The jungle of Phong Nha National Park

A very educational trip to the jungle. We learnt a lot and I’m always amazed when I learn about things I would have never imagined or known. ☺️

*I’m sorry I left you for so long but here is why. We travelled to the Phnong Nha National Park yesterday. The way we got here deserves an article itself but I’ll put the last 2 days into one. We left yesterday morning from Da Nang where we spent 1.5 days not doing much. I mean, literally just walked around and ate. We had planned to come to Son Trach which is a small town within the NP but we didn’t know how to get here. We read lots online but none of them made sense. So we decided to go to the central bus station and see..well,we did see,but we didn’t understand. There was a lady trying to use her Google translator,getting very stressed and annoyed as every time she put something into the translator, we had a new question. Basically,we couldn’t go to Son Trach but she had a sleeping bus (took only 4 hours to get there) for 150,000VND/person to Dong Hoi which is about 30km away. As I checked the ticket, we saw that the final destination says something different…we thought,we still stop in Dong Hoi. We did…in the middle of nowhere,a really empty part of the town. We didn’t even know which way to go, where to find the centre -if there is any-. We started to walk to a direction I thought could lead to a more central place. As we walked and tried to find a hostel/hotel, tour office,anything to ask about buses, I saw an airline office. Walked in,asked about the centre. She didn’t understand me. I asked about bus to Phnong Nha. She kind of got it but then suddenly she walked out and started to shout, bus bus. We run out and she caught us a local bus. She shoved us on and I asked the guy. Son Trach?? He looked at me and said,ok. Paid 33,000VND/person -literally nothing- for a 2 hours ride. In that 2 hours, there were people getting on and off, all locals, all looked at us -what the hell these two westerners doing here kind of look-. We just sat and looked out at the beautiful scenery as we entered the NP. At some point Rich kept telling me, we should get off, he thinks we are here. I told him, I’m sure the guy will tell us when we are there. But he didn’t… for our very big luck,Rich saw our chosen hostel on the road when we asked the guy to stop. We got off and Rich wasn’t too impressed by the fact, the guy would have never said a word to us.

We walked to our hostel, booked a room -a dormitory with only 1 bunk bed, £16/2 nights for both-. It’s a great little hostel, the rooms are all semi-open, only have a curtain as a door, so you can hear the crickets during the night. As we were figuring out how much money to take, a guy who works in the hostel sat next to us and took time to explain everything about the place. There are 2 things people come here. Well, mainly one THEY do, we came for a different one. The reason is, caves. There are 3 big caves in this NP, 1 of them you can only go by boat inside, 1 which has zip line and mud bath inside and 1 called, paradise cave. The other -our- reason is, the jungle. As everyone, even our little gay hostel guide, Son was talking about the caves, we decided to rent a motorbike next day -today- and go to the Paradise cave. All happy and full of plans, we went to a nice place to have dinner. As I was checking the menu, I noticed a page where they advertised a 1 day and a 2 days jungle trip. So I asked them who we have to book it with. We booked a 1 day tour for the next day -today- for 1,300,000VND/person including the English speaking tour guide, snacks, water, lunch and the fees to the park/jungle. That’s how our original plan changed.

We met with the guide in the restaurant at 8.30am today morning. It turned out that 2 other guys are coming, so it’s 4 of us plus the guide. Thought Ani. But it was actually 10 of us. 4 westerners as guests, 1 trainee, 2 other guides and 2 carriers. We all set on a motorbike, behind one guide each and left to see the conservation centre. Here our guide, Hai told us a lot of thing. This centre was created by 2 German guys about 17-18 years ago. They started with really small cages, so animals started to die. That’s when they realised, they can’t keep animals in small cages. Unfortunate it didn’t change much today, the cages are still a bit smaller but it’s much better than it used to be. He told us how many people lived in the past from taking animals out from the jungle to eat them. Restaurants used to serve all sort of animals,monkey, porcupines, snakes, anything. Today with the law they have, they can’t do it. However, they still do it in some places but they do it illegally. They also take animals as pets or for entertaining foreigners. All the animals have been saved from these circumstances end up in here. If they can put them back to the jungle, after their wounds healed, they do. The ones they need more time for they take them to an other place which is a big closed area to re-introduce them to the jungle. And the ones can’t go back ever…they keep them there. As Hai was talking, I was thinking a lot how much education helps. Education helps these people to make them understand what they are doing with their environment and also to teach them the newest law. The younger generation is very lucky as with tourism entering the country, they have more chances to educate themself = get a better life. After the centre we rode towards the jungle. As we got off the bikes, we started to enter the lush vegetation. It’s not much I can describe, you know how a jungle looks like. Hai’s tour created their very own path inside the jungle where we first walked upwards,then we went back to the valley and on the way back again up to the top. It was hard work,humidity was crazy and by the afternoon sun came out. For lunch, we stopped at a cave where they made fire, and they made very nice pork kebabs. We ate on the floor from banana leaves. We had rice paper which we could put noodles, vegetables,salad, pork, tomato, cucumber inside and roll it up. It was great. For dessert we had a little round cake made of coconut and ginger and we ate watermelon. After the meal we got tea or coffee. The best service you’ve ever seen. Simple, fresh and just fantastic. During lunch we talked a lot with the other 2 guys. It turned out they both live in Vietnam, in Saigon and they both work for a magazine. Mike as a photographer and Zoe as a writer. The magazine was created by a British guy and they write about Vietnam generally. They go all over Vietnam and write articles about anything, Nick (the boss) asks them to. It was interesting to see that. They came to the tour to write about conservation, sustainability and the jungle.

During the whole day I talked a lot with the girl who took me on her bike, Lee and of course with Hai.

That’s what I found out:

– Vietnamese girls are generally getting married at the age 18-20

– they either go to university and get married or they get married earlier and no study

– tourism generally opened people up -young people chose to study English language for a better life-

– Lee studies English, she wants to be a tour guide and she also wants to be different than the majority of ‘traditional’ Vietnamese girls

– Studying as a teacher cost 300,000,000VND which you pay for the government but you only get 3,000,000VND for salary

– Hai told us about how families are the most important. I asked him why is wouldn’t travel and he said, if his family is poor and his brother just getting by, he would feel guilty spending the money on travelling instead of helping them

– He has a 22months old daughter and I told him, his daughter will already grow up different as her dad thinks different. She will have the choice as what to do rather than the family decides

– He said, we have the luxury when we are young to chose what we want to be. They don’t. As kids grow up in shelters by their parents, they basically decide what they will do. So most of them have no clue when they are older what they want to do in life

– Hai and his team set up 1 trap in the jungle to show us how poachers set up this trap to get different type of animals. It is not a working trap but it demonstrates well how they catch these poor animals.

– The banana on the banana tree in the jungle isn’t for eating. It’s apparently very bitter

– The army used this jungle as a base camp for years while America attacked them,so we could see hundreds of bullets and different type of other bomb looking stuff

– He told a story how the Americans sent tree looking trackers to the jungle so they could always track where they are and bomb them in the right places. But as soon as the Vietnamese found this out, they moved these trackers to a different place and even played tape recorders as they would be around. So the Americans would bomb that place wasting bullets and time. That’s how Vietnamese used the Americans own technology against them. Pretty smart,no?

– We had the general conversation about how they would want our life, yet we still come here wanting their life around the jungle. This is just being a human…always wanting what the other has.

On the way back I was still thinking how lucky they are as tourism opened endless amount of opportunities. And the ones brave enough will take them and use them for their own benefit.

Tomorrow we visit the Paradise cave ☺️*

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