Here is another photo from inside the Paradise Cave in Vietnam.
So, the lights came on inside the military hospital I started telling you about yesterday, and we went from being in a creepy dark hallway to standing in the middle of a horror movie. At this point you become very aware of the fact that you’re deep underground, inside a mountain, surrounded by nothing but bare concrete and a knowledge that the rooms coming off it were filled with wounded Viet Cong soldiers.
This wasn’t helped by the fact that my travel companion was a nurse, who casually took guesses at what each room was used for. This started as the lights came on when she decided that the two rooms in front of us were likely used for triage. This reached a peek when we entered a room with stone counters and drainage that she guessed was probably the morgue. The last room was a large hall, with bare cave walls and roof that led to a heavy locked metal door. I never found out what was on the other side…
Getting to this rather creepy door was an adventure in itself. I’ve told you about the 8 hour boat ride, with no food, we were tricked into to reach the island. To get to this spot, we needed to rent a motorbike. It wasn’t long before we realized that our singular mode of transport was running on fumes, but we’d been assured that there was a gas station on the way out of town. We set off, focused on the right side of the road where the gas station was promised. This resulted in a traumatic moment for my pillion passenger who suddenly gasped. She’d had just laid eyes on a dog being butchered, at the market, by the side of the road. Taken aback by this discovery, our concentration on fuel diminished and soon signs of civilization were beginning to die out.
At this point, we decided we’d be better off running out of gas in the town than in the jungle so we turned back. At this point, we found the gas station quickly, on the opposite side of the street from where we were told it would be. Once we were fueled up, we set off into the wilderness and before we knew it, we had spotted the entrance to the cave that housed the Vietnam War era military hospital used by the Viet Cong.
Across the street was an attentive attendant prepared to charge us for using their parking lot. He was a short stout older man, wearing an old military style jacket. After experience visiting the Mausoleums outside Hue, we were expecting an aggressive pushy greeting. Instead, we were greeted with a smile and a laugh as he asked if we were going to visit the cave. We said yes and he told us we could either pay for parking or come in for a coffee and park for free. This was perfect as I had already spotted the opportunity for delicious Vietnamese Coffee and was going to sit down anyway. We drank our coffee and the same man came over to say we should go up to the cave as a tour-guide was going up and they would turn on the lights. He wanted us to get the chance to see it in the dark, and then get to see it with the lights on.
So, there we were, standing at this creepy metal door, peering into the darkness. We stepped in and waited for a moment for our eyes to adjust. They didn’t, but we pressed on anyway. Soon enough the lights came on, but it was still a pretty creepy place. If you come back tomorrow you can see what it looks like on the inside.
I’ve spent some time this weekend working on photos from inside the Paradise Cave in Vietnam’s Phtong Nha national park. In doing so I’ve realized just how long it’s taking me to get through all my photos from Vietnam. I was there in 2014!
I like the stalagmite in the foreground, it looks like a melted candle.
There’s a little cave off the main (only) road that runs through Vernazza. If you walk through it, you end up on this rugged little beach. After a bit of research, I discovered that this beach didn’t exist until 2011 when the landslides the devastated the region created it. This beach was the only sign I could see that the landslides had occurred at all.
After leaving the monasteries in Meteora, my guide said, “So you’re interested in archaeology… do you want to to go to a cave with 130,000 year old footprints?”
Yes… yes was the answer.
He said it’s not a place he normally takes people but thought I’d be interested. It was really cool and not far from Meteora. It’s still an active dig, but they’ve built metal pathways to let you look down into it. Sure enough, there are fossolised footprints, seemingly made by children playing in the cave, along with numerous hearths.
The footprints were too deep for a photograph, but this is what the cave looks like from the back corner.
On our first day in Phong Nha, we rented a scooter to take ourselves on a tour of the area and were given a total lemon with butterfly stickers all over it. The brakes barely worked so when we were going down steep hills my friend Shannon had to hop off and walk. Even with the brakes on full lock, I still had to use my feet to control the speed! All the while we were surrounded by thick Vietnamese jungle.
Half way around our loop we reached Paradise Cave. We parked the rusty steed and discovered there was quite a long hike up stairs to the mouth of the cave. As soon as we entered, it was clear that the climb was worth it. The photo you see below was taken just at the entrance, looking down into the first of numerous giant caverns. Unfortunately, it was at this point that I realized that I’d failed to pack any batteries for my camera. I rented another bike to return the next day (stipulating I needed a decent one this time).
I was treated to a wine tasting at a Tuscan vineyard. They took us into a cave where the family has been making wine for a very long time. We were shown how the wine is made and I was surprised to discover that they made white, red, and rosé all from the same grapes. As it turns out, the wine isn’t colored by the color of the grape but by how long the skins are left in the vat.
We were presented with a delicious rosé to start off the day. Unfortunately, I thoroughly enjoyed this and tucked back a few glasses before moving onto the rest of the tasting flight, which was voluminous. We were treated to food pairings for the wine. The owner’s mother appeared as we enjoyed lasagna made in strict accordance with her recipe.
This photo is taken from the spot that I put back the original few glasses of rosé. I, along with most of our group, got a good nap in on the bus ride back to Florence.
So I got to talking about Vietnam today, which led me to look on my SmugMug page to show some friends a few pictures. Then I realized I had a fair few waiting to be posted.
This photo shows the entrance of Phong Nha Cave. During the Vietnam (or American, depending on who you ask) War this cave was employed as a Viet Cong military base.
To get to this cave we first had to wander to the river bank in town where we found a number of Dragon Boats lined up waiting to give tours. They gestured that we needed to go to a ticket booth to pay. Once we were paid up we set up. Most people wait to group together to save money, the dragon boats can sit at least a dozen people. It was late in the day and we didn’t see anyone around so we got straight on.
Our drivers were an older couple who communicated to us entirely in gestures. You can see them in this previous post.
It’s about a half hour boat ride up the river, through the jungle covered Karst formations, past a fishing village and numerous water buffalo tied up on farmland along the banks.
Around a bend we came to the entrance to the cave, a low slit in the mountainside. The rocks above were scarred by artillery as the US army attempted to seal the cave. It’s amazing that the rock face held together.
Our boat ride continued inside, through narrow passageways and into large chambers full of stalagmites. When we reached the furthest point of our journey our pilots carefully turned the 30 foot long boat around in a space that only seemed 20 feet wide. They did this mostly by using their hands to push off the cave walls.
From there we were dropped on a beach inside the cave that served as a landing point for injured Viet Cong soldiers. We walked back out through the rock formations. Just before walking back outside to board our waiting boat I stopped to take this picture.