Day 43: Phong Nha
Eggs and bread and coffee. Sometimes, we play normal. This includes things like paying the entrance fee to the town’s namesake grotto, Phong Nha Cave, and observing it like good legal foreigners. Then we’ll put our babies back on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and take off with the sun at our backs.
Our packed bags stay at reception and we purchase our tickets from the tourist centre. A dozen long wooden boats await tour groups in the Son River, and we are amongst the passengers who climb aboard. A man sits at the bow; a woman at the stern and it is them who paddle us an hour up river, while our necks crane over the edge to be that much closer to the green giants cradling the waterway.
Around a bend, a sheer bluff towers majestically, it’s mouth slurping up the river, pulling us toward it’s tonsils like a turquoise tongue.
The boat skims soundlessly through the passage, and we enter a cave so esthetically impressive that I suddenly feel underdressed. This karst beauty flaunts its drippy rock towers; melting stalagmites and threatening stalactites a spectacle in the tasteful lighting like some sort of exhibit at a caveman’s art show.
We pull up onto a beautiful beach shaded by this incredible cathredral and walk through it’s fine sand to sparkling stone sculptures of abstraction, some like artful fountains; water running down them from ceiling to sand. Four hundred million years of creation, and the artist does not disappoint. Through a maze of shimmering stalagmites and stalactites, I feel like I’m in Gaudi’s underground mansion, as though everything here has been meticulously crafted under his supervision by a subterranean team of master sculptors. Whomever’s it is, it is far and wide their magnum opus, their piece de resistance, a hidden gem. Inspecting the burning-candle-like formations, I have to wonder if perhaps these are the old stomping grounds of an extinct creature; the abandoned lair of a dragon whose fiery temper set his finest art collection to a half-melted state during a spat with the old ball and chain. Or maybe this place derived its sparkle from the gleaming diamonds and rubies that rubbed against the walls when pirates dumped their treasure in here for safe keeping. Maybe…maybe.
Outside the masterpiece, we stroll the man-made path along the river, half the group continuing on to see another cave, and we are left to wait two hours for their return. We’re harassed by locals attempting to make a living off trapped tourists, and when the rain comes, we give in to noodle soup and hammocks beneath an awning while the downpour hypnotizes us. The raindrops are fat. Are we really going to ride our bikes to who-knows-where in this weather? Maybe we stay one more day.
When the boat returns us to the ticket booth, we take Flo’s Honda to the bike shop again. The other day, the mechanics ‘fixed’ his bike to ‘broken’. Thankfully, this guy seems to have his work gloves on the right hands.
The hotel down the road has a cheap room available on the third floor. I lay on the bed tapping my keyboard to the beat of raindrops tapping on the window, while in the corner of my eye Flo does pullups on the doorframe. I sip a beer and smirk in his direction.
Dinner is at Bamboo (it is that good), where we have long conversations with the servers who are so keen to learn English. Flo and ‘Ha’ get into a rock-paper-scissors match which wins us a round of ginger teas.
Phong Nha, you’re the BOMB. Thanks for being so good to us.
But tomorrow, we must leave you. For real this time.