Phong Nha-ke Bang National park contains one of the worlds two largest karst regions and around 300 caves. It holds numerous cave world records, including the worlds largest – although seeing as a guided tour would set you back $3000 USD, we gave that one a miss. The two caves we visited were still the biggest I’ve ever seen, and I visited my fair share of caves in China.
Phong Nha-ke Bang Farmstay is the one place you will definitely come across when researching where to stay in the local area. It basically put the place on the map for foreign visitors; It’s located out of town, surrounded by beautiful scenery, and offers an extensive range of tours. The vibe is really friendly and laidback and there’s pretty decent food (we had Aussie pies and cocktails on arrival!). Despite having to share a dorm room with the whole family, as the rest of their rooms were booked, it was a really enjoyable place to stay. Because of our budget and time constraints we opted not to do their cave tour. Instead of trying to push through a sale, they were really helpful in helping us come to a decision as to how to spend our time, and we were offered a free lift to the caves. The only negative experience we had of the Farmstay was the transportation they organised for us from Hue – our mini bus had lacked working aircon which made it a very very long journey indeed.
We were driven to the caves in an ex-army jeep by an Australian who has missed his calling by not becoming a history guide/teacher. He explained to us the history of Phong Nha cave and how it was used as a hospital during the Vietnam War. The cave was also used to hide a raft which was used to transport supplies across the river under the cover of darkness. For this reason the Americans tried firing rockets into the cave, in order to disrupt the supply lines.
We entered the cave by boat. Once inside the engines were turned off and we were paddled through. The reason the Americans were never successful in firing rockets into the cave, was because it has a very narrow entrance, which then opens up to a huge cavern. Thankfully, in Vietnam they don’t share the Chinese preference of having their caves gaudily lit with multi-coloured lighting. As we were paddled deeper into the cave, everyone went weirdly quiet (like when looking around churches and cathedrals). It’s a slightly eerie experience and the cave is just so BIG.
You get off the boat and leave the cave by foot. Before we took the boat back, we visited another cave. I don’t think we quite realised how many steps we would have to climb up to get there, when buying our tickets, but fortunately fine mists of water are sprayed over the path at regular intervals. By the time we reached the top of the hill we were so tired and sweaty, but it was worth it. The walkways and platforms in the cave make it look like a Bond villain secret hideout or some sort of Dr Who space station base.
There really isn’t anything to do in the town itself. We had lunch, which included a delicious beef stew, before heading back to the Farmstay for a few games of pool and a swim. My Dad and Sister got up in the middle of the night to watch the world cup final, but I slept right through it. And here we all are below: the Family plus Matt! (look how insanely tanned half of my legs are)