Phong Nha

Caves! Oh my! A trip to Vietnam is not complete without a visit to Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park and its caves. The park has 300 caves and grottoes and was created to protect the karst region which is one of the largest in the world and the oldest in Asia at 400-450 million years old. The park also boasts the largest cave in the world, Sơn Đoòng, which was discovered in 2009 and is big enough to hold a New York City block with 40-story skyscrapers. We have visited a few caves before, but we have never seen anything like this before.

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Getting Scuba Certified in Nha Trang, Vietnam

All the bus company posters for Nha Trang show pictures of people snorkeling and scuba diving, so we knew it was the place in Vietnam to get scuba certified. Someone had recommended we do our Open Water Diver certification in Vietnam because it would be cheaper. Eric did some research and found a reputable company in Nha Trang, Rainbow Divers, so we plowed ahead. Jess was not so sure about scuba diving. She gets a little anxious in enclosed spaces she is not sure she can leave (although you would not know it from the number of mines, tunnels, and caves we have explored this year). Even though the ocean is not exactly an enclosed space, she was a little concerned about the idea of not just being able to ascend if she wanted to, but she agreed to give it a try. 

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Taking the Local Bus to the Củ Chi Tunnels

We had seen a lot of offers for tours to the Củ Chi tunnels – our hostel advertised a half-day tour for đ400,000 ($17.23) not including entrance fee to the tunnels. After a lot of research, we figured out the vast majority of the tours go to Bến Đình, the closer of the two Củ Chi Tunnel sites. This is how they are often able to do both a Củ Chi tunnels tour and a trip to the Mekong Delta in one day despite the two sites being in opposite directions. As a result, the closer site is allegedly more touristy and crowded than the second site, Bến Dược. It is also slightly more expensive – đ110,000 ($4.73) vs. đ90,000 ($3.87). Fortunately, we had discovered it was possible to visit Bến Dược on our own using the public buses, which would cost considerably less than a tour, and we could avoid swarms of people. Also, we love taking the local buses when we can. 

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Kicking Off Our Vietnam Tour In Ho Chi Minh City

Our rough plan for Vietnam is to work our way up from the south to the north over the course of twenty six days and cross into China by bus at the Lao Cai border crossing after visiting Sa Pa. Our first stop was Ho Chi Minh City where we planned to stay for five days, mostly so we could apply for a Chinese visa. To get into China, we need to get a visa which takes four days to process once the application has been accepted. Even without Jess’s passport snafu, acquiring the visa in the US ahead of time would have been a bit tricky given our bike trip, and since getting our Bolivian visa in Argentina was relatively straightforward, we figured doing this in Vietnam would be fine. Having a little extra time in Ho Chi Minh City would also give us a better feel for life there.

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