We arrived at 4.30am in Phong Nha. Luckily our hostel, Easy Tiger, was just across the road so in we went and slept in reception until it opened. Easy Tiger isn’t on Hostelworld, to book in you must email them. This is the case for a few of the really good hostels around Vietnam; they aren’t expensive but they’re always known amongst travellers as very good hostels. They give a talk about the area and several tours they offer at 10am every day which proves very useful when you first arrive in the area.
We decided to hire bicycles and take a popular route to a few cool places. To one side of the city there are two roads that offer different activities to do. The Pepper House, Mui Mui, the wild boar eco lodge, the duck farm, and several other stops along the way. We visited Pepper House and Mui Mui, however the wild boar eco lodge, which is the furthest away, allows you to make traditional hats and you can see a famous buffalo who was saved from being killed many years ago and he also has a very friendly affection to humans! You can ride on a large swing that goes over a cliff edge as well. The duck farm allows you, if you want to, to kill your own chicken before you eat it. Not my kind of thing but many people seem to like it!
You can’t miss this place, it’s bright yellow! The guest house is owned by an Aussie man who moved over here and married a Vietnamese woman nearly ten years ago. He told us some great information on the culture of marriage and politics here in Vietnam. Although marriages are arranged, the girl is more free to choose who she would like to marry than you would imagine from the term ‘arranged marriage’. The family of the girl will present a gift to the boy’s family and once they have decided to marry, the two families sit down and organise the logistics of the marriage and exactly how the ceremony will go. Once they are married both families will live close to one another and in a very community based spirit, will live their lives together. Of course, the girl then belongs to her husband but the description I was given makes it seem a lot more family and community based than how many would expect an arranged marriage to be. Secondly he explained about the extent of the communism in the country. I was intruigued because I had noticed people in army uniforms watching over villagers as they rebuilt communal areas of towns, which to me looked a lot like a communist area. He explained that it is a mostly communist country but not as severe as it once was. Politically, they do not have different parties fighting for power in elections, they only have two people fighting for power in the one party of the country. Communism is a greater presence in the north rather than the south, as history explains this in itself.
We made our way down a muddy track, where the two roads now fork to go either down one side or the other of the afore listed attractions. The only place that is down the small track we took is a rural, basic restaurant owned by a family. Here you are able to taste a traditional food of this area which is pork and onion cooked inside a bamboo shoot. This is the only place in the country that you can eat this dish. Everything they use is fresh, you see them cutting down the bamboo and leaves to cook their food over a fire for you. I chose to try the peanut dumplings cooked in leaves. Differing from the others loving their meat dish, my veggie option wasn’t anything that I could have desired. The dumpling seemed to be made out of something resembling what I imagine could have been gelatine (so I quickly spat it out and didn’t eat any more!) with a few peanuts inside. I would suggest not to try this dish but the spring rolls are great, and the meat dishes also looked good!
Of course in the evenings the hostel offers free beer which we took full advantage of and tried our first Vietnamese club. I think there was only people from our hostel inside but the night was a blast. Jayde managed to shit herself the next morning which has probably become my favourite day on the trip so far.
Phong Nha National Park – Dark Cave
It’s a good idea to get up early to make the most of your day in the national park. Hire a motorbike for 150,000vnd to get there and the drive is amazing. You can see villages, rice paddies and jungle. There’s heaps of different areas to see in the national park, including caves and botanical gardens. The dark cave is the most popular cave. For 450,000vnd you get a tour inside the cave which is mud and swimming pools, a 450m zip line into the cave area above the river (the longest in Vietnam), kayaking and a small fun park in the river at the end. We took a mud bath inside the cave and saw lots of fossils on the cave walls. The caves harbour spiders, snakes, rats and bats but don’t be deterred by this, if you stay away from them, they won’t bother you, and we didn’t see any anyway!
Thang Goi waterfall
The waterfall is found in the botanical gardens; you can do three different intensities of walk around the gardens. We did the short one to see the waterfall because it was raining rather heavily. Once you arrive at the bottom of the waterfall you climb up the rocks, with a rope to the side to assist you, and you can get to each level of the waterfall. In the rain it proved rather life threatening but it is definitely worth doing. The views are amazing!
We attempted to get down the Wild Boar Ecolodge but we took a wrong turning and due to the rain all the mud tracks were rather difficult to ride on. We ended up in Mui Mui again and Abbie managed to clock up another point on the motorbike crashes Point scheme. I turned around the see that she had flown over the handle bars into a muddy ditch! Subsequently the family came out, picked her up, rubbed cream all over her and brushed her skin with a metal hand brush! Suitably entertained, we headed over to the Bomb Crater bar which is a newly opened bar by a South African woman. The bar quite literally sits in a crater made by a bomb in the Vietnam war.
It was nearly time for us to leave this town, filled with great memories of the outdoors. This is one of my favourite places yet in Vietnam. We moved to a cheaper hostel for the night because we had to leave at 3.30am for our bus to Hoi An. Of course when we arrived for the 4am bus, and it didn’t arrive until 5am so we slept on some closed restaurant tables until it arrived. We arrived by mid-day in Hoi An and swiftly took a sick Abbie to the hospital for an examination. The doctor checked her illness by lining her in the stomach several times and asking if it hurt! He then came out of the office to see Abbie 2 and I laying on the sofas and tried to drag us into the office as well, thinking we were sick because we were laid down! That confusion resolved, we also found out that Abbie’s previous medication from the pharmacy was actually for diarrhoea! No wonder she wasn’t getting better! Our hostel was called Sunflower Hostel, which is again an email only hostel for reservations but is by far the best one in Hoi An, as many travellers will tell you if you travel in this area.
Due to the rain, we decided that we would leave Hoi An early. We really wanted to have done the High Van Pass from Hue to Hoi An but the weather was so bad when we were coming through that we didn’t want to risk it on the bikes. Even the locals warned people not to. We hired some bicycles and rode around the town. As we pulled out into the road, a motorbike pulled in front of me, so I stopped. Jayde however, failed to see this and managed to fall off her bike onto the path. Of course, someone had to fall off to keep up our record. The old town of Hoi An is absolutely beautiful. It is famous for its fabrics and getting clothes tailor made in many of the shops. Instead of choosing something to buy and taking it immediately, a lot of the stores will make the clothes you want to fit you perfectly. Many people go here to get cheap leather goods and suits made. Of course with a rucksack the size of a school bag none of us could buy that but the shops are great and the street bloom with coloured lanterns all the way down the yellow buildings.
Through advice off some other travellers we got the heck out of this rainy place to find the sun in Nha Trang. Ninhvana is a resort style hostel located 40km away from Nha Trang, round another part of the bay. The paradise awaited us, but only after a nightmare of a trip to get there. Of course, because it’s us. We were in for a twelve hour bus journey. As soon as we got on we found out the toilet was broken. Twelve hours on a bus, potentially only one or two breaks, and no toilet. What fresh hell had we got into to. The bus driver, as per, didn’t care at all and really didn’t like us making him stop many times for toilet breaks, but we finally all got thrown off the bus in Nha Trang two hours early. It was around 4.30am, everything was closed, we had three hours to wait for the pick up to Ninhvana at a coffee shop, so we decided to see if we could make it there beforehand. Terrible decision. We didn’t realise how far away we needed to go, and neither did the taxi driver who told us he would take us there for 300,000vnd. He drove us to the middle of nowhere, into a hotel resort where we definitely didn’t belong, and then played dumb when we called his bluff. He took us half way back to where we started, stopped at a bus depot telling us to get a ticket there from here, and demanded we pay him 500,000. Absolutely raged we told him to do one and swiftly walked away, much to the men in the bus depot’s amusement. Of course there were no buses to Ninhvana from here, so once again we were stranded. We stopped for a coffee as we had hardly slept and tried to figure out where we were. After some wandering around we decided to just take a taxi to the coffee shop where we should have gone in the first place, called the hostel to let them know we wanted a bus seat and waited there!
Ninhvana hostel is part of the Vietnam Backpacker chain which is slowly but surely spreading its way through Vietnam. Although it doesn’t offer much local culture, the hostels are great for a party and they are always clean with good food. This resort was a paradise in a shit hole to put it bluntly. There is nothing around at all aside from a small village where you can buy moonshine. Within the hostel walls you have a swimming pool, a grass area for football, a spa, yoga twice a day, a bar and restaurant and great dorm rooms. We had an amazing time hanging out in a big group and having a party. We were lucky enough to bump into a lot of the same bunch down the rest of Vietnam on our trip which was very lovely.
We only stayed one day here as there really isn’t much else to do but party or sunbathe, and it was just in time as the roof tiles started falling off along with the rest of the roof just as we left. I had a slight close shave with some terracotta tiling and hopped on the bus back into Nha Trang.
Nha Trang offers some reasonably nice beaches and aside from some museums there isn’t much to do in the city. It is a common holiday destination for Russians so you get just about everything written in Russian. There are some waterfalls if you have the day to go on a motor somewhere but we decided just to crash for the night in I Home hostel which has a really cool rooftop restaurant/bar/chill area overlooking the city. The hostel has a really cool relaxed style and the free breakfast is amazing! We bumped into a few people we knew from Ninhvana which was amazing, and then off we went for our next adventure to Dalat!