We divided our second day in Phong Nha Town between visiting the Phong Nha cave by boat and cycling in the picturesque Bong Lai Valley.
The trip to Phong Nha Cave
Phong Nha cave visitor centre was just a few hundred meters from our hotel. This large, half submerged cave is accessible only by boat. The price is paid per boat, not per person so we found a couple of people in the queue who were willing to share the cost of the boat. We ended up filling the 14-seater boat up almost completely.
As it was a working day, there weren’t that many boats around. The ride on the river was quite pleasant as we could enjoy expansive views at the sharp-edged, green mountains. We also passed by a village with a lovely yellow church and a large Christian cemetery.
Paddling through the Phong Nha Cave
Once we arrived at the cave, the boat driver switched off the engine and started using a long pole to propel it. He also folded up the roof which allowed us to see the ceiling of the cave and even to stand up to take the photos. The cave was jaw-dropping: beautifully illuminated, fantastically formed enormous stalagmites were rising straight out of the water. We were slowly moving up the river in the dim light and relative silence. It was magical.
On the way back, the boat moored at a little sandy beach inside the cave. We walked up, along the stalagmites and stalactites and looked at the cave from a higher vantage point.
Once we left the cave, we had an option of going to one more cave located a bit higher up. As were quite satisfied with all we had seen so far, we decided to save some money on that one.
Cycling in Bong Lai valley
We still had plenty of time until the night bus to Hanoi so we haggled to rent bicycles for half a day. We decided to cycle to the nearby Bong Lai valley. We took the highway out of town. The road was almost empty and the views at the karst rocks were quite impressive.
We turned right at some point and followed the signs to the places which became fashionable among backpackers, such as the Pub with Cold Beer. The dirt road was quite pleasant to ride on but visiting various trendy places to eat and drink wasn’t our cup of tea.
Particularly catching, killing and eating your own chicken didn’t sound like fun at all. The pub offering this dubious attraction was famous also for free tubing on the river. As it turned out, the river was really muddy, shallow and very hot so swimming there would be completely pointless. Perhaps it was a seasonal activity. Sayak stopped at that pub for a very overpriced beer before we carried on along the river.
There was a pack of buffaloes bathing in the river which looked quite idyllic. We crossed a narrow, one -way bridge and got to a village with a pretty yellow church. The other side of the river was less frequented by tourists and we enjoyed that ride even more.
We took a road parallel to the one we came from and after a steep ascent we approached the highway. Instead of entering the highway, we rode underneath it. We checked the google maps and saw that lovely little road would take us all the way to Phong Nha town. It was a much more pleasant ride along the river and through villages.
Somewhere on the way, we watched grazing cows with the silhouettes of the karst rocks in the background. We returned to Phong Nha Town around sunset, very satisfied with the day.
Getting out of Phong Nha Town
Our hostel’s owners let us have a shower even though we checked out in the morning, It was a real blessing after hours of cycling in the heat.
All the buses out of Phong Nha Town ply the route at night and our bus to Hanoi was no exception. We bought the ticket through our hostel (checking the competitors prices first).
The time of the expected arrival had come but there was no sign of bus. There were plenty of buses of other companies parked one after the other on the same road.
Finally, our company’s bus arrived, too. The lady from our hotel took us by the hand and tried to push us inside the bus but failed. We had to come back to the hotel and wait for the second bus of the same company. Finally, after at least one hour delay, the bus to Hanoi arrived and we got on board.
How to get to Phong Nha Town?
Only tourist sleeper buses, including the open ticket buses reach Phong Nha Town. It takes 10-11h from Hanoi and 5h to Hue.
Prices [in Vietnamese dong as of August 2018]
250 000 ticket to Paradise Cave
208 000 double en-suite room with AC, without window, breakfast included
190 000 ticket to Phong Nha Cave
180 000 sleeper bus Phong Nha Town to Hanoi
140 000 sleeper bus Hue to Phong Nha Town
100 000 motorbike rental for one day
75 000 full tank of petrol
42 000 entrance to Phong Nha Botanical Gardens
35-45 000 cheapest meal in a restaurant in Phong Nha Town
30 000 bicycle rental for half a day