I finally saw it. The mystery, of witnessing something only imagined, unraveled.And it looked much beautiful than my imagination. The entrance to the dark cave in Phong Nha. Dark it was rightly called, not for the vibes it gave but because daylight seemed really far off. Helmets with torches were a necessity. The entrance approach was a quick zipline and a short swim . Thanks to my fleeting swimming skills, I scrambled across the mountain bushes to reach the cave opening, which was a high, triangular shaped, welcoming entrance. You get on to a wooden board-walk, look up at the mouth of the cave, and walk in until a point you turn your torch on. You wade slowly through the calm waters, its colours gradating from dark green to dark black as you go deeper in. If you looked back at the entrance, you would see the sunrays disappearing. The walls of the cave massive and adorned with limestone cones, not disturbing its beauty - only adding to it. You walk further through the narrow crevices, slippery with the water and gloppy gooey mud, and marvel at your surroundings.
I had imagined the caves in my head one week before I sat on a plane to Hanoi, little did I know that witnessing it in reality would feel this surreal. As a ritual I look up for videos and articles of what I should expect from any new land, and so I gathered information about Vietnam's diverse landscapes, street food, local culture, its people and the Vietnam war. Have you ever felt that with every place you travel, your imagination is validated with a different, perhaps better, perspective? Well, this country did that to me, and trust me when I say I got back home with more and better.
A close travel companion of mine, Ishita, and I decided to explore this country in November 2017. We froze to our inward and outward cities as Hanoi and Saigon, then set off to let our instincts and the weather gods to decide our course of journey along the way. We had 12 days on us, including the days of flying in and out.Considering the short time we had on us and the typhoon that had hit Vietnam, I think we did quite well. We met plenty of long term travellers along the way, some like us were moving north to south, while others in the opposite direction. These travellers are usually on road for months, and merge with one another headed towards the same town. Everyone's question to each other automatically was, "Coming from the north or south?"