Dong Hoi is not a big destination for foreign tourists, but its huge among Vietnamese. I was impressed by the beautiful beach (a long white sandbar across the mouth of a river capped with palm trees) and was glad to find an avalanche of bia hoi places.
Upon arriving I found a decent hotel for the night and soon learned that one of Dong Hoi’s main attractions are some enormous caves about 55km away near the village of Son Trach. I slept early with plans to catch a moto to Son Trach in the morning.
I found a nice driver who agreed to do the round-trip journey with me. After the ass-numbing hour-long motorbike ride through the beautiful countryside I managed to get in on a Vietnamese tour group’s shared boat to the caves.
Phong Nha cave is a UNESCO world heritage site and so there are rules to keep visitors from doing things like smoking, littering and vandalising them. But, this is Vietnam after all… I guess there aren’t enough environmentally conscious westerners visiting the caves to keep things in line - I didn’t see a single other non-Vietnamese tourist the whole day.
The caves are incredible. Massive caverns with limestone formations the size of large buildings, dramatically lit with colored lights. I was warned by some other travelers that the lights make the cave a bit kitchy and cheesy, but I thought it was tastefully done. Without the lights you wouldn’t be able to appreciate the size of the cave, anyway.
After the tour, I checked out of my hotel and got on a local bus for a sleepless 12-hour journey to Hanoi.