[I’ll try to upload some photos for these last two posts later tonight…]
I found out about The Phong Nha Farmstay from the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree. All the ratings on Trip Advisor were excellent so this seemed like a natural choice from which to start exploration of this karst megascape. The place is run by an Australian and Vietnamese couple, neither of which are here at the moment but in their absence are an American and an Australian, both of whom know the area very well. I spent yesterday picking their brains where the best places to go are etc etc. Apparently there are some secret spots but the park is protected by armed guards carrying AK47s and the last time one of the guys went to check out one of the secret spots (a cave halfway up a mountain where weapons were once hidden) they were chased off by machete wielding locals.
In some ways this is a great time of year to come visit the Phong Nha Ke Bang park in that there are very few Vietnamese tourists here. This is the No.2 tourist attraction in Vietnam for the Vietnamese (Ha Long Bay being No.1). In other ways this is the worst time of year in the sense that the rain means the river water levels are a lot higher and therefore you cannot explore the underground river system as deeply. Apparently the writer for Lonely Planet stayed here recently and liked the place so much he stayed for 5days. The latest L.P. edition for Vietnam will be released in March next year and this place is set to be one of the editor’s choices. So you can guarantee that there will be a massive influx of western tourists coming this way in the near future with the corresponding loss of magic.
Today we went to see the Phong Nha underwater river and cave. I had heard that you can go up 1.5km but last night I heard that it was just 600m. When we arrived we learnt that it was now just 400metres. I was expecting the boat go through the entrance of the river cave and carrying on going, but instead it stopped at the mouth and from there we walked.
I was blown away. The most impressive fractal fungal-looking stalactites n mites I ever seen including a 15 metre phallus-mite stood up in the middle of river. It was strange to see giant sand banks within the cave, not just bare rock. The whole place was lit up like a bad discotheque but was nevertheless remarkable. We were the only people in the cave too which added to the experience. The river disappeared around a corner so we couldn’t follow it very far. I wonder what treasures lay upstream…
I was saddened to learn that the mighty Son Doong cave is closed to the public but will be opened next year. Not only is this the world’s largest cave but it is also something of a natural wonder. A sinkhole caved in creating a mountain within the cave and skylight above. This means there is jungle growing within the cave. A few dinosaurs down there and the picture would be complete… Anyway tomorrow is the main event: Paradise cave by all accounts will set a practically insurmountable benchmark for speleological pizazz. An 80 year old geologist who has spent 60 years exploring caves around the world was here a few months back and reportedly said that this was the most impressive thing he had ever seen. So yeah it best not disappoint! There is the option to do a 2day trek here to another cave (there are over 300 in this area) starting on the 26th, but if tomorrow really does it then I will consider moving on sooner…
In other news, two Finnish girls in the Farmstay just told me about a week long trance party in Cambodia put on by some Frenchies. International lineup, everything that Thailand and Goa isn’t. It’s happening Christmas to the New Year but unfortunately because I’ve got the bike to worry about I won’t be able to make it out there in time. Gutted.