We got up early and went on a run. The town was quite basic, with huts and small shops running parallel to the river. We ran along the road mainly, but stopped occasionally to get some good views of the river and mountains in the backdrop.
We had one day to cover everything we wanted to see in Phong Nha. We sought advice online, asked other travellers we knew what they had done and went to the cave tours talk from the hostel. We hired ‘easy riders’ to take us round by motorbike for the day. We hopped on the back and enjoyed the journey through forest and fields. We went over a precarious bridge which people also crossed by motorbike coming from the other direction. They somehow managed to squeeze past.
The first stop was at the ‘dark caves’. We struggled to find the correct ticket office. But there was a system in place where you moved between a man set up on a plastic table who had forms to fill out and a woman at a more official desk where you paid. We were then hurried along to our lockers, told to take our clothes off and be just in swim wear. They then strapped us into harnesses. They pointed the direction of the first activity. We found our way to the zip line. Again without much communication involved we were attached to the zip line and pushed out across a river. It was all so sudden it was hard to relax while being transported over such a lovely scene.
At the end they took off our harnesses and we followed others to the river where we put on life jackets and helmets before jumping into the river. We met some English girls who were just as baffled as us as to what was happening. We were all led into a cave which got muddier the further we went in. In the last section we were immersed in water and could feel mud up to our knees. We realised it was very easy to float in the muddy water. We watched while some German boys took their helmets off and fully covered themselves in mud. We got chatting to them as we headed back through the caves. When we got back to the river we were put in kayaks to make our way back to the start. This turned into a water fight with the Germans.
The next stop was paradise caves. This set off caves was far more touristy with less backpackers. We had to walk uphill for a good 20 minutes before reaching the entrance. But once we were inside we felt like we were on a different planet. The interior was huge with large rock formations. There were also small still lakes dotted around. It was very peculiar and unique to any caves we had been to before.
The last stop on our day was the much anticipated ‘Duck Stop’. We had been told by many travellers to go to the duck farm. We quickly found out why. The people running the farm were very enthusiastic and welcoming. The first person to instruct us on what to do was a nine year old Vietnamese girl. She was very confident and knew exactly what to ask and offer us. We picked an option which involved seeing the ducks and trying a local dish. We were put in rubber sandals and given traditional bamboo hats by an even younger boy. There were various young children around that all seemed to follow the nine year old’s lead and want to participate in running the farm. We got taken to the ducks by a teenage boy who was very chatty. Then as soon we entered the duck enclosure we felt like we were part of some bizarre performance. A Vietnamese man instructed us on what to do. He handed us a metal bowl full of food. We took it in turns to run around the enclosure shaking the bowl and quaking. Then he made us crouch down and feed the ducks with our hands. All the while he was taking pictures. We also had to take our shoes off at one point and tuck our toes in. He threw duck food on our feet and they all starting pecking at us. Not the nicest of feelings! The best part was when he gave us each a duck to hold and filmed us as we threw the ducks into the pond. It made for an amazing slow mo video. We couldn’t stop laughing, the whole experience was bizarre and exciting. After washing our feet and calming down a bit we were offered some food. The nine year old girl came over to show us how to make these special rice paper rolls. They had some kind of friend potato pancake as the main ingredient. Then you would dip them in peanut sauce.