Day 39: Tang Ky to Phong Nha
The sounds of a distant ringing and choir of screaming roosters jolt me awake at 630am–Flo’s alarm and the family flock, which has the ring of some irritating, early morning children’s t.v. show.
I push aside the blankets. I’m sweating. I’m warm enough to sweat! I was worried my glands may have collapsed from misuse. I run out to give Flo a big hug.
This guy. It’s almost annoying how often he’s in a great mood. Almost, but not really at all.
We start packing our things and the lovely wife brings steaming bowls of soup to the table outside. We sit with Duong and slurp up our breakfast. It’s hot. It’s delicious.
When the bikes are loaded and our laces tied, we offer the generous couple some money for their hospitality. They insist on only a fifth of what we offer, but we give them double that.
The road calls. We will make it to Phong Nha today. Phong Nha is the cave hub of the planet; a spot world renown for its network of grottoes hidden inside it’s ancient mountains. The first and third largest cave in the world reside here. Flo and I have some cave-hunting to tend to.
This morning is magically misty, the mountains haloed by foggy strands. Our ponchos are on and it’s cold again, but for some reason it doesn’t matter right now. This world is mesmerizing. I feel high. We’re in the middle of the jungle, ripping past trees and rivers and villages in rural Vietnam! Dopamine sizzles in my cortex and pulses through my body. The world is ours! All of it. All of whatever is here in front of us, at least. And that is all that matters.
We stop for a coffee and petrol. The jackets hanging behind the counter of the shop tease us, winking with their puffy collars. The fleece linings mock our thin sweaters from their hangers. Twelve dollars–half a days budget. Do we indulge? Or suck it up and freeze?
We choose to freeze. And off we go again. A bridge suspended by wires over a river wiggles as we drive our bikes across. This incredible structure is so out of place in a land that seems otherwise untouched by anything since the seventeenth century. We’re chilled but the blue sky swears by it’s pinky that Mr. Sunshine is on his way to meet us. We pull over to wait for him and he, upon his arrival, deems himself worth waiting for. We toe our kickstands up and loosen our heads from the confines of the helmets. Our eyes close so that we may give all our attention to our enlightening guest. Our backs tilt to meet our luggage and we rest our heads on the packs, feet up on the pedals. In this position we slumber on the roadside, blanketed in sunshine, meditating on the rays.
When we wake half an hour later, we ride rejuvenated but hungry. There is nowhere to get food around here until a sign appears with the word ‘resort’ and a picture of a cave. They must have food.
We follow the sign onto a rough, hilly path with steep ups and downs until it opens into a sort of dirt courtyard lined with dingy restaurants. What is this place?
We sit on a patio at the farthest point and eat tasty fried noodles and watery soup. There’s a cave nearby, signs declare, and at the entrance we discover it costs ten dollars to get in, so we scrap it and leave. But wait, maybe it’s one of the famous Phong Nha caves we came to see in the first place! Are we this close already? Allegedly, it costs $3000 to do the excursion to the largest cave, so in comparison, ten bucks is a sick deal, brah (sometimes we get a little caught up in penny-pinching.) But it’s already past 3pm and we have eighteen kilometres of backtracking to do, (we missed the turnoff) plus accommodation hunting. So we go back to the bridge and take the right road. The way becomes steep and treacherous, closed in by jungle. Flo’s bike antics make me nearly pee myself from laughing as we bump along.
A wide dirt road appears on our left, sans signage. The map doesn’t show any roads leading into Phong Nha, but this looks to be headed in the right direction.
“I think this is it,” says Flo.
A local passes us on his bike.
“Are you looking for the town? Follow me.”
Flo was right. This potholed path rattles our bikes for a few minutes before revealing a glorious, colourful town nestled in the majesty of mountains that are home to the biggest cave in the world. I scream. This place is RAD! We come to the main drag and stop at a restaurant to use the wi-fi for hostel-hunting. The first picture that pops up is the front of a hotel, Heritage By Night. We look up. The exact image is in front of us, across the street. After checking out too many unwelcoming hostels, we end up at Heritage. It’s too expensive, this snazzy hotel, but we splurge anyway. It has two huge beds (with mattresses!), the shower is spectacular and breakfast is included. But most importantly, we only have to climb one small staircase to get to the room. We are fucking exhausted, so this is priority. We take the room and collapse onto each bed, relishing the minimal amount of movement we have to make at the moment. The shower is even hot for two whole minutes. I get to wash my hair. Life is coming togetherish. We lay like sunning seals in our room for over two hours. I’m sneezing and coughing and feel like five days of sleep is a good idea. But hunger drives us into fresh clothes and across the street for fried rice and then finally back to that spot where sleeping is encouraged.