We bungeed our backpacks to the motorbike rack and hit the road to Dong Ha to see the famous Vinh Moc Tunnels. We were excited to go inside the tunnels for a true experience of how the people survived underground during the Vietnam War. We were amazed at the complexity of the tunnels. There are 13 different entrances, 7 of which point out to the sea where they received food and weapons from the north. There are 3 layers of the tunnel system at 12, 18 and the deepest 22 meters. It took 13 months to build and sheltered 300 people. Each family had a very small living space, literally a hole in the wall. The worst part was the fact that there was only ONE bathroom for everyone! ONE… for 300 people! At least the air temperature was cool, being underground and all. When the tour was over I was conflicted with feeling happy to get out, since it can be a little claustrophobic, and a yearning to go back in when the 110 degree heat index and 100% humidity slapped me in the face. The people lived like this from 1966-1972, six years, and 17 children were born in the tunnels. The war ended long ago, but the bomb craters are still visible. The Vietnamese that lived in these tunnels survived during a hard time. I can’t even imagine how awful it must have been.
Ok enough depressing stuff. Our next adventure was at Phong Nha National Park, home to the oldest karst mountains in all of Asia (approximately 400 million years old!). It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park has 300 different caves and grottos. We opted to explore Paradise Cave, founded by British explorers in 2005 and recently opened to the public a few years ago. You can walk along a wooden boardwalk for 1 kilometer into the cave but it goes as deep as 31 kilometers. The cool damp air within the cove is mighty refreshing after having hiked a couple of miles in the sweltering heat. I couldn’t stop smiling like a child at the impressive formations within the cave. Every step gets better and better. The park did a fantastic job on illuminating the cave. It felt like being on another planet. The cost was 250,000 VMD each (or about $13 USD). It was one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had in my life and worth every penny.
If you don’t have a motorbike, I highly recommend renting one for the day to explore the beautiful park. The loop around the park is incredibly scenic and there are little side trips to do as well.