Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park has an essence that can’t be compared to anywhere else. Under the thick secondary and primary forests rests a prehistoric cave – an underground haven that will blow your mind. In addition to being one of the oldest karst formations, it is also one of the world’s biggest. Tectonic activity, erosion, and formation over a 400 million year span have produced one of the most breathtaking cave systems in the world, the beauty and scale of which you need to see to appreciate. The entire underground region stretches over 100km. There are giant stalagmites and stalactites in the labyrinth, as well as rivers, pools, and a cave as big as an NYC block.
Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park’s name is representative of the thick Ke Bang Forest and stunning Phong Nha Cave, which the land is covered by. It was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003, however, it wasn’t until 2009 that the biggest cave was discovered.
Discovery of the caves and park have been consistent, and the inhabitance of people traces back to the Cham era. For a long time, most of the caves were unexplored and stayed elusive. Hanoi University collaborated with British Cave Research Association researchers in the early 1990s to explore the unseen areas under the park’s surface. Up to this point, most of the caves were discovered already, so the team’s findings were notable. The world’s biggest cave record was broken by Hang Son Doong Cave, which measured at more than 150m wide, 200m high, and 5km long. Initially discovered in 1991 by Ho Khanh, a native of the area, Howard Limbert explored the cave system more thoroughly in 2009 with his crew.
While most of what was situated under the park was untouched and undiscovered, the actual area had seen plenty of activity, especially when the Vietnam War occurred. It was then that Dong Hoi and Phong Nha were heavily bombed by American soldiers. It is believed that the area holds a large amount of unexploded ordinance, and as such, it is mandatory for people to follow guides and designated routes.
Getting the opportunity to discover Phong Nha’s otherworldly aesthetics is a must. The covering forests and cave systems produce an ecosystem that several endangered and rare species survive in. The national park is a habitat for various langur species, clouded leopards, and huge antlered muntjacs, among other animals. The flora and flora of Phong Nha – Ke Bang appears to be never-ending, and new findings are often made by further explorations of the terrain.
There are tours offered each day that bring travelers on a fun voyage into the intricate caves. Only 800 visitors enter Hang Son Doong annually as the cost to do so is $3,000. However, there are a number of other amazing caves full of rivers, stalagmites, and stalactites to explore. Ke Bang Forest is just as wondrous and beautiful as the underground area. It can be explored by bike or on foot.
The climate in Phong Nha – Ke Bang is tropical. There is plenty of year-round rainfall, especially during September and all the way to November, where the region is susceptible to floods. January to June is considered a dry season, with February and March being the driest months. It can get as hot as 41 degrees in the summertime, and as cold as 6 degrees in the winter. The dry season is the best time to visit Phong Nha – Ke Bang since several areas are sealed off as a safety measure – during these times, flooding is a possibility because of the heavy rain.
The world’s biggest cave, Hang Son Doong, was formed about 3 million years ago. It is the best cave to explore because of its atmosphere. Upon entering, you’ll walk into a jungle with a climate of its own, as well as a river. This hidden area isn’t easy to get into, though. A mere 800 tourists annually have the privilege to do so at a cost of $3,000 per person.
Beside Hang Son Doong is Hang En, which the third biggest cave on the planet. It’s hollow mouth opens up on the mountain’s side, bringing you spectacular views. The cave experience is an aspect of a 2-day trip, which includes a hike into the jungle, as well as to Ban Doong Village, where the entrance of the cave is. Within the cave are purplish-blue pools you can cool down in, along with sandy beaches where travelers can make camp at nighttime. At a portion of the price of a Hang Soong Doong trip, this visit is an inexpensive approach to seeing one of the world’s most elegant caves.
The Tu Lan Cave System is comprised of more than ten caves and is an aspect of a 2-day trip. To get there, travelers need to hike through a dense jungle before descending into the cave. During the journey, you will feel like you are venturing into a neglected area of the word. A trip to this cave is ideal for adventurous people as you can swim through a system of underground rivers to get deeper into the cave.
Another astounding cave is Hang Va, which is also an aspect of a 2-day trip. This cave is renowned for its intricate rock formations that change as you go further into the cave. The cave’s distinctive landscape feels like something out of this world. The calcite cones are especially intriguing and photo-worthy.
There are other caves to explore at significantly cheaper entry rates, one of which is Paradise Cave, which is accessible to everyone. For a small price, you can see various rock formations. It reaches 31km beneath the National Park and expands into an opulent chamber you can enter by climbing up a wooden staircase. The trek brings travelers past stalactites that slump from the ceiling, many of which stretch right into the cavern, hovering as if they were tentacles. While many visitors see no more than the initial kilometer of this vast cave, the grotto’s sheer expanse and the intricate formations that adorn each surface will mesmerize any crowd. The stalagmites and stalactites represent the history of natural erosion that took place over millions of years. The lively rock surfaces glint and shimmer in the light. In 2010, the cave was opened up to visitors, alluring more of them with each passing year. Paradise Cave’s accessibility, elaborateness, and beauty make it a worthwhile alternative to Hang Son Doong.
Phong Nha Cave gets its name from the area and is the oldest attraction here. To get into Phong Nha Cave, tourists must ride a small wooden boat down the Son River. It is encompassed by luscious vegetation and karst peaks. In English, Phong Nha means teeth and wind, a reference that is understood once the boat enters the cave’s mouth. The stalagmites and stalactites penetrate the cave-like teeth protruding from a hibernating monster’s jaw. Your imagination will run wild as you venture further into the cave – you might see the rock formations move with the colored lights surrounding it.
Getting to Phong Nha Cave by boat typically includes a journey to Tien Son Cave, which is open to the public. The boat will be parked at the bottom as travelers explore the cave’s 400 meters. A one of a kind soundscape is created by the rock formations. You’ll hear reverberations and echoes from the stalagmites and stalactites. The aesthetics are gorgeous. Silver and gold-laced karsts glisten with the formations and lights.
Dark Cave (aka Hang Toi) has been converted into an adrenaline-pumped playground. Travelers can zip-line into the cave’s entrance prior to swimming in the dark. People who are courageous enough to go into the confined corridor will have the opportunity to bathe in the dense oozing mud that attaches to whatever it makes contact with. The buoyancy within the mud chamber is quite tall, and instills a sensation of weightlessness. Once you effortlessly float in the mud, you can wash it off in the river prior to getting back on the boat that brought you there. The Chay River that feeds into the cave offers more activities, including a flying fox zip-line and an obstacle course over the river. The astonishing views surrounding you amplifies the adventure.
One great place to take in the area’s natural beauty is the Phong Nha Botanical Garden, where you can appreciate the sights above-ground. The thick forest has a spectacular array of flora and fauna in the wildlife habitat. The route will bring you to the tranquil Vang Anh Lake and Thac Gio Waterfall.
Situated outside of Phong Nha is the 3-road convergence, which played a key part in the Vietnam War. Victory Road 20, Ho Chi Minh Highway West, and Ho Chi Minh Highway East are all sections of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail, which helped Viet Cong soldiers during the war. The route served as a link between South and North Vietnam, as was used to transport soldiers and delivery supplies. Phong Nha Cave and its surrounding grottoes were utilized to shelter supplies and soldiers. The caverns were a safe refuge since they were enclosed. In fact, Phong Nha Cave even acted as a military hospital for wounded troops. Several natives of the area allied with the Viet Cong, turning the region into a battlefield to fight American and South Vietnam soldiers. At just 42km wide, the terrain is the slenderest area of the country, which made it easy to target Americans intending to intercept the supply path. Upon discovering the concealed caves, though, the bombings got worse. The attacks left behind scars that linger on the fields to this day. You’ll even see some marks along the entryway to several caves.
Visitors hiking to the park’s bigger caves, specifically Hang Son Doong or Hang En, will get the chance to visit Ban Doong Village. As one of the country’s smallest villages, it is comprised of merely 40 residents of the Bru-Van Kieu ethnic minority. The actual village is impoverished with families living off the land. Nevertheless, enhanced tourism for the region offers promising opportunities. The tiny village looks minuscule in contrast to its grand surroundings. Modest stilt homes situated among vegetable and fruit plots are small in contrast to the colossal peaks and dense jungle.
On the first lunar month’s 16thnight, natives from the community of Ma Coong come together in Ca Roong Village to take part in the festival known as Breaking of the Drum. According to legend, villagers were tormented by a sinister monkey who inflicted poverty and misfortune. The creature was defeated by the god Giang, who subsequently declared that each year, the natives should have the ability to express love without limits. As such, during the festival, people have the freedom to love whomever they choose for one night, even if they have a significant other. Open expression of one’s feelings is permitted by this ritual without worry of jealous repercussions. Prior to the night of liberation, natives make offerings to Giang to kickstart the Breaking of the Drum ceremony. The handcrafted drums are created on the day the festival takes place, and are made to bang the drum with force until the skin is torn. Once the drum breaks, lovers can enter the forest or other areas nearby to spend the night with another. The festival ends at sunrise, where pre-existing relationships are reignited as they were before the drums were broken.
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