The Motorcycle Chronicles - Vinh Moc to Phong Nha

Trip Start Oct 27, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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What I did
Phong Nha Caves (Troc Caves) Vietnam
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Vietnam  , Cao Bang,
Monday, July 18, 2011

    Located near the boarder of North and South Vietnam the coastal community of 'Vịnh Mốc' was one of the most bombed areas of Vietnam, with over 9,000 tonnes of explosives being dropped in the area between 1966 and 1972. Unwilling to flee the onslaught into neighbouring Laos or Thailand, the local community started construction of one of the most elaborate tunnel systems of the Vietnamese war. Upon its completion in 1967 the 'Vịnh Mốc' tunnels spread over three tiers for a length of 2,000m down to a depth of 30m, with 6 hidden entrances. The tunnels were so effective at evading detection and bomb penetration that during this remainder of the war no villagers lost there life's to the bombing, and 17 babies were successfully born in the tunnels 'maternity hole'.

    Entering into this subterranean world is such a surreal experience, with tunnels diving into every direction, it was easy to become disorientated in this giant rabbit hole. Although the tunnels remained cool now, I could easily imagine how stale and stagnant the air would become with a whole community confined to this alien world. For me it was the silence on the limestone that was most haunting especially as the temperamental electrical lights cut out, leaving the tunnels in complete darkness. It is no surprise that the technically advanced American failed to find this safe house.

    Back on the road the group decided to split up, with Alec and Shane riding north along 'Rt16 to 'Đồng Hới'', and me and Storm doubling back to 'Đông Hà' before taking the 'Rt9' towards the Lao boarder and onto the mountainous stretch of the Ho Chi Minh Trail ('Rt14'); we arrange to meet in the town of 'Phong Nha' in a couple of days. We stop in the boarder town of 'Lao Bảo' to refuel and grab a cup of coffee before continuing on to the HCM trail. This stretch of road was deserted, except for the occasional local on a overloaded scooter, this was good as the road was barely wide enough for an oncoming car . The road climbs up and down, twisting left and right on some of the best corners on earth, for the greater part of the ride I was giggling like a little school girl. It was like my own private race track. As this road was rarely used, in favour for the busier 'Rt1', landslides would often be left unmoved except for a small path cleared through the mud and rubble large enough for a bike. Other hazards that I had to keep my eye out for also included stray cattle standing ideally on the road, and random strips of loose gravel on sharp corners which provided some near misses.

     Our original plan was to set up camp in the town of 'Tang Kỳ' half way along this stretch of the HCM trail, but as we arrived it soon became apparent that no accommodation was available in this small town, meaning we were forced to continue on into the approaching night. This was not an ideal scenario as the road continued along sheer drops off the mountain with even more difficult corners. A passing shower of rain did not improve the conditions, but it thankfully stopped and the road dried up. As dusk passed, and the night settled in, riding along this amazing road with only my headlamp providing a dim pathway, the shadows from the surrounding foliage started to play tricks on my mind. It was almost like a video-game, but instead of restarting if you lose, the result would be injury or even death crashing on theses roads. Slowly we chewed through the distance, and signs of civilisation began to flash up, and we eventually found our way to the town of 'Phong Nha'.

    After such a long and unexpected ride, we were exhausted and once we got a good feed of 'phở ḅ'; a good night sleep was all that I wanted. Although it was hard work getting here, a total of 12 hours riding, it did mean we had arrived a day earlier and could rest up tomorrow whilst waiting for Alec and Shane to arrive.

Phong Nha National Park

    'Phong Nha National Park' has one of the worlds largest collections of karst caves, with over 70km of grotto hidden within limestone formations that shadow the region. It is in this national park that the worlds largest cave was discovered, and surveyed earlier this year. This new find called 'Son Doong' flows for 2.6 miles before being blocked by flood water, although it is believed to stretch for many more miles. It contains some truly huge stalagmites which hang for over 70 meters, and cathedral sized passages and grottos.

    As much as we wanted to arrange a tour to this new monster, with its tourism still in its primal stages, we settled for the near by 'Phong Nha Cave'. With its mouth sat open-basking into the water of the 'Son' river, this narrow cave stretches for over 7km before disappearing into the underground river for a further 6km. Known as the 'Paradise' or 'Fairy Cave', 'Phong Nha' is famous for its elaborate rock and stalactite formations. We charter a boat to take us down the river before entering the cave where we are manoeuvred through the large stone theatre, this cost 250,000 Dong to hire the boat (holds up to 14 people), plus 80,000 Dong per person for entranceto the two caves. With little more noise than the paddle working its way though the water, and the low chatter of people talking, this was a very tranquil location. We make shore inside the cave to explore one of its many grottos that annex onto the riverside. From the boat its true size is misleading, and it is not until you climb up the muddy bank that you can fully appreciate its grandeur; with its deformed rocks and calcium carbonate statues hanging like Gothic chandeliers from the high ceiling.


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