I’d better write it all down before the vivid memories of this lovely trip are crowded out by my mundane thoughts and daily worries.
We “planned” for this trip about a month ago. By “we” I mean 5 twenty-something office girls who are bored to death at their work desks. And by “planned” I mean asking for a long note full of detailed advice from a local friend and leaving it unread until perhaps 5 minutes before we took off. Yes, this is not exactly one of my most well planned out trips, but fortunately it turned out an exceptionally enjoyable and hassle-free one.
The bus ride
At 5pm, after finishing our regular 8-hour workday, we all hopped on a sleeping bus that runs from Thanh Hoa all the way to Da Nang. There weren’t nearly enough beds. People were lying all over the aisles. Somehow they managed to squeeze in exactly 5 empty beds for the 5 of us. One guy was kicked out of his bed in the process, but he tried hitting on my friend (to no avail) afterwards. So I think it’s only fair. Tickets (verbal, intangible ones to be more precise) were reasonably priced at VND200,000 and we didn’t have to bargain at all. Most of the girls passed out within the blink of an eye, me included.
By the time we were woken up to buy dinner tickets, it was already pitch black outside. The bus stopped and we were hauled into tables of 7 each. Then dinner was served. This wedding-style serving on a bus-stop restaurant was a first for me. Food was hot and actually quite tasty, by bus-stop restaurant standards.
An hour later, the bus got moving again.
We were dropped off at the city Post Office at 11PM. Seeing that the girls were so determined to walk to the hotel, I dragged my borrowed suitcase and my beaten body on the road. After around 5 minutes, we reached Geminai hotel (it’s actually more like a hostel). The door was closed. No lights inside. Odd for a backpackers’ hostel. Not so odd for a city that is not overly touristy.
The room was really nice. The toilet has this 1990s tiling that reminds me of parent’s first house in Hanoi. It wasn’t much, but it was ours.
The only problem was the air conditioner. It took a good hour for the air to fill the room, and there wasn’t much to fill. So by the time I was falling asleep on the bed, I could still feel drops of sweats running down from my nape and my forehead. But I was too tired it didn’t really matter anymore.
We had agreed the day before to start the day at 6 but only managed to pull ourselves out of bed at 7:30. Expectedly.
After a filling our empty stomachs with a quick bowl of pho on a street closeby, we started trying to get a taxi. Our itinerary for the day is long: Dong Hoi city – Paradise Cave – Mooc Spring – Dark Cave – Dong Hoi City. A total of roughly 150km in distance. After making a few phone calls and trying to strike a deal with a few drivers, we were lucky to agree on a 10-hour round trip for VND 650,000. And off we went.
It was a very sunny day. The view was surreal. It almost looked like one of those Microsoft wallpapers that just look too good to be true.
Our first stop of the day was the Paradise Cave. To get to the cave you first have to get to the foot of this mountain. Electric cars were available but we chose to walk instead. The walk wasn’t that long, especially since there were shades everywhere and a group of seemimgly hot male visitors walking just behind you 😛 (I didn’t know if they were actually hot because I was too proud to turn around LOL)
The 570m uphill walk was another story. The scorching heat started to sink in. My nearly empty Quechua bag felt like a huge piece of rock on my back. An elderly couple was walking next to me. The man gently asked his partner: “Are you okay?”, “Do you need a break?”, “We’re almost there.” … He then saw me struggling, pointed at his wife and said “She’s 71 now.” She didn’t say anything and kept going. I couldn’t help asking myself if I would be treated the same way when I reach such an age?
When we approached the cave there was a sudden change in temperature. It was cold inside this huge cave. Perhaps that’s why they named it Paradise. Perhaps some guy climbed all the way up here on a hot summer day like this, soaked in sweat. He perhaps found the cave and thought it was really paradise. I overheard a tour guide saying that this is supposed to be the longest dry cave in Asia, that it is over 31km long (!!!)
Luckily for me, it wasn’t a 31km walk. The wooden walkway built for visitors only spreads to a humble length of perhaps 2km (?) But that was enough of a jaw-dropping magnificence. (Any more of it and your jaw will probably have a hard time closing itself up.)
When we got out of the cave, it was noon. We decided against having lunch at the cave, and went straight to Mooc Spring in search of food 😀
The restaurant here is so beautifully designed we almost felt like we didn’t need to eat anymore (Operative word being “almost”.) It looked much like a huge bird nest with a clear roof that gave us a sneak peek of the sky above.
Oh, did I mention that the food was awesome as well? We really did not expect much from a tourist spot restaurant. But the roasted chicken and the “red melon sticky rice” took us by surprise. The meal was served on two large banana leaves and we were given no utensils whatsoever. We ate with bare hands (don’t you worry, I brought my sanitizer along) while contemplating applying this lazy yet environment-friendly food display method at home (only to come to a conclusion that we don’t know where and how to source banana leaves from)
Post lunch, for some reason all the girls decided to take a quick nap at the restaurant itself. Actually I know the reason. We were full. We were tired from the long walk, the heat and dehydration. We were sleepy. There was space, there was shade and there was breeze. And it’s sunny and hot out there.
As the gang rose from the siesta, we took a speed tour of the spring, which lasted probably 20 minutes, including selfie and wefie time and multiple rests. As advised by our local friend, we did not get into the water and saved our bikinis for the Dark Cave instead ^^
We were “welcomed” to the Dark Cave by big groups of half naked Caucasian backpackers and Vietnamese girls in bikinis of all shapes and sizes. Soon enough there were five more joining the show 😀
Because I didn’t do any prior research, I was taken by surprise when stopped by a staff member who put a scary-looking safety gear on me and directed us to a tall tower about 50m away. I wasn’t prepared for this. I thought the zipline was optional.
To put it to context, I have always been a complete coward when it comes to any risk-taking activity, especially one that involves water. The biggest risk that I remember taking was sliding off a dark water tube in the Water Park in Hanoi decades ago, with my dad behind me. I vomitted and cried like a baby afterwards and made a mental note to never do this to myself again.
But here I am, standing at the top of a white tower, hooked on a rope that hangs across a green river, with the girls cheering me up from behind. Many times when waiting for my turn on the stairway I thought of giving up. Too many what-ifs. Too many worst-case scenarios.
The staff, who looks much younger than me, asked “Are you scared?”
“Yes, of course” I said. “Is there any other way to cross the river other than this? Like a bridge or a boat or something?” I am sure as I asked that stupid question my eyes glowed with innocent hope.
He smiled: “Another way? Yes there is. Let me show you.” And with that he gave me a little push.
Before I realized I was tricked, I felt the wind blowing onto my face, running through my hair, caressing my bare arms and legs. I heard myself screaming, but not out of fear. It was excitement.
“So this is how it feels like” I thought to myself. I intuitively squinted my eyes as I would watching a horror movie.
But then I saw the greenest green waters underneath. I saw magical sun glitters sparkling on the swinging waves. I saw the bluest blue sky afar. Just me and all this freedom.
I heard my mouth uttering something that is not a scream. I heard myself whispering “Damn this is cool. So fucking cool”
I slid above a couple kayaking on the river. They looked up at me with what seems to be curiosity. I looked down on them, wanting to say “Hiii!” but before I could decide whether to speak Vietnamese or English in that particular moment, they were already far behind me.
Then I felt a sting on my (imaginary) biceps and realized how hard I had been clenching the ropes. I tried to loosen up a bit now that I know for a fact my life doesn’t depend on it LOL.
The group of Caucasian visitors whom we saw earlier were waiting at the entrance of the cave. They saw me sliding over and started clapping. I don’t know why they did that, given at least 4 other people had reached the other side before me. Were they clapping for them too? Or was it because I looked really scared and stiff earlier and even considered chickening out at the last minute (but how could they have known that?) Whatever the case was, I felt a sense of pride as I approached the “destination”.
For a second I thought I would collide into the rock in front of me because I wasn’t stopping and I didn’t know how to stop. But before I knew it a staff member in yellow caught the rope I was holding on to. And I landed.
When I was on my feet again I laughed. Hard. The exhirilation was running through my veins for a few seconds and then the pain on both sides of my arms returned. Signs of cowardice. But whatever. I did it. I freaking did it!!!
After landing, we were given colorful kayaks as a vehicle to paddle back to the other side. The five of us divided into 2 groups. My fellow kayakers include Tam and Chi, who were both as experienced at kayaking as me. And I had no experience whatsoever. The last time I was on a kayak my boyfriend did all the work and I just had to give him a back and shoulder massage from time to time (which he didn’t really enjoy but I did it anyway LOL)
So as you can imagine, our kayak would move about 1 meter then start to float in a circle despite our efforts to keep it going straight forward. We couldn’t seem to agree on a paddling method so we were stuck in pretty much the same place for nearly half an hour. The other team was way ahead of us, lied down on the kayak, chilled under the sun and occasionally sat up to laugh at the entertaining scene of us circling around. Eventually Chi decided to jump into the water and swam. Ony then did we start to move forward T___T
As soon as we arrived at the “play ground”, the girls were really excited, except me. It was not exactly a ground because all these games involve falling into the water in one way or another. And I cannot swim. There were short ziplines, swinging boards, and other stuff that look like the challenges in Ninja Warriors (At least for someone like me). So when the girls had fun trying these games out, I played the role of an observer, security guard cum cameraman 😦
At 4pm, the actual security guards herded us back “onshore” because the place was closing up. The shower wasn’t particularly private. There were no curtains and the door couldn’t be closed properly. So we showered as fast as we could at the risk of being seen by a passerby.
Back to base
We headed back to Dong Hoi city in our yellow little taxi, dead tired from a physically challenging day. A note on the cab driver here. He was nice in the beginning. But at the end of the day when he played his list of poorly DJ-ed Vietnamese songs at max volume, it annoyed the heck out of us. As the front passenger, another thing that annoyed the hell of me is the way he swings his hand around every time he changes gear, as if he was dancing or something. I get it. You are surrounded by 5 young girls. Your favorite (but lame) music is on. You are hyped up. But you see. Trying too hard doesn’t make you look cool. It makes you look stupid. Of course I kept these thoughts to myself and just closed my eyes pretending to sleep.
Once we got back to the hotel, all I wanted to do was sleep. But after about an hour my stomach started roaring so we went to a restaurant that was highly rated on Tripadvisor. It’s called 7th Heaven. The interiors were extremely cosy and homely, and we were seated at a table of six, quite separate from the rest of the diners. The food was mouth-watering. Dinner couldn’t have been more perfect.
I went to bed after taking some tablets for my headache and slight fever. As expected, I passed out almost instantly.
Nhat Le Beach
The exhaustion kept me from waking up early the next day. So I stayed back at the hotel while the girls went to Nhat Le beach for a swim. Since I wasn’t there, there’s not much I can write about the beach. You can decide for yourself by looking at the photos below.
Our second breakfast
After the breakfast the girls passed by a consignment store and went on a shopping spree. I don’t quite understand the concept. To me it is not different from a thrift shop. I was too lazy to try on any thing so I just acted as “the husband”, waiting for the girls to come out of the fitting room, taking a look, telling her to turn around, and making a few comments. It’s kinda fun to be a husband after all.
Geminai Café & Restaurant
Back to the hotel again, we packed and checked out. The coffee shop/ restaurant of the hotel was too nice we could not resist having a few drinks (and then lunch) here. There were opinions that we should lunch outside, but it was ruled out because of the heat.
When it’s time to go back, we realized we should probably buy some souvenirs. We took a cab and went to a “Khoai deo” shop. This is a Quang Binh specialty: sweet potatos boiled then dried under the sun. It is sweet and a bit chewy. A good snack.
The taxi dropped us at the crossroad on the National Highway, and we waited for any bus heading North that would take us in. After probably 20 minutes, we boarded one and bid goodbye to our short but sweet weekend getaway.
For your reference
For those of you who might be interesed in doing what we did, below is a summary of costs and some recommended contacts:
Summary of costs
|Bus Thanh Hoa – Quang Binh||200,000|
|Paradise Cave Entrance||250,000|
|Mooc Spring Entrance||80,000|
|Dark Cave Entrance||270,000|
|Sourvenir (1kg of sweet potato)||100,000|
|Bus Quang Binh – Thanh Hoa||200,000|
|Seat rental at Nhat Le Beach||25,000|
1, Geminai Hotel: +842323938888
2, Taxi Driver (Hiếu, born in 1989): 0125 632 1157
3, 7th Heaven Restaurant: 39 Dương Văn An, Dong Hoi city