Day 14 – Phong Nha to Ky Anh – 110KM

27 04 2012

Morning was brought to my attention by a huge thunderclap over Phong Nha. The heavens had opened, spilling forth it’s watery contents all over the sleepy town. Whilst Phong Nha is a small place, it is dramatically flanked by huge cliffs towering over the town. The green of the ferns and trees sparsely covering the cliffs screamed in HD colour against the slate grey sky. My tired and gritty eyes appreciated the contrast, but my ears did not ! I grabbed a quick coffee and skipped breakfast as the schedule was tight today.

Half of the day was taken by a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site ‘Phong Nha Cave’, and ‘Fairy Cave’. This was probably number two on my Vietnam bucket list. Access to the caves is only by boat, so I joined a Vietnamese family group from Da Nang and began our journey. As we slowly pushed off into the Son River, the lazy diesel engine quietly started and we were off. The boat’s gentle motion sent me to sleep like a baby. I awoke to snap a picture of two guys collecting weeds from the river.

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The scenery was truly magnificent, and made more dramatic by the mist hugging the mountain tops.

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Falling back asleep, I woke just as we reached the mouth of the Phong Nha cave. I was unprepared for the surreal experience that came next. The engine was cut, and the ‘skipper’ began to row in. Now I must mention that the majority of the crew and skippers on these tourist boats are women. Their upper body strength must be incredible to row a boat that is probably 9m long.

We glided silently into the darkness. Occasionally large rock formations would be illuminated by different colour lights. What made it more strange was the sheer amount of tourist boats all rowing silently past. It was like a conveyor belt for boats. Reaching the end of the system we were able to get out and take a walk around. It was a perilous experience, and my Hi-Tec Magnums were not the best at gripping. So with a sandy bottom our group explored the system.

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Leaving Phong Nha Cave, we began an arduous climb to Fairy Cave. At this point I was extremely glad that it was raining because I was sweating like the proverbial stuck pig. The steps were relentless and not exactly even in height. They ranged from a few centimeters to nearly a meter in height. It made the going really tough, especially with the wet and slippy floor. However the view over the river was breathtaking…or perhaps that was just the exercise ? I was annoyed by the vendors selling postcards, ice creams, and even plastercast busts of Ho Chi Minh every 20m.

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Thankfully we got to Fairy Cave without the requirement for oxygen or a defibrillator. Great Success ! I got slapped on the shoulder by an old woman in there, and another woman simply said ‘Marry Me’. You could at least buy me a drink first my dear !

I was thrown together by circumstance with the Nghia family group. However they made every effort to make me feel welcome. They shared their lunch with me in Fairy Cave, and it was a very tasty chicken sandwich. I really appreciated their openness and generosity, and it made me think back to sharing a picnic with a group of plastic surgeons in Busan, South Korea. This kindness and generosity is why I love Asia.

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Making our way out of the cave, we again had to run the gauntlet of vendors. They were rather more insistent this time, and my politeness wore thin. At one point one vendor was walking alongside waving a bag of sweet corn in my face. Unscathed we got back onto the boat. Definitely feeling more tired now, I woke again to a corn cob being waved in my face. The Nghia family had bought some and again shared it with me. It was lovely too, warm tasty and filling. Once we reached shore I bought them coffee to say thank you for their kindness. We had a nice conversation and they practised their English, which is better than my Vietnamese.

Time was again of the essence so after a quick fishy hot pot, we hit the road. Following Ho Chi Minh’s road again towards Ky Anh. Now Rat Bike has started to develop some more serious issues. The battery has all but died and refuses to charge. So I have to start it on the kick start, which is no big deal as I like ‘retro’. However it is running rather badly, coughing and spluttering then kicking back into life. It’s made riding Rat Bike a little less enjoyable today.

The weather had cleared so we made our way up into the hills toward National Highway One. Pausing to reconnect with our bottoms on the border of Quang Tri province, I snapped a picture of a faded Vietcong sign. Those who have been reading my journey will know that I am sucker for these. I love the form and faded nature of this propaganda. What was the message that the sign purveyed ? What issues affected the people at it’s time ? It’s abandoned nature is beautiful.

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The scenery behind the sign was beautiful too !

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Reaching National Highway One, and after being briefly insulted by a Pump Attendant we continued north. I was really beginning to struggle due to exhaustion at this point. I could feel my eyes beginning to roll in my head, and the sickly dizzy feeling that accompanies it. Not good when you consider the HGV’s screaming past/towards you a meter or so away.

After several coffee breaks we reached Ky Anh. First impressions were not good. It’s situated right on Highway 1, which is a deafening and dusty cacophony of horns and engines. As I stopped I saw a bus driving past with it’s passenger door open. A guy standing in the door way blatantly urinating off the bus, virtually into the face of a female rider. I am not easily shocked, but that’s just disgusting. Welcome to Ky Anh !

We didn’t have a hotel booked and checked a couple of guest houses in the area. The first one Toan came out looking ashen faced. He said “Many spiders in that room, not good”. The second and better of the two has mould on the walls. The best part is the half chewed bathroom door. It looks like a dog has gone to town and literally chewed the bottom 10cm of the door away. Then we have the electric breaker switches next to the shower. Finally we have the din from Highway 1. Very dez rez !!

Dinner was a simple Pho Bo (beef). It came with free insults from the chef, and him telling Toan that I should go to the local whorehouse !

If circumstance forces you to pass through Ky Anh, for the love of whatever deity you choose KEEP DRIVING !

Nothing exciting on the things carried on motorbikes today.

Tomorrow – Ky Anh to Vinh.

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