Phong Nha Cave

I booked my boat/bus ticket back to Hanoi to then catch the overnight bus to a small village called Son Trach in the National Park. I was venturing out on my own again and it felt a little daunting after spending so long traveling with people. When I got back to Hanoi the lady at the ticket office told me the bus I needed was leaving in 10 minutes, which was 3 hours earlier than the one I'd planned on getting. It was still due to get into Dong Hoi at 5am where I could catch the local bus to Son Trach. It was a sleeper bus like I'd never seen before, there were rows of bunk beds that were also like sleeper pods. I tucked myself into my pod and wrapped myself in the provided blanket. It was cold and they had the air conditioning on full blast. It was not a good night's sleep as the bus sped up and jerked stop to the tune of the extra loud and constant horn beeping. At 3am the driver shook me awake to get off at my stop. Through sleepy eyes I looked around at the small village in complete darkness, rain splashing off the ground. I asked the bus driver how I was meant to get to Son Trach. He dragged me across the road and started banging on the locked glass doors of the bus ticket office. A man sleepily strolled over and opened the door. The bus driver left.

The man at the office didn't speak any English. He motioned for me to come around the counter and he pulled a chair up beside him at the computer. He had Google Translate up and so we had a confusing typing conversation where I asked him how to get to the village and he told me I had to wait until 7am and get a mototaxi there and it would cost 250,000 dong (£8) as the ride was 50km. I asked if I could sleep inside the office and he said yes as 'the skies are dark, travel is dangerous'. He motioned to the back and said there was a bed there. I thanked him and gathered my stuff but when I went through it was his bed! I went back to the front of the office and told him it was fine and that I would just sleep in the seating area. He insisted I stay in the bed and he would sleep at his desk. He showed me where the toilet was. I felt quite bad but got into the bed anyway as I was exhausted. There was no mattress, it was just the wooden slats but I was that cold and tired it felt like the most warm and comfortable bed ever. I was asleep within a few minutes. I woke at 7am and went out the front. The guy had left and there was a woman on the counter. She ordered a mototaxi for me. It was still raining and the driver gave me a pink spotted poncho to wear and put my rucksack on the front of the bike. I climbed on. He kept telling me to get closer and slapping my leg. I don't know how much closer he needed me to be, I was practically spooning the guy. It was a cold, windy and wet hour of miserableness. He took me right to the door of the hostel which I was grateful for. I paid and he asked for another 20,000 dong (80p) on top and motioned that it was for food. I tutted and handed it over. Once at the hostel, feeling sorry for myself, I ordered a huge breakfast and spent the day sulking under a blanket and read my book.

Next morning I was refreshed and ready to explore. The hostel did a really interesting talk on the history of the area, which was bombed really heavily in the war, and talked about how they had helped around the local area. There were 20 of us wanting to visit the Phong Nha Cave, which is where the Vietnamese hid during the war and used the cave for also hiding vehicles and as a hospital. We got a boat to the cave and sailed through. I can't even describe what it was like but it was impressive. The lighting had been done in good taste and highlighted the enormity of the place. We got off the boat inside and walked around. It had that same feeling as when you enter a cathedral, there's an aura that simply reduces you to silence.

I made friends with a few girls from the tour and we went for food together and then some beers at the hostel bar, sat around the outdoor fire. The girls that I'd spent the past week with had also arrived at the hostel and were going to Hue the next day, as was I. So we walked to the ticket office to book our bus. Apparently there was only one bus which left at 5am, but could arrive earlier so we had to be there by 4.20am. One ticket office tried to charge us twice what the ticket should have been, so we walked further checking out the prices. The guy we ended up buying the tickets with was rather strange. He took a shine to me as all strange people do and said he would keep me warm in the morning. He was slightly aggressive in a humorous kind of way and kept slapping our hands and trying to tickle us by giving a rib poking. Walking back to the hostel a guy shoved a half eaten cockroach in my face. Sigh.


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