SameSame but different- A phrase used across Vietnam by those selling stuff. Definitely made us chuckle on many occasions.
Firstly, an apology. This is a somewhat delayed post. We’re now in Hoi An and left Phong Nha probably a week ago. We had non stop activities there and getting to Hue took it out of us (more on that later), and to be honest we’ve been having too much fun so haven’t had time to write anything. But I won’t apologise for having too much fun, that’s kinda the idea of giving up on adulting for a year!
Following the amazing days we had in Hanoi and Ha Long, we caught a sleeper bus to Phong Nha, an area that’s only really been on the map for backpackers the last few years. About 6 years ago, the worlds largest cave was discovered here, bringing thousands of avid cavers to this place. Because of that, it’s now a must stop place. The waiting list to explore this cave properly is going into 2018, costs about $2000 and lasts a minimum of two days. Needless to say we didn’t explore this place but there was plenty to keep us occupied.
Phong Nha is a pretty awesome place to be honest. I can see why so many people come here. It’s totally different from anywhere we’d seen in Vietnam, or have still seen to date. Totally in the middle of nowhere, in a super rural area, it was a really nice change from the hustle and bustle of city life. We stayed at probably one of the most lively and generally awesome hostels called Easy Tiger, which I can’t recommend any higher. With a great bar, about 200 other people staying, a pool (!!!!!), live sports on almost non stop (got to watch McGregor smash his fight with 40 other hostel goers at a non God awful time, bonus!),amazing staff, live music almost every night (that was good I should add), decent food and awesome dorms, this would be a tough one to beat. Also, they sold cider which kept Kelly very happy (especially on the 2nd to last night when she embraced all the cider).
We decided to stay for 3 nights as I’d heard so many people say they wish they spent longer, and I’m so glad we did! This place certainly kept us occupied without feeling like we crammed stuff in every day. After a long and rank journey on a sleeper bus (imagine sitting in a dentist chair for 9 hours whilst on a bus, that’s basically what we did) we arrived around 5am, couldn’t check in, so slept in the bar for a couple of hours. We were given a talk about the local area by Mark, an Aussie member of staff who arrived here 3 years ago for a holiday and just never left! He walked us through things to do and see, and what was really awesome is he was telling us how to save money! This was such a nice change from the normal money grabbing lifestyle we’d become accustomed to, so was greatly appreciated. He also gave us an overview of the history of the area that got absolutely clobbered during the American war. It’s crazy to think what this country has endured over the years, and continues to experience, from the left over bombs covering the land (the are shit loads, and people still set them off every week!!!!!). Phong Nha is badly affected by flooding, and a week earlier half the hostel was under water, the impact we could still see quite clearly. Fortunately by the time we arrived the water had subsided somewhat,but how people live through this so regularly continues to astound me.
We decided to pay a driver for a day with a couple we met, Sam and Charlie, who turned out to live in Colchester too, and Henry from London, who was I guess secretly an evil genius (engineering genius from Oxford Uni; we stayed up all night chatting about the world, it was awesome)! It’s amazing how you can be half way around the globe and meet people from so close to home. We started the day by going to the Dark Cave, known for its mud baths. The day started with a zip line to the cave, followed by a swim through the cave.
We were really lucky to do this as the cave was closed a day before because the water was so high. Normally you don’t have to swim the 1/2km in put it that way!
After an hour we made it to the mud pools, which were AWESOME! I’d missed my favourite OCR back in the UK, Nuclear Races, so getting my mud fix was just what I needed!
After that we swam back out, and kayaked back to the starting point. This was all a bit expensive by Vietnamese standards (1/4 million VND, or about £9) but well worth it. Following this, we got in our car and went to paradise cave. Now I’m hardly a geology geek, but this was something else! After a hike for an hour we reached the cave and spent the next hour walking through a MAHOOOSIVE labyrinth of caves like nothing I’ve seen before. Seriously, it was awesome. Pictures can’t do it justice, but it was breathtaking. That night, we stayed up boozing in the hostel with our new friends and more we made there.
Day 2 consisted of hiring a scooter and exploring the more local sights. To start this section, I’ve NEVER ridden roads like this! Because of the flooding the pre existing roads were quagmire like paths that required some serious attention, especially with such precious cargo on the back.
We stopped at the duck stop first; a small duck farm a local guy started up. He fed us up on guava and peanuts that came from his land, both were delicious! I can highly recommend eating peanuts with peppercorn now too!
I’ve had a few comments from friends about the welfare of the ducks following a video I uploaded. Fair point, but I can say these ducks were LOVED by the owner. The duck tossing thing is probably questionable, so I apologise for that.
Following the duck stop we endured a 40 minute ride across the quagmire roads to the Pub with Cold Beer. Yes, this is literally a must do in Phong Nha, a Pub with Cold Beer…….
NO CHICKENS WERE HARMED DURING MY TRIP HERE
We were greeted with rice wine and welcomed to join a group traveling on the Buffalo Run (a pre-organised tour lasting a week doing the route we plagiarised massively, saving about $400 each)! The guys we met were AWESOME, and we have seen them at every other stop purely by chance (including today whilst just casually walking down a beach in Hoi An). We ended up having a cracking night with them back at the hostel that night, when ‘Cidergate’ occurred. I spent the night playing Cahon with the band which I loved (my hands definitely didn’t though)! I’m really glad to say we will probably link up with a few of these guys whilst away and back home again; another beauty of backpacking!
That’s definitely one of the best things about traveling, the people you meet all with knowledge, stories, and shared aims. I want to give a couple of shout outs to people we met actually. Firstly to Tim, an Aussie who’s bought a bike and ridden from basically Cambodia. He told me a story about his experience in Malaysia that ill never forget (and he definitely won’t).
Tim decided to hike up a mountain with two Italian dudes he had just met to avoid paying for a guide. Starting late in the day, they reached the peak around sunset; never a wise move! On the way back, relying on the awesome power of an iPhone torch, they heard a massive ROAR. They turned around, and saw a tiger looking at them! Obviously shitting themselves, they continued to walk back to civilisation, but quickly discovered this bloody tiger was blocking their way back. They ended up having to sleep In the jungle, through a monsoon, to avoid becoming tiger grub. Apparently they all said if they survived they’d get tattoos. Needless to say they did, and the tattoo is hardly the only lasting memory I’m sure!
Secondly, on the last night, I met two young guys traveling with their family. These two brothers were 15 and 16; their dad had been made redundant from YouTube in California and they decided to pack up and see the world. They’d been traveling about 6 months already and had about another 6 to go. Chatting all evening with them and the owners of the hostel made me realise how amazing traveling is. These guys had some inspiring heads on them, and really had a great appreciation of how lucky they were, but what the world had to offer. I can’t find their blog right now, but will post in the future for sure.
Following this we headed to Hue, on a 5 hour dentist chair bus journey again at a wonderful time of 4:30am. The bus was late, so we waited outside for 2 hours and obviously arrived late. Sadly the highly rated guesthouse we stayed at was actually a bit shit, with moldy walls and a very noisy bird waking me up at 3am consistently, which I think tarnished my view of Hue a bit. Don’t get me wrong, it was cool, but nothing on Hanoi! We spent the first day exploring the city and then hopped on a local bus out to Thuan An beach. We were pretty much the only people on it. Then we walked the 4km to the Beach Bar for some less than average grub where we bumped into the Buffalo crew yet again. The town was cool, but super touristy, with a street solely known as backpacker street. The second day revolved almost entirely around the imperial city though, which was breathtaking. I said I wasn’t going to write about the architecture in this post, but I have to for this. The imperial city oozes the Chinese Influence I expected to see here. It’s a truly stunning area that I highly recommend! Just don’t spend all day with no water exploring it, the prices inside are astronomical!
I was quite happy to leave Hue to be honest, it just didn’t do it for me. We decided to book drivers to take us along the Hai Van pass to Hoi An, made famous by our wonderful export, TOP GEAR! Whilst it may not sound like much, riding this road was one of the best things we’ve done so far I’d say. We rode with Lindsay, a Canadian who has been on the road for two years now. She was awesome and more than happy to let me ride her bike on loads of the journey (I wish I hadn’t got a driver now). By a country mile these were the best sights I’ve ever seen or ridden on. After a full day of riding, experiencing waterfalls, historic cemeteries that put ours to shame, and landscapes like nothing I’ve ever seen, we reached Hoi An, which is where I end this post. Words don’t describe it well, check it out yourself (or if you aren’t coming here anytime soon, watch my video below). I’ll end up writing a blog about editing on the move ưith below par equipment to be honest, as this was a challenge to say the least!
Basically, again, Vietnam is quality, and I can’t recommend coming here highly enough. The Hai Van pass is definitely a must, and thanks so much to Matt and Charlie (a couple we met in Varanasi) for saying I had to do it! That’s gonna be a tough one to beat.
We’re now on day 2 of Hoi An, here for two more days before another 16hour onslaught of the bumpy dentist chair. I can get over that though, everything else so makes up for it!