NICOLE HURRR. As Annie has been breaking down every detail and moment of our trip so far, we should have a round of applause, for 1) her photographic memory and 2) for being able to write so damn much and being so good at it. But for now, I am guest appearing to break down my experience in Phong Nha, Vietnam. For a little refresher, Phong Nha consists of the world’s most beautiful caves, Paradise Cave and Dark Cave. Paradise Cave is the world’s second largest cave, while Dark Cave is what I like to call a playhouse for big kids/tourists like us, who will find amusement in just about anything. I had heard so many amazing things about these caves there was no way I was going to miss out on this, especially since it's only a four hour bus ride from Hue. Because we only had one day to explore we only had time to fit in one cave, so we chose Dark Cave. Paradise Cave is known for its ginormous beauty and natural wonder, while Dark Cave requires more physical activity - I was like bring.it.on, let the playing begin. But before this wonderful adventure occurred, we almost didn't make it because of some little thing called alcohol. Ugh.
It was about 6:30 am Tuesday morning when Grace’s phone's first alarm went off. Our bus from Hue to Phong Nha was scheduled to leave at 8 am, but because we went out the night before we figured it would be smart to set it earlier. This was when I realized that planning ahead still wouldn’t have prevented us from throwing all of our shit into our backpacks, scrambling around in the dark for any missed items, and sprinting down the street to our bus. But lets be real, going out the night before in Hue was worth it.
Recap of night before: Me, Daniel, and Grace met a fellow Californian at the hostel who of course was super chill and cool. But because it was Lady Boy night at the hostel, we decided to leave and go somewhere quaint so we could actually sit, talk, and casually drink. Well, we were wrong, SO WRONG. We ended up walking into what we thought was a mellow local bar in an alley, but instead we were greeted by “Welcome Shots” at the front door, and then another welcome shot at the bar. It was a dream, so many free shots. But of course when you realize two shots aren't enough, I thought it would be a good idea to keep walking in and out of the front door through out the night to receive more and it actually worked. Booooooom. Ok back to our greeting of welcome shots, we then found out it was buy one drink, get one free for happy hour. Bye Nicole, Bye Grace, Bye Daniel. Soon after, me and Grace were dancing with all of the locals and fist pumping to god knows what, while Daniel was fancying his new friend at the bar. Me and Grace didn’t end up leaving the bar until 4 am, where we met up with an intoxicated Daniel back at the hostel. He was stressing about his Ying and Yang charm bracelet he bought earlier in Hoi An. He was so torn whether or not he should give the Ying to his new lover, or the Yang. It was a legitimate dilemma and needed advice. Advice shortly turned into quiet snoring and Grace's alarm clock beeping early the next morning.
It was now 8 am Tuesday morning where Anika, Daniel, Grace, and I were the last ones to board the bus. I regret being the very last person because I ended up being the one to sit in the fold up chair in the middle of the aisle because the bus was completely full...so unfortunate. Especially while nursing a hangover. But thankfully I had my headphones and Drizzy. The bus took about 4 hours until we reached our resting point, aka our food stop. We were guided into a restaurant and tables filled with food. It was food galore. Fried spring rolls and Morning Glory with rice were raining everywhere, and it was at that point when my eyes were graced by a beautiful plate of french fries. Mind you, this circular table sat 9 people and had a revolving table top. Throughout our lunch, I was pretty much DJing the table because all I wanted were the fries to be front of me at all times. Unfortunately the fries were quite the hot commodity, but I remembered how much our tour guide loved us so I asked him for another plate of fries and my DJing continued. After my amazing set, we were finally on our way to explore Dark Cave. As soon as we arrived, we jumped off the bus and got fitted for our harnesses, caving helmet, and life jackets. We were all so giddy and giggly as we power-walked up to the light house where our adventure began. For me, this was my first time zip-lining and I was actually really nervous. Thoughts of falling began to stream through my head, but then I realized it was cool because if I were to fall, I would be falling into a beautiful turquoise river. As I jumped into thin air, I was in immediate awe by the stunning view. All I could do was move my head from side to side and laugh, up until the very end when I realized my harness was literally digging into my vagina. Talk about timing, but just as I came to this realization, my speed slowly became slower and slower and I was eventually stopped mid zip-line. I started yelling at the guy to get me back, but because he didn’t understand English he just watched and laughed. It was until then I had to scream NO, VAGINA, HURT, BAD, to get him to throw a rope to me to drag me in. Ten minutes later, I sprinted into the water and picked my wedgie, laughing and watching while the same thing happened to Grace. Daniel was sitting and whining about his leg touching the water because of a large wound he got from his motorbike accident. It was inevitable he was about to get his leg wet and filled with gross 200 year old mud that thousands of other tourists have sulked in.
Our journey began as we swam inside the cave to a sand bank. We hiked inside the cave (which was in complete darkness, hence its name 'Dark Cave') with nothing but our helmets lights across very narrow, tight spaces. The cave was slimy, middy, and gooey, everything I imagined Nickelodeon slime to be. Everyone was giggling and laughing as we stepped deeper and deeper into the mud, as massive fart sounds were coming from every direction echoing against the cave walls. Fart noises and mud slapping against peoples bodies quickly turned to cheering once we reached the mud pool. The mud pool was waist deep allowing us to lay and sit perfectly in it as if there was no gravity. It honestly felt as if I was floating in an enormous pool of Nutella. It was so creamy and thick that I was actually getting hungry just thinking about what I would do if I were to be sitting in one with a giant bucket of strawberries. Please... imagine that for a second. The tour guide told all of us to turn off our helmet lights so we could all sit in complete darkness. It was creepy and amazing all at the same time. In the mean time, me, Grace, and Anika decided to entertain ourselves by putting mud all over our faces. Now that I reflect back on this, I have no idea where Daniel was at the time since we couldn't see anything. Sorry Daniel. Eventually this whole mud mask on our faces turned bad, when Grace poured a handful of mud onto my face, blinding me and suffocating my mouth. All I could do was sit in the dark laughing and swallowing mud, thinking that I was going to be blind for the rest of my life. I let it sit waiting for the mud to somewhat dry up so I could wipe it from my eyes except I had zero patience at that point. I ended up just used my muddy hands to wipe all of this caked mud off my face. It didn't do much, but I mean as along as I’m not blind, I’m cool.
Our tour guide led us back to the main entrance where we could all wash off and head back to the entrance of the cave where we would then kayak back to the bus. Me and Anika jumped on a kayak together as Grace and Daniel got on theirs. I remember both Grace and Daniel mentioned earlier how they have never kayaked before, and how they should be fine because it is really easy, especially when there is no current. I wish I had a video of the next 25 minutes, but instead I will try describing this the best way I can since it was the funniest thing me and Anika have ever seen. Having it be only a 5 minute kayak ride to the bus, Grace and Daniel were pin-balling each side of the lake because it was impossible for them to kayak in a straight line. All me and Anika could do was to laugh-talk (screaming) to them to put their paddles a certain way as Daniel and Grace were yelling and blaming each other for being bad kayakers. Twenty-five minutes later, we finally reached our destination. Because Grace and Daniel took so long, everyone was on the bus waiting for us so we had to scramble all of our clothes from our lockers. Except before getting onto the bus, we realized we missed one more zip line to finish our excursion. As the bus driver demanded us to get on the bus, we all insisted that we zip-line one last time into the lake. We sprinted over and cut everyone in line explaining that it was an emergency, jumped on the handles, and zip-lined into the river. I must say was definitely worth it, especially when you realize this is the only time you can do this. Happy and satisfied and a pissed off, cute lil Vietnamese old guy, we boarded the bus. Our journey to Dark Cave was definitely a trip in itself as to how much had happened and all of the activities we did within just a few hours. The bus dropped off us off at the hostel "Easy Tiger", a hostel I've heard a lot of weird, interesting stories about from all the party people who've stop there. Thankfully, we only had several hours to spare until our 9 p.m but to Hanoi. We showered off all the mud from our face, belly button, butt cracks, and ears feeling like completely new humans. Did some laundry, ate some fried seafood noodles (which later gave me food poisoning), and rented motorbikes to explore the rest of Phong Nha. Our sleeper bus arrived right on the dot, which we were thankfully able to board since it was overbooked. Preparing myself for the next 6 hour bus ride, I snuggled my green sleeping sheet excited to be reunited with the rest of my gang, Silken and Annie. Anyways, thank you Phong Nha, it's been real. I can't wait for what's to come next!