Moving on from Hue on the bus got us into Dong Hoi mid afternoon, enough time to find a cheap place to stay, and explore the town a little.
There’s not a whole lot in Dong Hoi, but it’s a great base for exploring the national park in which there are several amazing caves to explore. The worlds largest cave was recently discovered in this area of Vietnam, including a cavern so big you could fit the Sistine Chapel inside. Unfortunately this cave is highly restricted, and limited to only a few thousand visitors a year, with very expensive trips in through the network. Instead we settled on a couple of the smaller, cheaper options which were a little more suitable for our needs.
So, on the day we arrived we found the few bits of interest, including the ruin of the Tam Tao Church, and an archway which is one of the few remaining parts of the original citadel wall. This arch is now more commonly used for serious drug usage, so only go during the day and watch your step, I don’t recommend it at all as it’s small and pretty rubbish looking, but if you must, please don’t wear flip flops. We also found out that the circus was in town, so later that day I checked it out; and was mostly pleasantly surprised. Certainly they did far too much with animals, but it didn’t seem overly cruel. I wouldn’t like to say it’s a good thing in anyway, and I felt bad for having supported the activity. Excluding the animals though I was very impressed with the acrobatics, some impressive pieces of stunt work and well choreographed dance work. The clowns were amusing for the kids I assume, and overall it was a pretty good show, although not as impressive as the show we’d seen in Cambodia.
Back on a moped again we headed up through the forests and fields towards the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park to explore a few of the caves. The fist of which was the Paradise Cave, a dry cave with a huge cavern just inside the entrance. It features all the expected features, most of which I don’t know the names of. The walkway is useful and doesn’t ruin the vista like many do, but allows for easy passage through the cave, which is actually longer than the Phong Nha cave.The National Park itself is a lovely place to drive through, quiet roads within the deep valleys with hills covered in trees. We had a little problem with our bike, the petrol gauge was stuck at about 1/3, so we ran out of petrol about three times that day. Thankfully we’re very good at rolling down hills, and after the third time we made sure we filled it up and bought some spare as well. Pushing a moped around is no fun, and driving home in the rain because you were delayed sucks as well
Anyway, the Phong Nha cave is the main attraction for the area, and we found out the hard way that you can’t just drive to the entrance. You’ll need to go down to the docks in the nearby village then rent a boat. The boat is best shared with other people to split the costs, but it’s Vietnam, so nothing costs too much. Once in the boat you’re taken up river to the entrance, and then inside on a semi-guided trip, including a short walking section.We were hurried somewhat by our guide, while the boats skipper pulled the boat up through some shallows to meet us on the other side. It was a shame to be hurried so, but having seen so many caves in the last couple months we wern’t too concerned. The cave was very impressive and well worth the trip, hard to describe though!
As I said, heading back was raining and that’s something I hope never to repeat. That night we were on the coach again heading to Hanoi with an aim to getting me a visa for China.