My backyard's a national park - and yours?
Trip Start Sep 29, 2010
149Trip End Dec 23, 2011
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Where I stayed
Phong Nha Farmstay
When I rode through Phong Nha yesterday and by chance met Phil and Ben, and made the decision to stay at Phong Nha Homestay, I couldn't really know that it was going to lead to one of the most memorable days of my trip. But I had the feeling that at least it would lead to something. I went to check out Ben's place on a whim, a "why not". I stayed because of the day trip Ben said he could take me on the next day through the nearby national park, and to see a newly opened cave. Now, he never mentioned a price, and at $35 it was an expensive "just forgot", and I definitely called him on it last night. Nevertheless, after thinking it over, I figured it would be worth the money. I could ride for another week without meeting anybody who could take me out on a ride through exclusive terrain, and if it really was going to be only us, then the experience was worth the money
Ben and I took off this morning just after 9am and headed towards Phong Nha. We first had to head into the national park head office, where he must have spent at least 15 minutes just talking to the management while I waited outside, getting permission to go inside the park with me. After that, we got to the entrance to the park, where even with a signed ticket he had to argue with the ranger guard that we had permission to enter and to let us through. I had actually taken out my camera to take a photo of the crossing barrier, and he said to put it away, because if they saw it they'd never let us in. It may be a protected area according to the Vietnamese government and UNESCO, but not everything here is above table. If we came in to take pictures of any illegal activity that we might see and spread it around, they'd lose their UNESCO heritage status and, in fact, the illegal activity would get worse. Turning a blind eye to it actually helps, because the more tourists that come through, the more they have to cut down on any illegal activities are still happening. Ben says he's seen a bunch of stuff the times he's come through, but there was nothing I noticed. It was just a beautifully pristine piece of nature, and except for staff and a few locals we had the park to ourselves, and what an amazing ride it was
The road through the park is incredibly well kept up, as it's an important supply route for the Vietnamese in case - get this - China ever attacks Vietnam. Apparently Vietnam is convinced China wants to attack it for its natural resources, so they make sure this road (highway 20) is in top shape. There were huge floods in this area in October, and when they were over the government had loads of men and equipment in to repair it. It is also the most bombed road on the planet, as it is runs right near the old Ho Chi Minh Trail. Apparently there are UXOs all over Ke Bang park and they are still uncovering loads of them to this day. No danger for us on the road though, and we cruised all around the park through thick jungle up mountain passes. We barely passed anybody, and certainly no foreigners. The pictures I have do not do this place justice!
After the morning's ride, we got to Paradise Cave. The cave was only discovered in 2005 by a local, and was only opened to the public on December 24, 2010. I was literally the only tourist there, Vietnamese or otherwise, and it is incredibly well developed. The cave is absolutely enormous and all lit up, not to mention with an excellent staircase and boardwalk running through it. No difficulty in going through, so all you have to do is enjoy the views. Some of the halls in this cave are 100m wide and high, with incredible formations all around, the biggest ones I've seen in any cave so far. It was easy to take pictures as every way you looked the view was incredible and totally stunning.
After the cave, Ben and I headed further into the park to have lunch on an eco-walk along a beautiful river
The ride out of the park was truly the best for last. The scenery was just amazing, rice paddies covered in fog with mountains in behind. I barely took any pictures because they all looked like crap compared to what I was looking at. I just have to keep the images in my mind, and those will become my memories.
This was, without a doubt, one of the coolest things I have done on this trip. The feeling of riding through a huge piece of land on perfect road (well, most of the time anyways) is pretty unparalleled. For anyone who is travelling this part of the world, a stay with Ben at Phong Nha Farmstay is well, well worth it and the ride you'll go on with him will be one of the most amazing experiences of your life. Go for it!
I'm heading out tomorrow, going further up North to who knows where. Hopefully somewhere where I can keep you all updated, because I've got a lot more to write about now!
More pictures, and these ones are amazing, especially the ones from Phong Nha and the amazing trip through Ke Bang National Park!
Phong Nha: http://picasaweb.google.com/keith.m.martin/RoadTripDay2PhongNha02?authkey=Gv1sRgCIKMuqalvc-FzgE#
Phong Nha (Ke Bang): http://picasaweb.google.com/keith.m.martin/Day3PhongNhaRideThroughKeBang?authkey=Gv1sRgCMLx9tiR0NXuag#