Phong Nha Cave

Back on New Years Eve I posted a blog about visiting Paradise Cave in the Phong Nha National Park, this is the companion post about the other cave I visited – Phong Nha Cave and the bicycle journey we took to get there.

And then it rained

It's just grey and cold in Northern UK

If someone asked me to describe the weather in the north of England I would suggest that it’s mostly grey skies and lots of rain. I’m not sure that is completely true and some-where there will be statistics to prove me wrong, but thats what it feels like. It’s depressing and dampens the urge to do things – after all, who wants to just get soaked?

Since leaving the UK, I’ve managed to avoid my version of the typical Northern weather very nicely, mostly basking under clear blue skies and sun-shine for most of my trip. Even when it has rained it’s been a welcome change of pace and seeing the torrential downpours rather than the drizzle you get back home has actually been fun.

Now, I know it’s a very British trait to talk about the weather, but there is a reason for it – Vietnam might be warmer, but with the grey skies and the constant drizzly rain, its reminds me of home. It’s horrible. It’s not cold, but it’s not hot. It’s not raining, but not dry. The skies hang heavily. It’s light but there is no sun. The ground is often a quagmire of squelchy mud. The roads are a multitude of colours as everyone dons poncho’s attempting to stave off the inevitable soaking. It’s just as depressing as the UK when comparing it to all the lovely weather I’ve had.

Either way, whilst you’re somewhere you have to make do and I’m not about to stay in doors. Today, we’re borrowing bicycles from our hostel and we’re riding to Phong Nha cave 10km away. We’ll get soaked and we’ll have a great time.

They say it’s Disney’ified

Leaving the hostel (the only Western place in the area) we all started riding towards the town and immediately we became the objects of fascination. Kids called “Hello” from their porches. People would stop and stare as the little gaggle of people rode past. Scooters would slow and drive along side us staring with openness. In many ways it was lovely and we all enjoyed waving and saying hello to everyone and then watch them suddenly become really shy. The whole 10km was like this and the others took loads of pictures – I didn’t as I always feel awkward doing so.

We then jumped on the boat and headed up river to the Phong Nha cave entrance – we jumped off and climbed up the little steps and were met with a little cave. It was all lit up with blue, green and red light and to me looked spectacular. I didn’t quite know what to expect with the Phong Nha Cave and was trying to manage expectations – I’d been looking forward to visiting the region for a year so it was obviously slightly hyped up in my mind. We climbed into the first cavern and it was lovely, the little crevices, nooks and crannies were all illuminated in different colours making it a surreal location.

After leaving the first cavern, climbing down the stairs into the second, that was when my mind was blown. You walked down a couple of steps and the cave opens up, the high roof, the wide passage, the huge obelisk at the end, lights dancing in the background, shadows dotting the walls and flashes erupt from cameras as people try to capture the scene in front of them. It’s just beautiful.

Walk up past the obelisk and the cave continues on, showing quick glimpses of the underground river and further spaces that aren’t lit up. Narrow passages disappear into the walls sucking any light that enters into their void. People are everywhere and they’re all trying to take “that” picture. Of course, I was one of those people too and I was grateful to have Edo with me as he had many better ideas for shots than I!

Phong Nha cave might be Disney’ified with it’s bright, coloured lights, but it’s still beautiful. Its worth the hype and I love it.

Not lost, but not the right way either

One of the things I’m missing whilst travelling is cycling hard. Cycling hard enough to feel the wind rush through my hair, for side ways glances to be a blur, to make me pant, my legs dully ache with the effort and to feel the bike buck and squirm underneath me. I thought I knew where I had to go so I decided to go back to my old ways, ride alone, push hard and just keep going until I could go no more. I had 10km ahead of me and I was going to do them as fast as I possibly could. I told Edo  of my plan, changed down a gear and pushed.

I felt like I was flying. I left the village with my legs hitting that nice rhythm, the water spray flying everywhere soaking every part of me that wasn’t wet from the rain. I started to overtake Scooters. The people lining the road watched me come past, some children would try and run along side waving frantically. I must have looked quite the spectacle as most people don’t do things fast in Vietnam. I’m not saying I was breaking any records, but man it felt good to pedal hard.

At one point I came to the junction I was sure I needed to take so turned and paused thinking it wise to ask directions. Given the man I asked only spoke Vietnamese, I reverted to sign languages first pointing at myself, pretending to sleep and then the direction I thought it was was returned with a big grin and a nod. Given the place I’m staying is the only Western hostel in the area, I believed him and cycled on. I kept trying to convince myself I was headed in the correct direction and that yes, I do recognise that building, but it soon became apparent I’d taken a wrong turn. Still, I kept going as I figured keeping the rice paddies on my left was the correct decision.

Then the going got really fun. The firm, packed dirt gave way to a mud quagmire. The bike squirmed, the back wheel span as it fought for traction, the front wheel slid as it lost it’s battle for grip, the mud flicked up and suck to me like glue, the rain continued falling, the grey skies hung heavily overhead, you couldn’t see into the fields for the drizzle and every single part of me was soaking wet. I loved it. There was no-where else I’d rather be at that moment.

See Britain, the rain doesn’t have to be depressing! You just need a hot shower when you get back!

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