Sometimes your best laid plans fall through. Life has disappointing turns, usually synced up with expectations. We are trying to roll with the punches as they come and not put too much pressure on any activity that we are doing. If things don’t go our way, stop, and focus on what we are grateful for. Sometimes it is hard to see positivity when things don’t go right, especially in the moment, but it is something we are striving for. We are imperfect, but we are learning, and there has been many times on our trip we have had to put this mantra into motion to quiet the moment so we can realize it will all be ok; Hakuna Matata.
Still facing the long road up to the North of Vietnam we elected to take the advice of a traveling friend who suggested Phong Nha as a must see, the largest cave systems in the world! After some quick online research, we learned we couldn’t take a direct bus from Hue to Phong Nha and would have to travel to Dong Hoi, a city 45 minutes east, and then take the local bus out to Phong Nha. We booked our buses, including out of Dong Hoi to Cat Ba, and stayed at our first dorm style hostel, Easy Tiger. Feeling ahead of the game with our bookings, we had our next 3-4 days mapped out.
Dropped in Dong Hoi, we loaded our bags on our backs and went to try and find the bus stop that said B4 on it. We walked, and walked, and walked. A Grab driver gave us his card and then 3-5 minutes later caught up to us in his car and said he would give us a free ride to the bus stop. We hopped in and he dropped us at a mini mart that had no bus stop sign. Smiled and shook our hands, “Welcome to Vietnam!” Another honest to goodness nice deed. We still were unsure that we were in the right place and after some deliberating, we decided to turn around and walk the other direction thinking we needed to be on the other side of road. No more than 5 minutes down the way we see the same Grab driver. He smiles and walks us over to the same spot and explained in more detail we were in the right spot. We plopped our bags down and waited, and waited, and waited. The bus was only 40,000 dong, but our Grab guy said he would cut us a deal and only charge 300,000 to drive us out. Finally, after 3 times saying no and an hour waiting for the bus, I was inches away from caving and paying the extra money. Then, the BUS! We hopped on and saved the cash.
Traveler tip. When we arrived in Phong Nha, the Easy Tiger staff (which was awesome) were confused why we didn’t take a direct bus to Phong Nha from Hue… Apparently that is a thing. Don’t go to Dong Hoi, all that headache we could have avoided! After a night enjoying the free beer at 6pm that is served every night to the Easy Tiger guests, we retired to our 4-person dorm, met our roommates for the night, and prepared to pack up and head out to the Phong Nha caves in the morning by motorbike.
Previously, Mandy has done all the driving by motorbike, and like a pro, we have cruised through all of Vietnam with no issue, even in intense traffic situations. I decided that I wanted to give it a shot out in Phong Nha because it was less traffic and it looked like fun. On our way out to the caves I got on the bike with Mandy behind me and cruised down the road. Wind blowing, sun shining, life was good. I went to take our first left turn and of course there are two big trucks. One from behind me and one coming at us, both lay on the horns. I panicked, took our turn too sharp, and dump the bike. Ouch. The bike’s throttle gets pinched open and it is doing max speed in circles on the ground. Mandy, the always quick thinking, yanks the key from the bike and it dies.
In that moment things seem a little desperate but there was also plenty to be grateful for. We were alive, no one had any broken bones, and we had minor scrapes. Then, more to be grateful for. Two Vietnamese ladies saw what happened and provided us with running water to clean our wounds, followed by antiseptic which they lovingly applied to our scrapes. After we were patched up, I tried to pay them money for their kinds and their supplies, but they wouldn’t have it. True kindness and care.
Although our trip to Phong Nha didn’t turn out as we thought, we never made it to the caves, we were beneficiaries of extreme kindness from strangers once more. We learned Mandy should probably be the motorbike driver, although I still want to try again. At the Easy tiger our bandages were like badges of service to the travel gods. We swapped stories with another traveler who had flipped his bike and tumbled 20-30 meters (way worse than ours!) over beers and laughed at both of our good fortune (or misfortune however you want to look at it). When we caught the public bus back to Dong Hoi to travel north to Cat Ba island, we were happy to have our health and humbled by the kindness we received.