Day 27: Phong Nha

It’s my last day at Phong Nha Farmstay and, even though it’s broken my budget, I’m gutted to have to leave. I’ve already stayed for one night and one tour more than I’d planned but I couldn’t help it, they made me, so cruel.

The farmstay’s in central Vietnam, at the country’s narrowest point with Laos on one side, the Gulf of Tonkin on the other, and right next door to the UNESCO-stamped Phong Nha National Park with it’s jungle-covered limestone mountains and blue-grey rivers and dark caves. The farmstay itself looks out onto rice paddies and mountains. It has a pool, hammocks, romantic dorms with mosquito net drapery, a rooftop terrace from where you can watch the sun set, and a fridgeful of cold beer. The staff are dead friendly, the food delicious, and the atmosphere sociable, fun, relaxed.

I’ve been on two tours, met some wicked people, had ALL of the available amount of fun. We walked through jungle, up mountains, descended into the rock through caves so huge your jaw hangs open a minute before you realise, shut it, glance around to check if anyone saw. We climbed the 524 steps to Paradise Cave and talked only in hushed voices once inside, reverent. We walked the Eco trail, swum in a cool Jungle river in the sun, jumped into the water from rocks, used waterfalls like rapids. We ate a traditional lunch on a beautiful bamboo hut over a river. We went back to a free beer and free popcorn, and everyone sitting in the restaurant or out front, listening to guitar music and chatting, swapping anecdotes and recommendations about tours, places to go, things to see. The next day I set off again – I’d been easily convinced that it’s a waste to come this far and do only one tour, so I stayed an extra night and booked an extra activity. I met more great people, saw more beautiful places. We biked to the river – I got a puncture, had to have a new bike delivered by motorbike – took a boat to Dark Cave, swam outside in the river and tried to dive to the bottom but I couldn’t quite reach – the pressure was too great. Inside the cave we walked a pathway through huge chambers and narrow crevices with rock heavy overhead and on each side, and clay-like mud squelching between our toes, each step a little fart greeted with giggles. We swam through the cave river, first with the light of our headlamps and on the way back in the pitch dark, all headlamps switched off, the sound of splashing and quiet giggles enormous in the dark. Bloody magical. Bloody awe-some.

I met a crazybrilliant Aussie woman named Symph and had the same Vietnamese guide for both tours. Symph left home one day to come travelling, wrote a note for her husband but didn’t tell him, not exactly. She’s in her 50s, tiny, firey, excitable, with a million hilarious anecdotes that all end up with her getting furious and shouting at some tout or taxi driver or shopkeeper. I suggested she write a book about her adventures. Callie suggested she call it “Around The World In 80 Rages”. It’s a hit waiting to happen. Look out for it, people.

Today we plan to go to The Chicken Place, which is all I heard about when I first arrived. You bike there, to a place called “The Pub With Cold Beer”. You choose your chicken from the yard then they kill it and cook it while you swim or go tubing in the river.

Tonight we get the night train to Hanoi. I, being stingy and off budget (mostly thanks to being ill – very costly in a country with no NHS), am getting a soft seat ticket whereas the American girls who’re also going are getting a sleeper. They’ll have a bed and some dinner and be able to sleep before we arrive in Hanoi at 5am tomorrow. The more I think about it, the more sure I am that I should’ve paid extra to get a bunk. Damn my stinginess.

So, the next stop is Hanoi for a night and then to Cat Ba island for some rock climbing and a boat tour, and maybe Halong Bay. Not sure. See how it goes.

After that, I’m headed back to BKK. Then to Chiang Mai for Real Life and the CELTA, the reason I came in the first place. I worry. But first to enjoy some chicken.

Happy Wednesday folks.

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