Thiên Đường (Paradise) Cave

We are in rougher shape than expected this morning.  Running on five hours of sleep is our modus operandi these days but for some reason we’re really struggling.  Maybe it was the vodka wine, the soju, the shots at Brown Eyes, or the shit ton of beers at the jazz place, it’s really tough to say but regardless we’re all looking at each other cockeyed and unimpressed.

The night prior we’d pre-ordered breakfast at the insistence of the Amy Hostel staff – “Morning very busy” – and Murphy was even more unimpressed when his noodle soup came out as fried eggs.  No time to fix it though, our driver got there early and was itching to go while we slammed everything down.  Out the door and… he’s gone?  Look back and forth, scratch our heads…  A couple minutes pass and he reappears.  Let’s go!

I almost immediately drift off to sleep as we head out of the city in the little sedan but when I wake up we’re in the countryside, monsoon rain is dumping on us and we’re doing about a buck-ten and hydroplaning all over the place.  Our driver Ha gives zero fucks, he’s a demon.  I’m too tired to care but keep getting woken up as he rolls the windows down to spit every once in a while.  The other boys are in and out of consciousness as well, we’re really goddamned tired and pretty much accustomed to breakneck SE Asian driving style at this point.

We stop every once in a while to take a roadside piss or (in the case of our driver Ha) to throw high kicks in the air to get the blood flowing, it’s about a four hour drive in all by the time we get there but by then we’ve all managed to get a bit of sleep in so we’re feeling a bit better as we roll out.  We don’t sleep much during the last stretch though, the scenery cutting down the narrow roads between the large round hills is stunning.  At one point we drive around the corner on a road that’s cut out of the hillside and there’s a boulder about twice as big as the car smack dab in the middle of the lane.  Wonder how often those fall off?  Also, like other places there are smalltown Catholic churches around the graves around the churches here are really interesting, they almost look like the regular graves we’ve seen elsewhere but with steeples resembling those on the churches.

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On our way in there’s a little restaurant that we decide to stop into.  I played it conservative with beef & rice, Drisdelle got what seemed to be an entire chicken randomly cut up into pieces over rice while Murphy got a skillet of wild boar over rice.  We all ordered “Birdy” coffee not knowing what it was, turned out to be cold, canned and very, very sweet coffee, not bad though.

Drisdelle’s relating a funny story about something that happened in a bar the night before when he says, quoting someone else, “Will you come home with me?”  Unbeknownst to him our waitress had just stepped up next to him and had interpreted that as an offer.  Her eyes widened and she jumped back a step.  We tried to apologize and explain but laughing our asses off made it tricky.

With sleep, food and coffee we were feeling halfways decent and we headed down the slippery path toward the cave.

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Walking the other direction I see a group of guys, one’s wearing an Acadia University shirt (Acadia being my alma mater).  “Hey, nice shirt!”  I think it came off sarcastically cause he looks at me quizzically.  “I went to Acadia” I tell him.  “Oh right on, where are you boys from?”  We tell them and they’re all from around the way as well, Maritimes representing in Central Vietnam today.

After a couple of kilometers we reach a steep and long incline.  Well maybe not that long but it sure seemed to kick our asses but I think a lot of that was because of how hard we’ve been going.  Great view towards the top though.

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We descend into the cave using a small set of stairs and it’s pretty awesome (in the literal sense of that word) right from the get-go.

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The formations were like those in other limestone caves I’ve visited but on a scale unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

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Mandatory being a douchebag in front of a UNESCO heritage site shot!

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Once we got past a small group of tourists clustered around the start it was like we had the place to ourselves.  The lighting was incredible and it just kept going and going.  Apparently the entire thing is 31 km long, I’d say the wooden pathway we walked probably covered a couple of those.  Just when it seemed like it was about to end it would open up into another gigantic open space.

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We reach the end and get out just as a massive obnoxious tour group is on their way in.  They’re being led by a lady with a megaphone.  Completely ruins the mood of the place.  The timing of our exit really couldn’t be better as a second group follows them with crying babies.  Outside the cave entrance we stop in a little cafe for ice creams looking out over the valley.

The drive back is clear skies and much better.  We do run into some cattle at a few points, Ha’s joking around with his window down he creeps by the cows and pretends to slap them on the asses.

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We’ve got Murphy’s phone plugged into the stereo on a Beastie Boys marathon, we’re still kind of in and out of sleep but on a few occasions I’d wake up and Ha was jamming out to the tunes, head and shoulders bobbing up and down, really got down for Ill Communication.

Here’s Ha taking a scenic piss break!

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We’re almost back to Hue when Ha asks us if we’d like to stop for food.  Probably more options in the city than out here so we say no thanks but there’s a communication breakdown apparently because he pulls us into a random restaurant out in the burbs.  Not quite sure why he chose the one he did, must know the owners or something we guessed.

Definitely outside the White Guy Zone, it’s 100% Vietnamese but there’s a feisty older lady running the place who speaks decent enough English.  I try to order something called “Scalding Beef” and she says “I think it’s not good for you”, points to something else on the menu and says I’d be getting that instead.  Okay then.  Drisdelle tries to order something else and she says it’s too much food for him, he had to pick something else.  I end up with a pretty typical beef and fried veg mix while both of the boys get frogs.  Not frog legs but frog chunklets, pieces of torso, spine, you name it, it’s in there.  Murphy finds a gigantic piece of skin in his, like the entire back of the frog.

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There’s a police checkpoint so we all throw our seatbelts on quick but they’re just giving Ha a breathalyzer.  He’s the only one of us who skipped the beers in the restaurant so they wave him through and shortly afterwards we jump out at our hostel and thank him for the long haul driving.

Back at the hostel we run into Adam and Mikey, the two Brits we ran into our first night in Hoi An who were drunk as fuck.  Neither has any recollection of us.  They’re heading to an abandoned amusement park, sounds amazing and may have to look into that.  They’re both riding scooters up the whole country, Adam’s got a stylish little orange rig that he bought for 9M dong then dropped another 3M on it to do an engine swap, bring it up to a whopping 100 ccs.

We spend the rest of the evening chilling with some G&Ts, talking to staff and the odd person on their way in or out, just cooling our jets for a change.  Close to midnight a Vietnamese guy who looks to be in his late 40s and wearing a turtleneck walks in, kind of looks like a college professor, with two much younger attractive ladies on his arms.  Chats up the guy at the front desk for a while, a few laughs, sounds like a reasonable discussion but really hard to get a read on what’s happening until the three of them leave.  Our front desk guy comes over and explains that they were looking for a place they could rent for a short period of time to do “something like heroin”.  Damn.  Okay we’re going to bed.

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