For a soundtrack to our time in Vietnam, put this song on repeat. I think we heard it in every coffeeshop and cab we set foot in.
We almost didn’t come to Phong Nha. We thought about taking a plane from Hanoi to Da Nang, but heard there were amazing caves in the park, and knew we’d regret it if we didn’t check them out. Plus, it meant we got to take a night sleeper bus, one of those travel experiences you know will be terrible, but a morbidly curious part of you really wants to try anyway.
We’d been having rain the past few days in Vietnam, but were given one beautiful, clear day in the park. We went to Dark Cave, known for being the only cave in Phong Nha without interior lighting. We swam to the entrance, strapped on our headlamps, and ventured in. It was muddy in there, enough to dip your entire body in the clay baths that accumulated - which of course we did, covering ourselves in the mud that people pay good money for in spas. We washed it off in a lake inside the cave, the dark water looked like liquid silver as we cut through the stillness. We turned off our headlamps and floated on our backs, so dark we couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces, so quiet we could hear our hearts beat. We kayaked back, and spent the rest of the day zip-lining through the limestone karsts, falling into clear turquoise water.
We decided to head south by car and check out three major cities along the way before flying to Saigon: Hue, Da Nang, and Hoi An. Our time in each of those cities has blurred together a little, though, to be honest I got a bit lazy with the camera - I was still recovering from my motorbike accident and a lingering cough I’d picked up in Nepal, and many days were spent with books in coffeeshops or in idle walks in the town.
In Hue we went to the Imperial City, it used to be the capital so there was history there to explore. Afterwards we stopped at a nearby restaurant for dinner, with no English menus, and a local saw us blankly staring at the words. He came up and told us what was good - the barbecue, pork, squid and prawn, and the local beer too - and “if it’s okay, I will order for you”, he said. Too much food and several beers later, we ended up buying him a round and watching the football game on TV together.
We went to Da Nang next, we heard the beach was beautiful. We spent our nights on the water, in between street corner bánh mì and endless karaoke.
Hoi An was next, a city filled with lanterns. We spent hours walking around the markets, getting lost in the winding alleyways and shops. It was here that we faced our biggest food “challenge” yet - balut - a partially developed duck embryo that is boiled in the shell then eaten whole. I’d consider us both adventurous eaters, but stomaching this tiny, veiny bird embryo was tough, even for us, but I was happy to be able to check it off the bucket list then never think about it again.
As the sun set in the city, lanterns lit up every alley and every boat that would glide along the river. The dots of multicolored light against the dark skies and black water at night was magical.
My favorite thing about Hoi An was the color - walls, roofs, windows, floors, all my favorite color, the most beautiful shade of yellow. Even on cloudy days the city felt drenched in sunlight. We bought a two-dollar sunflower bouquet and twenty cents worth of bananas, and ran around the city taking shots in yellow.
We took a quick flight to Ho Chi Minh city, our last stop before leaving the country. Amid the hustle and bustle of yet another city, we reflected on the past six weeks in Vietnam fondly, but we were ready to move on.