Photo Credit: Victoria Reynolds-Cocroft
I thought best to combine Dong Hoi and Phong Nha as for me Dong Hoi only serviced as a stopover for me to get to Phong Nha. Upon talking to other backpackers however, I don’t believe there is much there, tourist-wise. Everything on trip advisor for Dong Hoi was about getting a tour to Phong Nha.
Where to stay in Dong Hoi!
I stayed at a hostel called Buffalo hostel and it was great. It served its purposes, was clean, a nice bar and restaurant downstairs and a nice atmosphere. I arrived super early off a train at about 4am and I had read that buffalo had 24hr check in, and so as soon as i got there, my taxi driver woke the staff up and I was given a bed straight away. This was such a relief as I was super exhausted after making the mistake of booking a hard bench seat…
Transport from Dong Hoi to Phong Nha!
For 30,000DONG you can get a bus to Phong Nha. The bus departs from Dong Hoi at 05h30, 06h00 and then every hour until 17h00. I just asked Ky from the Buffalo Hostel and she said it picks me up right out the front of the hostel.
Where to stay in Phong Nha!
I stayed at Easy Tiger in Phong Nha and it was as great as I expected. I mean it was a little busy and full on for a solo backpacker like myself, but I managed to make friends in my dorm and tour groups so I didn’t have to confront the swarms of people in the restaurant and bar alone. It has an awesome pool, hammocks, pool table, Foosball tables, a bar/restaurant and loads of common areas to hang out. It is a bit dearer than a lot of backpackers would prefer to pay but I would prefer to spend a little more to have a good time. I don’t understand being stingy to the point that you don’t enjoy your time! The facilities are clean, and the air con works well when organised efficiently (leave the door shut for a few hours and you’ll walk back in to serenity!).
NOTE: If you are planning on staying at easy tiger, make sure you make a reservation prior (must be done by email) as it tends to book up pretty quickly.
I have a few friends whom stayed at Gecko Hostel. This is just down the road from easy tiger so they were able to come spend time in our bar also. The rooms are much cheaper at Gecko and the bar there is quite nice. No pool though 😉
What to do in Phong Nha!
Phong Nha is most renowned for its caves and national park. You are able to organise the caving yourself, however as a solo traveller I wanted to do it with a tour group to meet a new bunch of people. Overall I’d say the tour was more expensive than it was worth it. I did the Discovery National Park Tour through Easy Tiger. At 1,350,000 it was quite dear! (I also know a few people that did dark cave independently and it is much cheaper.)
We were taken to the 8 Ladies Cave (Hang Tam Co), the highway 20 War martyrs memorial (both very small parts of the tour), paradise cave and then the dark cave. Lunch also included (quite a nice lunch too!). Paradise cave was awesome, and the temperature inside really was paradise after the heat outside in Phong Nha weather! Dark cave however was definitely the highlight. Now the idea of wading through mud was not something I thought I would enjoy at all, but I really did! We zip-lined across the water to get to the cave and then swam to a wooden walkway to enter the cave. Following our guide we were taken through the cave to the entrance of the mud bath type area. As I walked in, I saw loads of people walking out covered in mud and I was thinking WHAT ON EARTH HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO! I’m not a princess, I just didn’t see the fun in it! UNTIL, I was told by the people that were in there just to swim out. Turns out, you have a strange level of buoyancy in mud, causing you to float! It was the absolute strangest experience I have had. Put your legs one way and you topple yourself over very easy, so so so strange! But quite enjoyable all the same! Afterwards, you walk to a fresh water area to wash off the mud, then back down the wooden walkway exciting the cave. We then kayaked back to the other side of the water and the choice to partake in a few water activities. The tour finished with some rum and coke, which is always a nice way to end a day!
Where to eat!
The next day, with a strong hangover from a solid night a few of the solo backpackers from the hostel decided we wanted to go to this place that many backpackers were talking about called ‘The Pub With Cold Beer’. Now the apparent draw card to this place was the fact that you can kill your own chicken for lunch (don’t let this deter your vegetarians, its a nice place to hang out anyway). I wasn’t into this, but I decided to tag along anyway. We ended up getting a nice bunch of solo travellers to head down there. We hired scooters from the place next to easy tiger as recommended to us by the easy tiger staff, we were also given a map with the directions to the pub. Now if you haven’t ridden a scooter, get on the back of someone else because it is a bit of a challenging ride. I mean, I absolutely loved it, especially the added challenge of someone on the back. The last few kms of the trip are down sandy paths loaded in potholes, but that just makes it more fun, right?! I was the only one in our group who refused to go watch the chicken massacre, I prefer to feign oblivious. I know that’s awful but I hate the idea of murdering the poor animal even though that’s something I have to deal with being a meat eater. The meal was quite good though, loads of food, chicken, vegetables, rice and peanut sauce – YUM!
Travellers! Tell me your Dong Hoi/Phong Nha highlights! 🙂
I hope you’ll stick around and follow me on my adventure,
The Virgin Backpacker xx
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