The discovery of the Phong Nha Cave, and then the Son Doong Cave, firmly stamped the central province of Quang Binh on the world tourism map as a must-visit destination in Vietnam. The province soon came to be known as the Kingdom of Caves that has attracted many speleologists, explorers and travelers to visit it.
So far in 2018, the total number of visitors to Quang Binh reached 3.9 million, an increase of 18 percent over the same period last year, according to the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT).
Beautiful tourism farmlands and western streets have formed in the areas near the caves, but when we took three days off to explore the province, Quang Binh turned out to have far more attractions than suggested by catchy promotion headlines or high-definition photographs.
Downtown Dong Hoi
We took an overnight train departing from Hanoi to Dong Hoi city, the center of Quang Binh. A 30 something dollar fare for a round trip was far more reasonable than the airfare, so spending more time on the train journey was no problem.
The tiny train station welcomed us with unexpected professional services: free wifi, digital billboards and easily available taxi services. We started our adventure by reaching our homestay on Nguyen Du street, a road overlooking the Nhat Le river. Many good hostels offer accommodation at a very reasonable price here. Our triple-bed room cost us about $16 per day.
We chose the dry season, from April to August, to visit Quang Binh, when it is hot and sunny. In the September to March rainy season, we might miss our chance to see the vast white sand dunes, or be unable to enter the famous Phong Nha because of high water levels.
Our first destination was the Nhat Le Beach, right in Dong Hoi city. We missed the sunrise, but the morning breeze on the beach provided welcome relief from the stuffy weather in the city.
Nhat Le beach was not very crowded, probably because it was not peak season yet. The dialect spoken indicated most of the people there were locals. There are no fancy cottages to rest in, cocktails to drink or exciting water sports to enjoy. All this made the beach even more attractive – just the waves and sand for everyone to enjoy. A rare treat, these days.
We had another beach on the day’s schedule. Thirty minutes in a taxi and we were at the Da Nhay Beach. The taxi driver had agreed on VND300,000 ($12.8) for a round trip. Very reasonable, considering he had to wait and drive us back.
The Da Nhay beach (Dancing Rock) is du lich phong nha strikingly beautiful, with its scattering of black rocks on white sands. We decided to skip swimming, climbed on to the rocks and listened to the waves crashing against the rock. We were looking to commune with nature, and this was happening in a great way.
Since eating out is a big part of a holiday, we were paying extra attention to our stomachs for the first signs of rumbling. A random choice from a row of restaurants on the street was our plan, when our taxi driver pitched in. “You must try the fish porridge here. It’s famous for it.”
What a meal that was! The waitress brought us a big pot of flawless white congee with fish slices and green onions. For about $10 dollars worth, the pot could satiate five people. When we returned to the taxi, we were fully recharged, and thankful for our driver’s advice.