We had recently been hearing great things about the Phong Nha Farmstay, which made the most recent edition of the Vietnam Lonely Planet that came out this fall. When we contactd them there were only 2 nights available for the rest of the year (including dorm beds), so we booked a room and adjusted our entire schedule around it.
I really questioned if we should be putting so much effort into this visit. It's kind of hard to get to, it's not cheap, and the tours are expensive. But this place was offering a piece of countryside, and it's an up and coming place, rather than the thoroughly trampled places we have visited. It sounded nice to stray a bit from the beaten path for a few days. So we forged on.
|Simon playing with Michael, the owners' son and his grandmother, an American War survivor|
Until 2006, when a new highway was built, it took a full day of travel to get between the park and the closest town along the coast, Dong Hoi. It's a distance of some 30 kilometers, mind you, not far at all. Now it's a quick 30 minute drive. Needless to say, a tourism boom is well on its way to this small rural community.
What we were really excited about was the National Park Tour. This is what we had heard so much about, so on Thursday morning we were very eager to head out and see what there was to see.
The tour started off with a lot of history about the American War. You might know it as the Vietnam War, but over here it's known as the American War. Seems pretty fair. Anyways, the park occupies the most heavily bombed area in the world! The Ho Chi Minh trail goes right through what has become the park, and the Americans bombed this area relentlessly for 10 years, trying to cut off supply lines to the South. The road that we were driving on was called Highway 20, the age of most of the people that came to work on the road. Most of the workers were young girls who were given a 2 day supply of food and water, the length of how long were expected to live. And if they lived longer? Well, they could gather supplies from the countless others that were not so luck to survive more than 2 days. Many of the caves in area were put to use during the war as hospitals, factories and shelters.
|The outfit made this photo blogworthy. Right?|
|Awesome spider. It was huge!|
|The wall in the background was bombed repeatedly during the war.|
|Vietnamese workers hid here during bombings.|
At one point we were at one of the narrowest points of Vietnam, where it was 21 km to the beach and 21 km to Laos.
|The final peak of mountains are in Laos.|
|Check rule number 5.|
This little oasis was just at the edge of the park, and they had recently built an echo trail through the woods here to help keep it safe and clean. Before the trail opened two years ago locals, including Ben, an Australian who runs the farmstay, were debating whether or not they should have it checked for unexploded bombs. (Quick background: During the
The guides took led us through the cave and showed us where to carefully swim (lots of very sharp rocks under water). We went back into the cave, turned off our headlamps and enjoyed that total blackness that one so rarely experiences. We also learned that this cave, called Dark Cave, is most likely the only one like it in the world. Like all of the other mountains in the area, this cave was found in a limestone mountain. But if you looked around at the rock inside the cafe, they were different, dark (hence Dark Cave). Now, if rock names meant anything to me I would remember just what mind of rock it was what had seeped thrugh a crack in the crust many millions of years ago. But, shame on me, I have no idea. Maybe cobalt? I know there were some lovely strips of quartz mixed in. That I remember.
This was one of my favorite days of the our entire trip so far. It packed so many great things into one little package: Vietnamese culture and development, American War history, geology, biology, swimming, hiking, etc. It was well worth the millions we paid for it!