A Surprising Day Trip in the National Park

Trip Start Aug 22, 2012
Trip End Jun 16, 2013

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Flag of Vietnam  , Quảng Bình,
Saturday, January 26, 2013

This was a trip well worth the effort of diverting from the beaten path of most visitors to Vietnam. The national park tour, our accommodations and the beauty of the surrounding rice paddies and villages made this a memorable stop.

We had received an email from the Phong Nha Farm Stay with many instructions and information aimed at managing our expectations and ensuring we realized this was an out-of-the-way spot.  Taking the very comfortable 5-hour train ride from Da Nang to Dong Hui and transferring to a car for another hour drive, we arrived in a tiny village.  We crept our way down little lane ways until they opened to a stunning view of rice paddies on our right and a beautiful big and lively hotel on our left.  People were obviously having fun and engaging in conversation, games and meals together.

We settled in nicely, however, poor Mary had to sleep in the dorm the first night as they had no triple rooms and no other single rooms available...another first experience for her.  With not much sleep for her, the next day we embarked on a full day tour to the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.  The tour guide, Lena, filled us with much historical, cultural, and geographical information along the way.  We stopped at some interesting places before arriving at Paradise Cave which was one of the most amazing things we had ever seen.  The pictures will tell that story.

Having asked many questions of the tour guides to prepare us for the day and continually receiving vague information, the afternoon explained the mystery to us.  They wanted us to be surprised by the last part of the trip.  Well, surprised we were and given we are older travellers with some medical issues, we were thankful we made it through without any serious problems! 

For our last activity they told us to leave everything behind in the minibus and be prepared to get wet.  I had my bathing suit on underneath my clothes and taking off my outer layers left me feeling a bit  unclothed walking around like that.  Mary, on the other hand, kept all her clothes on.  They took us down to the river's edge, gave us headlamps, life jackets to wear and half a kayak paddle.  Without any instructions we proceeded to climb into inflatable kayaks and paddle them like a canoe with our half paddles.  Not very far down the river we turned into an opening of a cave, disembarked the kayaks and started walking single file into the dark and mysterious cave with our headlamps turned on.  

Next thing we knew, Lena was walking into the water.  Then she was swimming!  So there we were swimming in the pitch dark in water that had who-knows-what in it!  And in total we probably swam 75-100 meters or more.  No one asked us beforehand if we could swim.  I didn't have an asthma puffer with me nor any emergency medications.  Then to top it off we climbed into a narrow part of the cave and slogged through mud up to my thighs for about 20 minutes.  At one point, I almost lost my water shoes as they stuck deep in the mud.  So both Jim and I took ours off and, although intensely creepy, did the remainder of the mud walk through closed-in caves in bare feet.  Luckily, they gave people a bit of a warning so some opted out of that part.

The funniest part was when we were swimming, Mary's pockets started emptying as she struggled along weighed down by her pants and t-shirt. Since I was behind her, I saw Blistex floating and was waiting for a pair of her underwear to show up, as she had misplaced them in the dorm earlier that morning and had stuffed them in her pocket when she located them,  We got the giggles, which when mixed with the shock of the activity, a sprinkling of fear and life jackets floating up by our ears, made it particularly hard to swim.  And, of course, all the young ones on the tour were whizzing by us.

At the end of the day having arrived safely back to the Farm Stay, we admitted it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that could not be replicated.  The joys of travel!
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Sue Walker on

Wow, Must have been scary mucking in the dark, I guess it was well worth the experience.
What an adventure you are all having. We LOVE reading your blog.
Love to all Sue xo

nora detlor on

Sue you said everything I was going to say...what courage they showed...I know that is something of envy for me......I have never had the courage of Donna and Jim, but wish I had. I can only say "WOW" as many others have. This is a trip of a lifetime. I so admire the adventures you are taking. Keep them up, I too love reading the blog and living through them.
take care and Adventure on!!

Basia on

I feel pretty fearless going into muddy lakes when wearing water shoes so I am imagining myself trudging through the mud with you three, shoeless. I must admit, I get a sort of queasy feeling in my stomach just thinking about it.
You intrepid travellers, you!

Sylvia Fairchild on

Amazing story guys! You are quite the adventure seekers. I couldn't help but wonder how Jim's camera handled that expedition! I do look forward to reading about it in your book...hint, hint. Take care and happy travels.

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