We left Hanoi on yet another sleeper bus, damn I hate these things and this was by far the worst yet. It was overcrowded, it was hot, there was luggage piled everywhere, the loo was disgusting and the beds far to small and to add insult to injury it arrived nearly four hours late into Dong Hoi. We quickly put our wheels and pedals back on, loaded our kit and with a locals help we managed to find our hotel without any trouble. When we arrived at the hotel our taxi was already waiting to take us to Phong Nha Farmstay where we then joined some other people for a trip to Paradise Caves !
We literally dumped our bikes and kit with the hotel, asked them to look after it all and explained we’d be back later and with that we jumped into the taxi and left 😉 The trip to Phong Nha took about forty minutes and passed through some of the best scenery we’d seen on the whole trip, we were heading into the hills with fast flowing rivers and dense forest dotted with little villages, it’s a shame we didn’t have time to cycle this part but it would have taken far to long. As we got closer to our destination we noticed that a lot of smaller trees, telegraph poles and signs were lying on the ground, apparently we’d missed a huge storm by a week and they’d only just got electricity back. Yet again luck was on our side but the villagers would be counting the cost for some time to come.
We just had time to get a coffee and a toasted sandwich, before us and a couple of girls from Ireland climbed aboard the taxi for the trip to the caves, another half an hour through ever more impressive scenery, limestone crags jutting out everywhere with dense cover and rivers running through the valley….paradise indeed !
Naomi and I had heard about this trip from a fellow traveler we’d met in Vientiane, she said it was one of the best things she’d done and that’s why we’d made the effort to get here…only thing is we had no idea what this trip actually was !! We had a basic idea of course but there was a surprise or two to come. When we arrived we were met by two guides in army fatigues, they then gave us fatigues of our own to protect our clothes and also head torches and with that we set off, the first part was a golf buggy ride for about two km….nice easy start 😉 Next came the eight hundred steps up to get into the cave and the first sight of it was a jaw dropper, it is huge……..
Naomi and myself in fatigues, some of the many steps up to the caves and that first look at what we’d come to see, sorry about the quality of the photo but it’s a handheld point and shoot !!
As you can see the cave is well lit and there are wooden walkways through the caves, so why do we have fatigues and a head torch ? Well this is the surprise, this cave is apparently 35km long, yes that’s right 35km long and the normal tourist bit is about 2km then the wooden walkway ends and the tourists then turn round and head back. We on the other hand step over the wooden barrier and continue through the caves in the pitch black, apart from our head torch of course. We get to wade through rivers, crawl under rocks, over rocks, through mud, more rivers until finally we arrive in a huge space and have a picnic lunch 😉 We wondered what the guides were carrying in there backpacks and lunch did not disappoint ! Now apparently the trip would normally take you 7km into the cave system but due to the recent heavy rain it meant that we couldn’t go any further as it was still flooded….we didn’t mind, we were already 4km in and having a picnic by an underground river, brilliant !!!
Now it wouldn’t be right to take a trip like this and for nothing to go wrong, so what went wrong you ask, well I’ll tell you ! I borrowed a pair of walking boots from the owner of the Farmstay, they fit ok and looked like they were fairly old and had seen a fair bit of use but they’d be better than my crocs ! Any how just as we were about to stop for lunch we came through a fairly muddy patch and the bottom of both boots literally fell off ! Now I had to walk all the way back in bare feet and to make it even worse I had to carry the boots all the way back as well before I could drop them in a bin, oh well, it was still a great trip and I’d recommend it to anyone, here are a few more photos…….
A great trip and a wonderful surprise !!
We arrived back at our hotel fairly late in the day, tired, dirty but very pleased, we quickly showered and went in search of food. Street noodles, ok but not very filling so we bought some baguette sandwiches from another street vendor, much better !
The morning saw us up and away early but not until we’d had breakfast and lots of coffee, can’t start a days ride without caffeine 😉 Our ride would take us to Dong Ha, just a little further down the coast but we’d stop on route to take a look at some of the tunnels in Vinh Moc. The roads were fairly busy but the shoulders were good and we were on or near the coast all day so the scenery was pretty good, there were the occasional hills to test us but not so big that it slowed us down. We arrived in Vinh Moc at about 11.00am, parked the bikes and had a quick coffee before visiting the museum, small but well laid out and with good concise information and details of the tunnel system in this area, I had no idea they were so extensive !!
Now it was time to go underground, we entered the tunnels by entrance No 3 as we’d been instructed, very quickly you descend by way of steps into the system and fortunately for us it was well lit. The tunnels are almost big enough for me to stand upright but not quite, they are damp and much cooler than above ground, the walls are solid rock with barely any supporting structure and every few metres there is a small carved space where a family would be housed. We followed the marked route, thankfully there was one otherwise you could be lost down there for a long time and after about 15 mins we exited the system and found ourselves on the sea wall. We looked for the next marker but couldn’t find one so we just went back through the way we’d come, we’d seen enough anyway, suitably impressed we made our way back to the entrance for lunch, drinks and to retrieve our bikes. I can’t say that I know that much about the Vietnam war, I’ve watched a few documentaries and seen a few films but being here in this place gave me the chills, it really is incredible what this nation managed to achieve and to live in these tunnels must have been like hell, I’d only spent half an hour in there and was more than happy to see the sunshine again !!
Here are a few photos from our visit….
A few photos from the museum.
In the tunnels !!
Completing the ride into Dong Ha we then went in search of a guest house, lots to choose from here and we settled on a fairly basic, cheap and convenient place just of the road we’d be on the following day. The Thuy Dien guest house also seemed more than happy to bring our bikes in doors and protected them until it was time to leave. Hue was our next stop, pronounced Hway by the way, we would be taking a day off here as there’s loads to see. We arrived fairly early as it was a relatively short ride, we’d just stopped to look at the guidebook for hotel ideas when a guy on a scooter stopped and claimed to know a great hotel right in the middle of where we wanted to be. He was right, it was a great hotel, in fact it was one of the best we’ve stayed in and our room was huge with two bathrooms and two double beds, brilliant !! The Hong Thien 1 hotel also had some of the best staff, courteous, knowledgable and with good English they made our stay even better.
We had few hours of daylight left so we headed into town for a quick drink before taking a walk along the river, as we walked past a hotel there was a party going on with some Chinese dancing dragons so we went in and took some photos….
A nice diversion 😉
We left the party and continued our walk, there’s a small park that runs parallel to the river and it’s full of sculptures like this….
We’d been walking for quite a while and as we approached the bridge the sun was about to set so we took a few photos before heading back into town for food……
Another good day…..
Back at the hotel we decided to book ourselves onto a boat trip for the following day, normally we arrive in a town and then go full tilt to see everything so it would make a change for us to be on a boat just taking it easy. The trip would take us down river and stop regularly to show us attractions such as a Garden House, Pagoda and Temple, while we were visiting the temple the crew prepared a tasty if rather small lunch before we cruised to a landing where we then boarded a bus for the rest of the tour. At this point we were given a choice of three Tombs to visit, baring in mind that the entrance fee is not included in the tour Naomi and I opted to visit the first two only. The tombs themselves are quite spectacular and also very different in design, the first was rather formal with water gardens and the second was built high on a hill with very formal terraces and no gardens, it looked like a huge French chateaux !!
By the time the bus got to the third tomb Naomi and I were ready for a cold drink and some shade, fortunately we didn’t have to wait to long and we were soon back in the air conditioned bus. Now we all thought we were heading back to the hotel at this point but no, they had one last go at getting some more money out of us. They stopped at a craft stall where we watched a girl roll incense sticks and make a bamboo hat. Not to many people parted with money there but it did make for some nice photos !!
Finally back at the hotel, we were hot, sweaty and tired but we’d had a great day and seen a lot of things we would never have seen otherwise 😉
I suppose you’d like to see some photos, here you are then……
Day two in Hue and we still had a lot to see, on the other side of the river is the “old town” and citadel we decided to walk there….bad move !! It was extremely hot and by the time we got over the river we were dripping. The first two cycle rickshaws after that were ours !!
Sitting back and letting someone else pedal for a change was a bit strange but we soon got used to it 😉 The rickshaws took us all round the exterior of the citadel, though the old town and pointed out a few highlights along the way, letting us out for photos when we requested them to stop. They cycled about 10km in total and it took a couple of hours, a good start to our day, the only thing to disappoint us was our driving trying to scam us. We paid him and as we walked away he came back to us and said one of the notes we’d given him was torn and old, all our notes are new from ATM machines so we knew it was a scam. We said we’d go with him to the police or bank and report the problem, with that he disappeared very quickly !!
Still here are a few photos from our little tour….
Now I could go through these photos and tell you what they all are but frankly I can’t be bothered and I reckon you won’t mind so long as there’s some nice pictures to look at 😉
After the rickshaw ride we found a cafe, ate, drank and generally cooled off before going to see the citadel. It’s a huge walled compound about 1,5km square and used to house the royal household and other important people. A lot of it has been rebuilt or restored after the Vietnam war managed to destroy large parts of it. There is still a lot to do and various countries are presently in the process of helping out. What you can see is beautiful and well worth the visit, here are a few photos……
Lots of photos, lots of beautiful places and things !!
Naomi and I spent several hours just wandering, exploring and taking photos and despite it being very hot it was a great afternoon. Our time in Hue had not disappointed us, everything from the hotel to the things to see. Time to get back on the bikes though, the following morning would see us say goodbye to Hue and resume our trip south down the coast, until then, take care 😉