Today we fancied a bit of cycling. We first thought we’d be fine with a motor bike but after a few warnings by Tony and the English guys about the state of the roads and how travellers get injured by overestimating their biking skills decided against it. We’ve since met a few folk who said that they had their first motorbiking experience in Vietnam and came out alive and unharmed but we still wouldn’t risk it. Instead we cycled the 7km to Phong Nha Cave. I admit 7km isn’t really that long but in the tremendous heat everything is a lot harder and you will always arrive as a big hot sweaty mess at your destination.
Rather than taking the highway from the Lake House we took the quieter road through the local villages. It’s rice harvesting time at the moment so all the local farmers spread some sort of massive sheets out onto the road to dry the harvested rice before it gets milled. The grass is dried in the middle of the road and then piled up into stacks. It’s all very picturesque.
The cycle to Son Trach took around 45 minuted but it might be quicker if you take the highway. In order to get to the cave you beed to hire a boat which seats 14 people and costs 320, 000 dong. Ideally you want to split the cost for the boat with other travellers but worst case scenario you could probably just get a boat to yourself. If you just hang about the ticket office for a few minutes though you will easily round up a group of people. The entrance fee to Phong Nha Cave is 80, 000 dong and if you want to go up to Tien Son Cave you pay an extra 40, 000 dong. The price for the boat, however, remains the same.
The boat tour to the cave takes approximately 40 minutes and takes you along small villages and beautiful lime stone mountains. It’s a beautiful landscape. Once you reach the cave the engine is switched off and the “guides” paddle through the cave. The outer part of the cave hosts hundreds of bats so mind their droppings once the boat’s canapé comes off.
The cave is simply stunning. Stalagmites, stalactites and rock formations make for amazing photo opportunities. Only a small part of the cave is currently open to the public and even a smaller proprotion is walkable. Once the boat has reached the end of the cave it turns around and drops you off before the cave opening enabling you to explore the set route through the cave yourself. The walking path is nowhere near as long as Paradise Cave and only takes about 15 minutes maximum. At the exit you have the option to climb up the stairs to Tien Son. Because the rest of the group only wanted to visit one cave we had to give it a miss. From what we’ve heard from other people though, Tien Son is even more impressive than Phong Nha so unless you’re planning on returning to the National Park any time soon just stand your ground and do it. Worst case the rest of the group will simply have to wait for you for a few minutes. The boat then takes you straight back to the pier which marks the end of the trip.
Our afternoon was rather uneventful. We cycled back to the Lake House and went for a swim in the lake, then had some dinner and a few beers enjoying the uninterrupted night sky.