A Surprising Day Trip in the National Park
Trip Start Aug 22, 2012
63Trip End Jun 16, 2013
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Where I stayed
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
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
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!