“Hello-Hello-Hello!”, boating into Phong Nha Cave, getting lost in rural Vietnam, and keepaway from the villagers

Our second day in Phong Nha was again one of my favorite experiences in SE Asia.  We started out with a bike ride through some of the rural village areas around Son Trach village.  Here is a little video of the surrounding rice paddy.

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We stopped by a local man’s wood shop and found that safety standards are not quite the same in SE Asia as they are in the U.S.

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The kids in these rural villages loved running out to greet us on the road while frantically yelling the one word they know in English – “Hello!”  Since its the only word they know and they want to be more conversational, in place of “Hello, nice to meet you!”, it is usually “Hello! Hello! Hello! Hello! Hello! Hello! Hello! Hello! Hello! Hello! Hello! Hello!”  I’ve never heard more “hello”s in one day in my life.  Occasionally you get the one other phrase they know – “What is your name?” but most just stick to “hello”.  I tried to do my best and tell them hello in their own language – “Sin Chau”.  Either way it’s a pleasant exchange.  Click here for a video of me riding by some of these happy local kids.

With good there is always some bad.  In addition to “hello!” many of these local kids have been taught to say “Money?”  This is true of many kids from poor villages around SE Asia.  And while you’d think giving them money might be a good thing – after all, $1 would mean a lot more to this child’s family than it does me – you’d be wrong.  Giving them money will allow the child to feel more comfortable with dropping out of school and becoming a beggar, hustler or scammer.  When you hand them money their thought becomes “who needs an education when you can simply hold out your hand for a living?”

After passing through the villages we again headed for Phong Nha Park.

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We would be visiting Phong Nha’s namesake cave, Phong Nha Cave, which is only accessible by boat.  A fleet of boats awaited our arrival.

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The boat ride was cramped but better than the bus ride from Hue to the Farmstay.

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Local villagers used boats to pull seaweed (which they would serve later that day) out of the riverbed.  I was stuck next to the choppy sounding motor – click here to get a feel for the boat ride and listen to what I listened to for about 45 minutes.

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Some kids played on and in some heavy machinery on the riverbank.

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Eventually Phong Nha Cave appeared in the distance.  The video shows the approach and entrance to the cave. Due to regulation they killed the motor right as we entered the cave.

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Its initially low hanging ceilings were just high enough that Ben didn’t need to duck.

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We docked at the back of the cave and went up to see some Cham graffiti left from hundreds years ago.

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The Cham was an early empire that ruled Vietnam and apparently some of its minority ethnic villagers that lived in Phong Nha left behind some chicken scratch on the walls of Phong Nha Cave – it wasn’t too impressive as the picture probably reflects.

Joe Cham was here

Joe Cham was here

Besides the graffiti Phong Nha is another beautiful cave.  Rainbow lights set up around the cave reflect off the water from the boat.

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We took another boat ride and docked again, giving us a chance to explore the biggest part of the cave.  This video shows our view right as we walked up the slope of the cave.

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If you can see the person in the lower left part of the below picture you can get a sense for the scale of the cave.

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 It was another big cave – this video does a pretty good job of showing that.

Like Paradise Cave, massive stalagmites and stalactites shoot up and down in random places of Phong Nha Cave.

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The picture above shows an interesting circle of stalagmites and this video shows the dripping coming down the middle of them.

The unnatural colorful lighting is a great enhancement for the experience.

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Another video to show you some more of this great color.  The tallest part of the cave was probably at least 150 meters high.

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The stalactites meet the stalagmite about 75 meters up, in the above picture on the left and in the below picture on the right

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As you hike around Phong Nha Cave you eventually get back to the boat entrance.

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At one point we found a stalactite that Ben had to hold to prevent the cave from collapsing.

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We then made our way out of the cave.

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Two large nests were attached to the rock right above the cave’s mouth.  Do not disturb.

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The ride back to the boat dock was pleasant just like the ride to the cave.

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A friendly seaweed collector gave us a friendly we waved as she passed.

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Once we got back to the docks we grabbed some lunch and biked around the town a little bit.  Click here for a little sample – there were some “roadblocks” in the road. 

We eventually made our way across the Son River.

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From the bridge we could see rice paddy and locals busy at work.

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Click here to see Ben hitch a ride from a passing moto as we finished crossing the bridge – definite speed booster. 

We continued our bike ride into some more rural villages and naturally we got lost at some point.  While we struggled to communicate with the local adults a young girl bashfully approached us and told us she could speak a bit of English.  Her mother stood by, full of pride, as their young daughter proceeded to communicate to us the directions to the ferry we sought.  People that speak English are rare out in these rural parts of Vietnam so for this girl’s mother this moment made every English class she paid for worth it.

English speaking is a major asset over here.  Much easier to make a sale, get a job, you name it.  If you can communicate with the English speaking American, European, and Australian travelers over here, you’re money making ability goes up tenfold.

The night before at the Farmstay a local girl had come to the common hall simply to work on her English with the backpackers lounging there.  Kim was nice enough to patiently give the girl an hour’s worth of English lesson. Many times the younger Vietnamese students can read and write but speaking and hearing spoken English is the real challenge.  This local girl told Kim she wants to get better at English so she can someday be a tour operator in Phong Nha.  Smart girl – I hope she masters English and in twenty-five years when I come back she can give me another tour.

We eventually made it to the ferry where we would need to get back across Son River to get back to the Farmstay.

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We joined a couple school girls, one of whom was FBI in training, and made the ride across.   Click here for a video.

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After our ferry ride as we rode our bikes back to the Farmstay we witnessed a bullfight but not the Spanish kind.  Two bulls were going at it in one of the villager’s yards.  Not sure why but I’ve never seen two bulls but it out before.  This is surprising considering I am from Iowa.  Click here for a video – at the end the local farmer boy tries to run in stop them, but he doesn’t get too close. Neither would I.

Ben took a quick dip in the pool at the Farmstay to cool down after the bike ride.

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A shot of the pool I took later that night.

While we still had sunlight we decided to head back out to the village courtyard where we had played frisbee two nights earlier.  Sure enough a gaggle of kids were there and wanted to join our game.  Ben and I decided to make them earn it, turning our game of catch into a game of keep away with the kids.

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I took a few videos of our game – these kids were into it and they had way more energy than I did. The first video especially shows their youthful exuberance better than I could ever describe it.   The third video shows me almost running into some cows…Did not realize they had gotten this close to our game.

[KEEPAWAY VIDEO 1]       [KEEPAWAY VIDEO 2]         [KEEPAWAY VIDEO 3]

These kids were getting creative too.  At one point a kid set up a bicycle halfway between Ben and I, climbed his way up and stood on top of the bicycle seat to give him an extra height advantage.  I was genuinely surprised when he was able to launch himself of the seat of the bike and nearly block a throw that I had intentionally made higher to avoid him.  Cudos kid, you tried it with gusto.

After our game of keepaway ended we headed back towards the Farmstay.

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It was nice to sip a beer while watching the sunset over the rice paddy.

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