Founders' Stories | Phong Nha Natl Park, its caves, and more
You've probably heard of Phong Nha because of the world's largest cave, Son Doong which was only explored properly in 2009. With further research you'll see the massive price tag attached to a trip to Son Doong. But there is so much more to Phong Nha than being the jumping off point for Son Doong. If you really want to see and do and experience everything around, you could easily stay for a week without standing still for a moment.
I have been to Phong Nha multiple times because this place is really awesome. There's just something about being near a river, surrounded by blue skies and karst mountains and rice paddies, and breathing in the fresh cold air during the winter months. The first time I was hear, I was stuck in their annual flood for a few days, that reached nearly reached the second floor. And just like in any other bad circumstance, the kindness of strangers really shows.
I met H, the founder of the Conservation Tour in Phong Nha and the guy on the ground for the Chickenfeet's collaborative Eco Phong Nha Collective movement. When I met him, I was re-inspired and overwhelmed (in a good way) by everything that he has already accomplished, and the potential of what we could do together. Given that the rains thwarted my plans, I had to make my way back a few months later.
When I did, I adventured my heart out. Here are the highlights of each one-day adventure.
I opted for the one-day option because it was particularly hot, and I was being a princess that wanted a warm shower and a bed to sleep in. I think to really take it all in, their 2 day 1 night trip would be way better. The tour starts with a visit to the animal rehabilitation centre, the reason for starting the tours in order to create some income to support itself. It's a small centre but it's all fully booked with gibbons, porcupines, civets, and macaques. Then we venture to the botanical gardens to start the trek; realistically you could spend a whole day picnicking and chilling in the waterfalls here. But the most memorable part was walking around "Banana Valley" where you're shown remnants from near war, small bomb craters, gun shells, and the caves that the Vietnamese hid in. And the guide explained how they locals created trapped animals and lived off of the plants.
Getting to the end of the 7km of Paradise Cave is surprising. I always tell people that it is one of the best places I have ever eaten lunch. The first kilometer can be accessed at the minimal fee but trust me when I say that you NEED to "splurge" to do the full trek. Paradise Cave is the longest dry cave in the Phong Nha National Park, and it is surprisingly large once you really get in there. The guides are hilarious and have fun tasks and stories along the way. Check out this photo! It doesn't need any words!
Phong Nha Cave
Spending the day kayaking and climbing through the 4kms of Phong Nha Cave was a challenge. Two highlights are: the scripture that is said to be 400 years old; and the name of a Vietnamese soldier who hid during the war. Phong Nha Cave is nice balance of opposites: challenging and relaxing. At one point you are climbing over ladders where you can't quite see the bottom or pulling yourself across a river while at other points your doing a mud facial and getting covered in sand which is unexpectedly soothing.
I think some of the best moments hanging out in Phong Nha was at Bamboo Cafe with H. The food there is creative and delicious. But speaking with H and learning about his efforts and brainstorming ways to collaborate and grow together. It's inspiring and if you have a skill that can contribute to our environmental efforts, please let us know! H was the one that really inspired me to incept the idea of the Eco Phong Nha Collective. Team work makes the dream work, so my mentality is that if everyone in Phong Nha can work together for a better and more sustainable future, it is better than a single person trying to monopolise the concept. Eco Phong Nha Collective is in full swing and we are trying to recruit as many Founding Members in 2018.