and quaint French cathedrals in the lush green hills. Once we reached our destination, they cut the engines and a small boy used a wooden oar to paddle us through the cave. It was such a majestic sight, reminiscent of a gilded and elegant ballroom beneath the earth.

We will miss Phong Nha and our lovely friends as well as the beauty and tranquility of the land itself.

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