Phong Nha had been recommended to me and it made a complete change from the cities we’d visited so far. Characterised by mountains, tropical forests and underground rivers, it’s known for its ancient limestone karsts and a couple of incredible caves and botanical gardens. Once again, our great host at the AirBnb in Hue organised a private car for us for the transfer, and we arrived at our small hotel in Phong Nha at lunchtime. It was only then that we found out that one of the caves and the botanical gardens had just been closed to the public until further notice, and that the other cave would be closing the next day. To get to this cave required a journey up the river by boat, and the last boat would be leaving at 3.30 that afternoon. We therefore very quickly left our cases in our rooms and borrowed the hotel’s bikes to cycle into town to find the boat station. Hilariously, the only bike that Judith could immediately ride with any confidence was a child’s bike as she’s somewhat ‘vertically challenged’ 🙂 (She won’t mind me mentioning that – best friends can cope with honesty!) It gave all the locals a good laugh as we passed by and she saw the funny side of it too. She got her own back the next day though with conquering the bike that I had been riding, which left me with a man’s bike that had the hardest saddle ever. I spent a good part of our ride standing up on the pedals or perched on one cheek!
We pedalled furiously into town (Judith peddling twice as fast as me on her little bike) and managed to see Phong Nha cave which was incredible. The boat goes right into the cave and although there is some lighting, getting half decent photos was a challenge. For the photographers who are reading this, I was at 25,600 iso for nearly all of the following photos.
When we got back to the hotel, we realised that we were the only guests that night. Things were starting to shut down very fast.
The following day was spent exploring the countryside and we cycled along the river as far as we could go before the track came to a dead end. Whilst we were sitting on the river bank some local lads came and one of them climbed up a nearby tree to pick some bunches of what looked like very small fruit. He threw them down into the river and one of the other lads washed them. They then sat down not far away and proceeded to enjoy their feast, and we were very touched when one of them came over to us and offered some for us to try. They’d brought some home made chilli salsa to dip into, so of course we felt obliged to try some.
Below are photos of the main street in town, and the road past our hotel. Completely deserted. Most businesses were shut and when we tried to go for dinner at a small hotel near us we were turned away, as they were only serving their own guests.
We cycled past these boys having a great time playing outside. The boat on the river looks like a toy boat it’s such a perfect shape. It was full sized though!
On our final morning in Phong Nha I was awake by 6 a.m., and an email had just come in from the Vietnamese Bamboo Airways who we were due to fly with back up to Hanoi that evening. They’d cancelled our flight! I immediately started looking for other options and Vietnam Airlines had 3 seats left that day. I managed to book 2 of them with a sense of relief that I wake up early. A month later and I’m still battling with Bamboo to give me a refund. They keep insisting that I can book another ticket with them. That is not any use to me whatsoever now I’m back in the UK !
At the local airport and on the flight, face masks were now mandatory.
We landed in Hanoi and stayed the night at an airport hotel which was the worst hotel I’ve ever stayed in. We were hungry when we arrived and asked if we could get anything to eat. There only appeared to be two members of staff in the entire hotel, and one of those picked us up from the airport, then checked us in, then ‘cooked’ dinner which turned out to be a packet of dried noodles with boiling water poured over them which did in fact give us a fit of the giggles. Somehow I got put in the VIP suite and Judith had a room opposite with two beds in it – one of which had been slept in and a wet towel was left on the floor. My sheets smelled stale as if they hadn’t been washed either. Judith’s bed was as hard as a block of concrete, and to cap it all, they took my passport off me when we checked in, and forgot to give it back when we checked out the next morning. Nobody had kept my passport until then so both Judith and I forgot about it too, and I only realised that it was still at the hotel when we were 45 minutes away! After a few choice words, I decided to leave it there until we returned to Hanoi a couple of days later and pick it up before going to the airport for our flight home! A few text messages between myself and the hotel confirmed that they’d keep it safely and I pushed that drama to the back of my mind. I wonder how many times it’s been cloned by now? All part of the adventure though!!