My food poisoning came a day after Jasper’s, when we had an overnight bus to Phong Nha-Ke Bang national park. Overnight busses- also not the best to settle a stomach. We arrived a little drained but quickly made friends with a German couple and Canadian guy. We decided to rent some bikes and explore the countryside – after a nap. The bike ride was a bit grueling at times on the dirt road and in the stifling heat (me, the only one who insisted on wearing a helmet) but really beautiful (sorry if I am over-using this word… but really, it is just so beautiful here!). We rode alongside rice fields and farms, saw water buffalo, small mausoleums and plenty of young children running up to us to say “hello”. We stopped at a duck farm where you feed them and have the option to pick them up and toss them in the pond as it is considered lucky (not for the duck, obviously). We also stopped at a small countryside restaurant/bar called ‘cold beer bar’ for lunch and some cold drinks and to swim in the river.
The next day, we went to the caves. We visited Paradise Cave, which is said to be the most beautiful in the world, and absolutely massive with 7km of walking paths. We went, also, to the dark cave, which is more of an adventure park, with kayaks, ziplining and a ropes course over the water. But is also really is a cave that you wander through until you get to a pool of mud that you can float in. when I stepped in, I rolled onto my stomach and felt virtually weightless. I could lift my upper torso, arms and legs off of the mud and still be floating. You feel like you are in a sensory deprivation capsule, especially when you turn off your headlamp and it is pitch black. It was really a unique experience. Sadly, we couldn’t bring in cameras as they would have been destroyed, so you will just have to go for yourself! (Or, I suppose, you could google it.) We hired some locals to drive us around this giant park by motorbike. They used to work in the region but lost their jobs as a result of this becoming a national park so it was nice to be able to contribute a bit to their livelihood. The drive itself was a highlight, as the scenery is constantly amazing, with so many rice fields and farmers working in their cone-shaped straw hats, tilling the fields. The guides were really friendly and riding on a motorbike is super fun, so I would highly recommend doing this over an organized tour bus.
As with every stop so far in this country, I wasn’t ready to leave yet, but we had to move on. Next up was Hue, which was the former capital, during the Nguyen dynasty. We visited the thing to visit, which is the ancient citadel, former royal city that is now a tourist mecca of temples and assembly rooms, many of which are crumbling or being restored due to bombing during the American war. It was indeed interesting and every building is incredibly ornate in design, patterned with mosaics and guarded by gold or rock dragons and turtles. It was a hot day, as they all are now, in the south, and we took a rest for some lemonade in the elaborate gardens. Aside from the citadel, you can leave the city to explore tombs and pagodas in the nearby countryside, but we decided to continue on south, knowing that there would be much more culture ahead.
And, again, the food: ❤