Stray New Zealander Keys continues to make us all jealous as she travels on Stray’s very first Vietnam trip…
We drove out of Hue through damp streets accompanied by overcast skies, but for now the rain had stopped. It was a relatively short ride to Dong Hoi so we just stopped once for a break. I have discovered this Vietnamese soft drink called salty or salted lemon. Most products have an English translation on them and I was curious to know what they meant. It turned out to be true to its label; a bit like lime Gatorade but with a salty aftertaste. Personally I like the slightly fizzy flavour and will often try to track a bottle down when we make our rest stops.
I’ve never found the same brand twice and this is something curious about Vietnam, there is quite a difference between products, what you experience and what is available in the south compared to the north. The climate is also very different, with only two seasons, wet and dry, in Southern Nam and four in the North. The rain the previous night had certainly cooled things down.
We arrived at Dong Hoi on a Sunday and although this is an important port city with a population of approximately 120,000, on this day it seems surprisingly deserted. There was very little traffic and even fewer pedestrians giving it the air of a ghost town. We checked into our guesthouse, discovered the power was out, so headed out for some food. As we walked along the boulevard, there were a few fishing boats tied up on the river but the whole town looks like the city that time forgot, as if there has not been maintenance done since the end of the Vietnam War. Then it was a common target for B-52s as it is near the DMZ (Demilitarised Zone).
The next morning the city was thriving, in stark contrast to the ghost town sensation of the previous day. We set off for the Phong Nga caves and our driver recommended a place he knew en route to the National Park. This proved to be a boon – the breakfast was so good we asked to call in there for a late lunch after the caves. There was also an adorable puppy racing around which not only provided entertainment but we all eagerly cuddled him to exchange some vital body heat (the weather was quite chilly).
The Phong Nga caves are located inside a National Park just 45 km from Dong Hoi. Only discovered in 2005, they are now considered the biggest cave system in the world with a total length of 35 km. We only visited a small section of the caves yet were inside for almost four hours. The caves size and formations were so spectacular that this felt like no time at all. I have had the privilege of visiting a number of caves around the world, but without a doubt I would consider this one the most impressive – it took my breath away. The infrastructure was excellent with wooden platforms and staircases and people with claustrophobia had nothing to fear because in this section the chambers were extensive and vast.
Our cameras struggled to capture the magnitude of the cave; I can only say that this is a fantastic inclusion on the Stray itinerary and well worth getting off the beaten track to visit. Once we came outside we had no idea how long we’d been in there as the stalactites and stalagmites, along with other formations were so mesmerising. The beauty of the cave and the recent discovery of them made me ponder what other natural wonders may still exist on our planet that have not yet been discovered.
Back at Dong Hoi, the rain finally eased and 5 of us ventured out for a massage. The Blind Massage centre is quite well known and proved to be a treat at the end of an already amazing day.
Keys travels on Stray’s Dong Pass, exploring Vietnam on and off the beaten track.