Discover Phong Nha Vietnam in our series called Outside my Front Door. Outside my Front Door is a series of posts by fellow travel bloggers who share what is … outside of their own front door.
Lesh and Jazza from NOMADasaurus are travel writers and photographers who have been wandering the world together since 2008. Their current trip will take them backpacking overland from Thailand to South Africa without using any air transport. By documenting their exciting adventures and inspirational experiences, Lesh and Jazza aim to promote sustainable, long-term adventure travel on a budget.
Phong Nha, Vietnam
After one year of riding motorcycles around Southeast Asia, they have found a temporary home in Phong Nha, Vietnam while they prepare to tackle China, Central Asia and the Middle East throughout 2015.
Chilli, our roommate’s golden labrador, excitedly weaves in between my legs as I reach for the handle. She is just as excited as I am to walk out our front door. With a twist and a pull, Chilli bursts through the opening as sunlight spills into our downstairs living room. As my eyes adjust to the sudden brightness, I can make out shadows casting across the driveway from the towering karst mountains in front of our house. My nostrils tingle with the fragrance of fresh morning glory growing in our neighbour’s front yard. The only sound to be heard is Chilli scuffling amongst the garden as she sniffs her way through the morning dew.
House sit in Phong Nha, Vietnam
Our house sits on the edge of the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Since 2003 the park has had the honour of being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Comprising an area of 85’754 hectares, and housing 104km of caves and underground rivers (including Hang Son Doong – the world’s largest cave), this is one of the most spectacular karst ecosystems in the world.
Exploring Phong Nha, Vietnam
I take a few steps past my ageing, Chinese-built 110cc motorcycle and step onto our street, Highway 20. Despite its “highway” status, the one-lane wide pavement is completely void of vehicular traffic. Instead I hear a deep groaning to my left, and I turn to see a family of buffalo slowly trudging their way in my direction. I step back to avoid a hilarious collision, and allow them to pass. The buffalo seem unfazed by my presence.
I spin to the right and start walking towards the Son River, less than 100m from my house. The sun has now risen high above the jungled limestone cliffs surrounding us, and the moisture gathered on the fringing trees glistens in the vivid light. My neighbour, Dzung, is loading up his Honda scooter with various agricultural tools. He is about to head into the forest to begin his day’s work. I call out a cheerful “Hello” – Xin chao in Vietnamese – and he returns the greeting, accompanied with a beaming smile.
As I reach the end of the road I have two options. I could turn south and walk towards the edge of town. More buffalo, and a herd of cows will meet me as they wander amongst terraced rice fields and overgrown shrubs. At the end of the road lies the Phong Nha Cave, from which the Son River flows through. There over 44km of caverns and passages snake their way into the earth decorated with goliath stalactites and stalagmites. During the American War this cave was used as a fully equipped hospital to treat wounded soldiers from the invader’s daily bombings. Now it is a major tourist attraction. But instead of walking towards the cave, today I will head north.
I wander past Ho Khanh’s Homestay on my left. Ho Khanh fortunately discovered Hang Son Doong in 1991 while he was working in the jungle. Today he assists caving experts in exploring other limestone caverns in the region. His homestay also makes the best chocolate coffee I have ever tasted. At the bargain price of $1, it is hard to resist.
Yet resist I do, and I continue my walk north, heading towards Phong Nha town. Mothers walk out of their houses, holding young children in their arms. Catching their eye, I yell out “xin chao”. Almost like a ritual, the mothers repeatedly grab their child’s hand and wave it at me, urging them to say hello back. They are unsure of me, but over time they are becoming more familiar with a foreigner wandering the streets. It has only been 5 years since touristsfirst started visiting Phong Nha, and it is still a novel scene for the youth of the area.
Passing a small wooden Catholic church, I keep an eye out for a rumoured restaurant that supposedly serves an amazing noodle soup, known as pho. As expected, I see a nondescript building teeming with locals. This must be the place.
Stepping through the door a chorus of xin chaos echo off the spartan concrete walls. I return the greeting and take a seat on a low-lying plastic chair. A well-dressed lady, perhaps in her 30s, walks over to take my order, despite there being only one thing on the menu. In my poorly pronounced Vietnamese I point and request what everyone else is having. “Not a problem, it would be my pleasure” is the response, while she pours me a green tea. At least that’s what I interpret it as.
I don’t have to wait long for my meal to be delivered. Only part of the way through my refreshing tea the pho is delivered to me along with a plate of steaming fried spring rolls. Hunger pangs overwhelming, I give a sincere “cam on” (thank you), and begin devouring the noodles with my much-practiced chopstick technique.
Each mouthful is more delectable than the last and within what feels like only moments, every last drop of broth has vanished from my bowl. “Hang gap lai” I call, see you later, as I walk out the open door, leaving the Vietnamese equivalent of $1.50 on the table to pay for my meal.
Past the grinning children I go, and their curiosity still has not wavered. “Hang gap lai”, and I move rapidly back to Ho Khanh’s. A chocolate coffee will be the perfect way to top off the breakfast. I take a seat on a bamboo chair and stare up at the cumulous clouds rolling high above the mountains. Lofty trees glow vibrant hues of green as the sun’s rays bounce off their broad leaves. If it weren’t for the pleasantly old-fashion village placed in the middle of the national park, where my front door casually opens up to, I would believe I had awoken in a real-life Jurassic Park. Replace the dinosaurs with cows and buffalo, and I wouldn’t be far off the comparison. Follow their journey on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram