Restock in Bangkok
This will be my third blog that I will have penned in Bangkok, which has become a bit of a safehaven in between all my crazy travels. It gives me time to reflect and to gather myself for the next leg, it gives me a chance to have my hair cut, have a facial and interact with fellow South Africans, of which I have not met one single one in the last two months traversing Cambodia, Laos or Vietnam (do South Africans not travel, or was I just on a road less travelled?)
Although I like to remain flexible as to destinations and time frames, I had committed myself to fly back to Bangkok from Ho Chi Minh City on the 4th of September, so as to meet with my friend Anthea who was coming to Thailand on a family holiday, and who had agreed to bring my stash of chronic meds for the two months I had decided to extend my trip by. All of a sudden I realized that this would only give me 2 weeks in Vietnam, which meant I had to prioritize which parts of Vietnam I wanted to see.
I was not going to make it up north to Sapa due to my own stupidity and after seeing Nam Phong’s recent FB pictures (of which I have stolen one – thanks Phong!) that omission did disappoint me. Nam Phong was our brilliant tour guide that took us through this beautiful country 2 years ago.
Vinh was forgettable, but enroute to Hoi An I saw that my trusted Lonely Planet recommended the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, where they had only very recently discovered the largest cave system in the world, and after reading glowing reviews on Trip Advisor I hopped on to the Hanoi – Ho Ci Minh train, got off at Dong Hoi and spent three nights at the delightful Phong Nha Farmstay, run by an ex-pat Aussie, Ben, his Vietnamese wife Bich and his team of League of Nations helpers.
This was my kind of place!! Of the three nights there, two of the evenings they showed appropriate movies like “Good Morning Vietnam” (particularly poignant after Robin Williams recent death) and “The Quiet American”, which you watched lying on a chaise, beer in hand under the stars. Bliss!
There were also a whole lot of excursions into the caves on offer, and people had raved about the Paradise Caves on Trip Advisor, and I was assured that it was suitable for any age group and any fitness level, and I felt confident that if I strapped up my ankle and with help of my trusted walking pole I should manage just fine. Yeah, right!! This sure tested my comfort zone to its limit!
The first kilometer or so was open to the general public, and was spectacular, after which our little group of ten set off with our headlamps into the dark depths of this 25 km cave system.