Martijn and I took a bus from Hue to Phong Nah-Ke Bang National Park while Oscar drove there with his scooter. We arrived in the evening in a hostel right by the river. The next day, I changed to a different hostel where two Canadian friends of mine, we met in Hue, stayed at and Martijn went on a two day cave trip. Phong Nah is famous for its various caves. Son Doong, the largest cave in the world, that even has its own ecosystem, is located in the heart of this national park. It’s very expensive to go there and the visit is limited to 500 people a year to assure the preservation of the cave. Nevertheless one can do overnight trips to smaller but still very impressive caves or visit public caves even without a guide.
The hostel I was staying in was right at the edge of the national park but we were already surrounded by massive jungle mountains. I joined Amir and Cole on the motorbike and we drove to the dark cave, mainly to do some kayaking on our own. Because I spend most of my time with those two guys, I didn’t do a lot of the touristy stuff but mainly explored on my own. I think the most fun was already just driving the loop through the national park and enjoying these breath taking views surrounded by nothing but nature’s beauty at its peak! I’ve never seen anything like this before. It takes probably an hour or a bit longer to drive the whole loop, depending on how fast someone drives. So my first day I had lots of fun kayaking and swimming in this magenta blue river that flows through the jungle and even into some caves! We tried to go into the dark cave on our own but we didn’t have any flashlight. Nevertheless the entrance of it was already very overwhelming.
In the evenings we mostly sat together with some other people from the hostel and I spend most of my evenings drinking some wine and enjoying very interesting talks with Oscar. He travels since five years and currently lives in Vietnam working as a guide in a national park in the south. I feel like he’s quite wise and he has this completely peaceful aura with a simile like he just won the lottery. He really inspired me and I was also able to learn a lot from him. Again it’s so incredibly how many different people I’ve met on my journey and I’m so thankful for each acquaintance I was able to make!
My next adventure in the National Park started again with driving deeper into the mountains, stopping here and there to fully embrace the views. We wanted to go to a little cave that Oscar and Brigita visited the day before. It’s a very small cave but there was no one else there which was very convenient. Just before we arrived to the cave the boys stopped because they spotted a beautiful swimming/ cliff jumping spot right next to the street. We had to climb down a little but then we had this beautiful place to ourselves and enjoyed swimming in this cold, crisp water. Well actually I was the only one swimming while they enjoyed their dives from the cliffs around. I even jumped from the highest cliff, probably around 10m. It was a bit difficult to overcome my fears but I felt so great and proud afterwards. That’s definitely something I learned from these guys, don’t think too much, just do it! After spending quite a long time at our private mountain pool we finally went to the small cave.
The little cave
That day I actually wanted to go to the paradise cave but it was a bit too late so on the way back we just visited the botanical garden where there is a waterfall and some hiking paths.
While driving through the park I always have the urge to just walk into the jungle and explore on my own but the problem is that the jungle is so dense that it’s impossible to just walk through it like I can do in Germany in the woods. But that’s also kind of the beauty of it, the chaotic, untouched purness of nature. Words can’t really describe the happiness and fulfillment I felt in this beautiful surrounding. I think this is the most beautiful place I’ve been to so far (although a lot of places in the north of Vietnam look very similar to this landscape).
The next day Martijn was back from his trip from what he only reported positive things! I’m really glad for him that he was able to do this trip and experience this adventure in the caves. This was also the last day that we would spend together because my next destination is Hanoi and for him it’s Cat Bah. I have to say it was very nice to travel with someone for a while longer then just a few days. We got along very well and became good friends over these two and a half weeks. So for our last day he joined me to go to the paradise cave. It’s one of the few dry caves and also one of the longest in the park although one can only walk 1km inside. We first hiked for like 15 min up the mountain and arrived at a small entrance leading down into the cave. It’s lit up so one can fully admire the mysterious underworld. As we walked down the constructed path a huge hall opened up in front of us. It’s weird how small these caves can make you feel. The cave was massive and the stalagmites and stalactites looked alian like. In general this made us feel like we are on a whole different planet. I find caves quite fascinating and this one was very beautiful as well!
In the evening we all went out for dinner and had a wonderful evening. It was a bit sad to say goodbye to Martijn but I’m sure we’ll see each other again. Oscar and Brigita left the next day as well but I saw them in Hanoi again which made me really happy!
I also learned some Vietnamese during my stay and with Cole and Amir I practiced it even more. Cole had a funny and very likeable way to learn it, he would just go to people and ask what the words mean, sometimes even ask the same word 100 times haha. This is also a good way to just interact with the locals which made them happy as well. The only problem with learning Vietnamese is that first of all the language in the south is very different from that in the north. Some words are just completely different, which also confuses the locals a lot. And secondly, that one word can have many different meanings depending on little, for foreign ears not notable, differences. For example cam on means thank you but can also mean chicken breast or piss off (very different and kind of confusing…). The third difficulty I experienced was that if you say something a bit wrong, they don’t understand at all and mostly don’t try to help you to find the right word based on similarities. But in the end I always had quite funny experiences when trying to say things in Vietnamese.
On my last day I went with some people from the hostel to the Elefant cave. It’s actually only accessible with a tour, at least that’s what people tell you but it’s fine, probably even better, to go there with some friends. Two girls from our group were already there so we had no difficulties finding the way. This day was actually pretty cloudy which gave this jungle mountain landscape a dramatic scenario. Every time I drove through the park I never got tiered or less fascinated by these views. It was always a new and exciting feeling. We stopped by a small, kind of hidden path by the road that led up the mountain through the jungle. It was a wilde path and therefore a bit challenging to climb (exactly how I like it). As I arrived at the end of the trail a huge cave entrence opened up in front of me. This massiveness was just so overwhelming, I never saw anything like that. We climbed down to the entrence and even the view from down here was so surreal. It felt like I was in some kind of fairy land. While I was making some pictures I realized even more how small we were compared to this cave hall, on some pictures one can’t even distinguish the people. It was by far the most incredible experience I had on my travels and I’m so thankful I was able to see it and even more experience it!
We climbed through the rocky interior in the dark (flashlight from the phones helped a little). The cave is not very long although there is another path, a hole that probably leads quite far inside the mountain but we didn’t dare to try to climb down. On the other side of the cave was another even more beautiful entrance (or exit into the jungle). This was so beautiful and kind of looked like hobbit land from lord of the rings. We stayed there quite a while, climbing up the hill and enjoying the view of this massive cave entrance. But I have to say I preferred the view from the inside of the cave, admiring the vegetation that starts of very tiny, kind of shy and grows bigger and bigger until its just part of the jungle.
This was the perfect finally of my adventures stay in this beautiful national park. It’s the peak of my travel and I’m so thankful to have been able to do all of this. After this I will only go to Hanoi for a few days and then back to Bangkok to fly back to Germany from there, so this really was my last adventure for now.
I have to say this travel has been nothing but amazing for me. I learned so much, I met so many incredible people who each tought me something to improve myself. I’ve seen so many beautiful places, so much pure nature and got to know a whole different culture and way of life. This makes me feel so thankful and blessed and I highly recommend anyone, who has the opportunity to travel, to do it. It opens one’s perspective on life and the world immensely and one can learn so much that no school or teacher will ever be able to teach you. I’m already on my way back home but I know I will come back to Vietnam, especially because I wasn’t able to really see the north. But next time I travel I will probably try to stay in one place for a bit longer to really get to know the people and the way of life in that country. This is something that made me think a lot because as a backpacker you mostly go from hostel to hostel and meet other foreigners, which is also nice and was definitely a good experience. But next time I want to try to connect more with the people from the country that I’m staying in. For example in Thailand when I stayed in the monastery I really got to know Thai people and made good friends there. (back in Bangkok I met with Siri again and we had a wonderful day together before I left to go back to Germany).
Well I guess for my next travel I’m gonna be even better prepared, knowing what to bring, what to plan and how to act or better interact. But in general I think I handled things quite well and manged to grow from all the opsticals I faced during these three months. This is my last blog post now, I think this trip to Phong Nah was the best way to end my travel and I hope you enjoyed reading my blog.
I wish everyone a beautiful day, be thankful for everything you have and also open yourself to the unknown, it’s so rewarding. Something I learned during my travels is, that no matter how bad something seems to be, in the end it always turns out to be good, to be the right thing for you! (even if that means it was just another lesson for you to learn)
Goodbye, until my next travel ❤️☀️