We eventually dragged ourselves away from Hoi An and took a short bus ride to Huè. We weren’t particularly looking forward to this stop as we hadn’t heard great things but it was on route so would be rude not to check it out!
We booked a hostel called Tigor which after staying in for one night I now would not recommend to my worst enemy! I won’t go into it, just book somewhere else! However on walking in to our dorm we recognised two faces from Hoi An. A lovely surprise which has ended up in us travelling altogether for the next few days.
In a nutshell Hué could be skipped on your route through Vietnam. We were lucky enough to be there during a festival they hold every even year so there was a little more to see than normal. We spent the following morning at the Citadel which I’m sad to say was nothing to shout about. I don’t know if that’s due to my new found high expectations for temples, pagodas and tombs after the incredible sights we’ve seen so far but it felt unkept and as if, for such a large space, there was very little to see. But we continued our cultured morning and headed down the river to a pagoda. Naturally we all fell asleep on the journey and took in none of the surroundings, such bad tourists but honestly there really is nothing to see! Spending about 20 minutes looking interested at the pagoda we took the boat back to the hostel and waited for our night bus to Dong Hoi.
Phong Nha was added to our route only recently and came as a recommendation from a few people we’ve met along the way!! Now travelling with three others from the hostel in Huè we booked ourselves into a well known backpackers hostel called ‘Easy Tiger’ and settled in for the next 3 days.
Phong Na is well known for its gigantic caves that are nestled away in huge limestone rocks that make up the entire landscape. It’s a beautiful place, and how I think you would picture Vietnam’s countryside – I know it’s how I saw it. Green fields full of rice, water buffaloes grazing, a river running parallel to the villages and small Vietnamese women in small wooden boats taking tourists on trips! We’d found paradise again and I was so glad for it!
Staying at Easy Tiger allowed us to have a good mix of both worlds. Busy touristy days and relaxed beers and pool evenings. With good people and good atmosphere we eventually we had chosen well 🙂
We spent our first day exploring a local cave that we arrived at by boat and then got to sail through it. This is one of their smaller caves but the scale and beauty of it blew my mind. It has a wonderful history too as it was used as a hide out and hospital during the war and saved so many Vietnamese lives from the American bombers. It was pretty cool to imagine a village set up underground and picture where everything once was and how it all worked!!
We were welcomed to the world of caves with a bang, and now I’m fascinated! We got back to the hostel and booked up for the famous big caves for the following day, we were all very excited!
We hired motorbikes that evening, my first time driving so I had a quick lesson and once I got the hang of it we set off on our own adventure 🙂 Well that was the plan before one of our friends, who had ridden before, drove out of the shop and straight into the central reservation, seriously hurting her foot!! Luckily for us a paramedic was staying in our hostel so cleaned her up and bandaged her foot and told her nothing was broken. Phew!
After fussing around her she quickly got sick of us and told us to go on the bikes and have a look around. I’m so happy we did as it was the best feeling in the world to have the freedom of the open road. We drove through local villages and saw wonderful little kids playing together, women working in the rice fields and the men walking their water buffalo. Not a sight we would of seen on any organised tour. That will be a memory I treasure forever!
The following day was spent at the Paradise and Dark Caves. They were both absolutely insane and I cannot even begin to describe the size of them. The ceilings, at their highest were at least 100 meters above our heads and at their lowest 30cm!! In paradise cave the staliktights (the limestone the looks as if it is dripping down from the ceiling) and stalikmights (that look as if they have grown up from the ground) had been beautifully lit up so we were able to see the incredible infrastructures in all their glory! I will apologise to those I show all my photos to once I get home as I took a LOT of pictures of rocks!
The dark cave was a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget. It’s called the dark cave not simply because it’s dark inside but because the limestone is SO old it turns black and seriously creepy looking. Of course though, it is pitch black inside so we donned our hard hats and head lamps and took off in our canoes.
Once we reached the caves opening the boats were no longer needed, we turned our headlamps on and set off on foot! Apart from the dark factor it started off as any other cave we had visited, sand, small pools of water etc etc. That was until we reached the deep dark depths of the cave which brought along with it thick, deep, squishy mud and soon we were trudging through it knee deep. It was the best feeling ever and hilariously funny slipping and sliding down mud slides, wading down thin corridors getting stuck in the mud and ending with a gigantic mud fight that left everyone head to toe covered in mud – I’m still finding it 4 days later – it was beyond amazing! Drastically needing a wash we headed to massive lake of water still inside the cave, switched off our headlamps and swam in the freezing cold water it was an incredible feeling – so surreal not seeing nay thing just the orange life jacket in front of you! A super cute 6 year old boy from a lovely British family went as far as to call it the best day off his life, continuously using the word epic! He quickly became our favourite!
Our time in Phong Nha had come to an end and again we had found a place we didn’t want to leave. Our next destination however is Hanoi and Halong Bay so with somewhere so beautiful up next we checked out of Easy Tiger and settled on to another 12 hour night bus up North to Hanoi.
Hanoi is another big city, busy with motorbikes and taxis and hundreds of locals and tourists milling around. I liked it and maybe that’s because I’m getting used to the craziness of Asian cities but I felt like this one had a good atmosphere and lots to do.
We spent our first night at Hanoi Backpackers Original, one of three very popular hostels in Vietnam, sipping on free beer and hanging out with friends we met along the way. We spent the night out on the town and even found a little club where we danced the night away. The night ended with one more beer outside at a street vendors stall. This is a pretty normal sight in Asia, most of the locals will eat, drink and spend their evenings sitting on the roadside so we joined in.
The following day we headed to the other Hanoi Backers Hostel called Downtown as our friends that are joining us in Halong Bay were there. We got a good judge of both hostels and I would say if you want a lively atmosphere and more to do you should stay at Downtown. We spent our last night doing absolutely nothing, we tried to be cultural and head to a traditional water puppet show but it had sold out so I took an early night, read my book and packed for our next three days on Halong Bay 🙂