After two different kinds of beaches, we were headed to a third sea scenario, this time, one that involved the Quang Phu sand dunes.
Just 4 kilometers away from the city center, this sand dune stands on one side of the promenade that runs along the Nhat Le beach. Goes without saying that the route was very scenic. To our right was the emerald sea and on the left were the white sand dunes.
We stopped at a green tube house on the road that had a sign that said “sand slides”. Locals offer parking services and plastic panels that work like sleds on the dunes. We parked our bikes on the sidewalk, rented three thin plastic panels and climb up the sand dune without much expectation.
The dune did not seem very high, but once we got to the top, the view stunned us for a moment. “It feels like we are walking in the desert, like the Little Prince”, Anh, my companion, cried out.
It was very cool. The wind blew against our face and hair as we slid down the dune, which was really fun. But visitors need to be careful not to carry belongings that can fall off and get buried in the sand right away.
All that “exercise” got us ready for our next meal and Dong Hoi City treats the visitor well, offering many central Vietnam specialties. As a coastal city, it has an impressive variety of seafood on offer, too. On the banks of the Nhat Le river are a succession of open-air seafood restaurants that presents this seafood variety in a variety of dishes. There are several mini food courts around the Dong Hoi and Ga market.
We had dinner at the Tu Quy restaurant on Co Tam street, gleefully filling our stomachs with Quang Binh specialties including the Vietnamese pancake banh xeo, rice cakes, noodles with grilled meat and rice rolls.
The caves, of course
You cannot visit Quang Binh and miss out on the province’s greatest pride: the caves. We chose to take a bus to the Phong Nha Cave by bus, a cheap 50km ride that is not advisable for people who do not know Vietnam well. A round trip taxi ride would cost you around VND400,000 ($17.17).
A boat ride is needed to reach the cave proper. A boat can accommodate 12 people, so it is better to share it to lower costs. The journey begins in the dark, a great experience on its own. The cave itself is a marvel, of course, the stalagmites formed over millions of years never failing to inspire awe.
The Paradise Cave, around 70 kilometers from Dong Hoi city, is another must-visit site in Quang Binh province. We booked a day tour to visit Paradise cave and the Dark Cave – Chay river complex. The tour costs VND1.3 million ($55.83), all meals and ticket fees included. If you want to rent a round-trip taxi service to the cave, thrown in another VND600,000-700,000 ($25.76-30.06). Visitors may walk or rent an electric shuttle to reach Paradise cave’s mouth after getting off the boat.
“The men have gone abroad to work”, the boatwoman told us, explaining why most drivers and tour guides here were female. Quang Binh tries to send 2,400 – 2,700 people ever year to work abroad.
As we took the first step on the wooden walkway inside the cave, the drop in temperature was immediate. The walkway for the general public is one kilometer long, but explorers can take a tour with experts to explore the next seven kilometers.
The exhilaration begins
It was in the Dark Cave – Chay River tourism area that the excitement and exhilaration began.
The water sports on Chay River are fun and refreshing. Whether it was just swimming and floating around, kayaking of using the zipline, this is where you actually chuck your stress away. Our threesome sailed around in circles in kayak before a guard did us a favor and pulled his back, but it was not an off-putting experience.
The zipline was the thrill for us on this trip. The feeling of flying in the air across the river to get to the Dark Cave is not something you get to do on a normal holiday.
Inside the dark cave, full of sharp rocks and slipper steps, there was both the fear and thrill that danger can provide when there is safety at hand, in this instance, we had a guide who knew the place and her job very well. Without her, there would be zero thrill and 100 percent fear – fear that one small mistake can cost us our lives.
We swayed and wriggled till we reached the mineral mud bath. “Come inside, the mud is great for your skin”, said Tuyen, our tour guide. An underground stream carries minerals from limestone blocks in a nearby valley, piling the mineral mud near the mouth of the Dark cave. A mud bath would make your skin glow, our guide insisted.
tour phong nha On the way back, one tourist’s light went off. Tuyen handed him her light and guided us through the dark.
“Don’t worry, this is like my house. I know everything about it”, she said as she agilely climbed over a limestone rock, knowing exactly where to put her feet.
“It is all safe, when you get to know it”.