Both of these places were awesome, and must do’s for Vietnam!
No words or photos can describe how mind blowing the caves here are.
We met Kate & Sarah here (who were just coming out the other side of being seriously unwell), and we ended up embarking on a full-force rainy season adventure.
The first day, we visited the Phong Nha cave, which involves a nice boat ride along the river and 1.5km into the cave. The boat glides silently through the HUGE cave, with crazy rock formations that don’t even make sense.
The following day, after a little bit of drizzle in the morning, we decided to rent scooters to see the Dark Cave. Sam gave Kate a quick ‘how-to’ on driving a scooter and we scooted off.
Within about 5 minutes the downpour began… and did not stop. The whole day. The rain and wind was crazy, and several times we had to re route due to submerged bridges and flooded roads. When we eventually reached the Dark Cave (where you can zipline in and walk through a pitch black cave) it had just closed, with the last participants possum-eyed telling us how they’d entered the cave in ankle deep water and exited at shoulder depth. I was bloody grateful we didn’t make it in.
After the Dark Cave failure, we drove (well, swam basically) to Paradise Cave. This was discovered only 10 years ago by a local who heard a whistling sound in the jungle. The entrance to the cave is really small, but once you’re inside you are immediately dwarfed by it’s 100m height and 31 KILOMETRE LENGTH. Aside from the sheer size, the rock formations are crazy and beautiful. Unfortunately I was just too soggy and awe-inspired to take any photos, sorry. Here’s one from the world wide web:
We made it out of the exit with about 30mins spare before the road would’ve been completely submerged in overflowing rapids. We safely made it back and demo’d a giant Banh Mi. Kate is pretty much the bomb for trooping through the most treacherous riding conditions, having never driven a scooter before!
The rain was so bad that we ended up leaving that night, having being told that if the rain continued, buses would not be making it in or out of Phong Nha.
Despite our wet experience, I would highly recommend include Phong Nha in your Vietnam itinerary. Aside from the caves, the scenery is beautiful to drive/ride around.
Oh and here is a cute baby that was roaming the road:
We’d been told that Ninh Binh was the land and lake version of Ha Long Bay. The town itself is a bit lacklustre, but jump on your bike or scooter and within 15mins you’re in another world. The landscape is completely flat, with huge protruding limestone cliffs dotted around.
A couple of days here is enough, our two major highlights being:
1) Scootering around, checking out the amazing scenery (rice paddies, said cliffs, rivers etc) and getting lost down random dirt roads
2) Lake boat trip. There are 2 options – Tam Coc and Trang An. We did the latter which is popular with Vietnamese tourists. It was amazing- you pay 150k/£5 and sit in a 4 man boat with a Vietnamese lad/lass rowing you around an enormous lake with breathtaking mountains and cliffs, for about 3 hours. The coolest part of the trip is the 11 caves that you row through. Spectacular. Keep an eye out for flashes of the giant goldfish that live in the lake.
We stayed in the town, in a random guesthouse that I won’t even write here…we may be small people but even we could not dry ourselves with the tea towels provided. I would recommend staying in the Tam Coc area which has a nicer atmosphere. I would also recommend choosing somewhere that does free breakfast, as options are limited.
If you do go, make sure you eat at Trung Tuyet – insanely cheap meals, accompanied by an abundance of free goodies: beer, bananas, biscuits. All the good stuff.
Ninh Binh was so good that we decided to skip Ha Long Bay (which we’d heard was super touristy). A shame since we’d prematurely bought an awesome Halong Bay poster… Murphy’s law!