Vietnam Time

7/18/2019 5:40:17 PM

7 of Vietnam's best cave experiences: CNN

The US Cable News Network (CNN) Travel has given some pieces of advice for travelers where to explore the most amazing caves in Vietnam in the central province of Quang Binh.

 

Phong Nha Ke Bang Park.

According to CNN travel, Vietnam already has a worldwide reputation for its food, beaches, ancient history and diverse landscapes. And, over the past decade, it's also emerged as one of the world's leading destinations for caving.

Quang Binh has a 116.04-km coastline and a 201.87-km border with Laos. Home to a stretch of the Truong Son limestone mountain range, the province is famous for its cave systems, incredible mountain scenery and sprawling beaches. It is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park and the world’s largest cave Son Doong.

Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park in the central province of Quang Binh is frequently dubbed as the “Kingdom of Caves” for the magnificent specimens it boasts.

The park, which was twice recognised as world natural heritage sites by UNESCO in 2003 and 2015, is really a paradise for cave explorers.

Quang Binh province welcomed over 3.9 million tourists in 2018, up nearly 18.2 per cent year-on-year.

Son Doong Cave. Photo: voteroberts

"Vietnam has some of the best caves in this world. The temperatures are pleasant all year, the jungle scenery is beautiful, there are stunning formations... It's all untouched and pristine -- nothing's been damaged," Howard Limbert, technical advisor at the Quang Binh-based Oxalis adventure tour company, tells CNN Travel.

"My team [the British Cave Research Association] has explored more than 500 caves in Vietnam. But we've still only explored about 30% of this area. There are many, many more caves to be discovered."

For those keen to explore Vietnam's most mesmerizing underground worlds, here are a few worthy adventures to consider:

Son Doong and Hang En

Divers have discovered an underwater tunnel that connects Vietnam's Son Doong -- the world's largest cave -- with another enormous cave.

Said to be the largest cave in the world, Son Doong (meaning “Mountain River Cave”) currently stretches across 38.5 million cubic meters (about 1.35 billion cubic feet). When it’s officially connected with Thung Cave, it will add an additional 1.6 million cu.m in volume.

Oxalis, in partnership with the British Cave Research Association, has exclusive access to the cave, bringing small groups of six to 10 people on four-day treks during dry season from January to August every year.

On the first day, travelers hike through the jungle for about an hour before stopping for lunch in the village of Ban Doong.

After a few more hours of trekking, the group sets up camp inside Hang En Cave (the third largest in Vietnam) where you can swim in underground rivers and refuel with Vietnamese cuisine.

The next day, hikers continue the journey to reach remote Son Doong Cave where they'll don safety harnesses then use ropes to descend down an 80-meter-tall rock wall.

Once inside, travelers spend the next two days exploring the immense cave's ancient fossils, underground jungle, stalagmites and underground rivers.

Son Doong. Photo: khuatkhanhly  

The journey culminates in an epic scramble up the "Great Wall of Vietnam" -- an 80-meter-tall rock wall that requires a mix of scrambling and climbing of ropes and ladders.

"This is definitely not just a stroll. There are lots of river crossings, superb jungles, mountains and cliffs all around, plus lots of wildlife ... like birds and monkeys that are endemic to this area," says Limbert. "A lot of people find the scenery as spectacular as the cave itself."

One of the world’s most precious natural wonders, Son Doong was inadvertently discovered by Vietnamese resident Ho Khanh in 1990.

“While hunting in the jungle, Khanh came across the opening. He felt a blast of wind and heard the rush of a river inside... But after he left, he couldn’t find it again because it’s surrounded by foliage,” said Limbert, who was part of the British Cave Research Association (BCRA) team that first set foot inside Son Doong.

“Khanh spent many, many years trying to rediscover the mouth of this cave and, finally, in 2009, he led us there. We realised right away that it was major.”

En Cave. Photo: studio_tu

Hang Va and Nuoc Nut

While more accessible than Son Doong, the cave expedition is still an adventure with lots of opportunities to hike through thick jungle foliage, climb over rocks, traverse subterranean rivers and admire surreal stalactites and stalagmites.

Hang Va, in particular, is known for its extraordinary stalagmite field. To get there, visitors need to cross rocky terrain and steep, sharp slopes with the aid of specialized equipment. Tents, lights and heaters are also required for a safe journey.

"It has more than 100 rare calcite rock formations called tower cones," says Limbert. "They're essentially stalagmites that formed underwater -- and they're incredibly rare!"

Nuoc Rut Cave. Photo: liemdang

Tu Lan Cave System

Comprising more than 10 caves in Quang Binh province, the Tu Lan Cave System has skyrocketed in popularity since starring in 2017 blockbuster "Kong: Skull Island."

The Tu Lan Cave system is located 70km (43 miles) from Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park, next to Tan Hoa Village.

"A lot of people come because of the movie, but they find that the scenery is even more beautiful than they imagined," says Limbert.

"All the campsites are near lakes or waterfalls, so it's brilliant for swimming in the warm weather. On our Tu Lan tours, you go through one cave entrance, exit into another part of the jungle then back into another cave."

Tu Lan Cave. Photo: cyannguyen

Within Tu Lan, one of the most popular excursions is the two-day tour through Hang Tien (or the Cave of Fairies) -- named after enchanting rock formations, which look like terraced rice paddies, and magical swirling patterns that appear on the limestone walls.

Crossing through two caves (Hang Tien 1 and Hang Tien 2), the tour takes travelers on a jungle trek before dipping into the enormous, dry caves which are a combined 5.5 kilometers long and 100 meters tall at their peak.

"These caves are drier than many of the other caves in the area, so they tend to be popular with travelers who don't want to swim on the tour," says Limbert. "They're just massive -- you will never get claustrophobic in these two caves."

Paradise Cave

Thien Duong (Paradise) Cave has also become a favourite destination of domestic and foreign tourists.

After visiting the cave, many people recognised its irresistible magic, saying that this is really the most beautiful wonder of the Creator on earth.

A local man stumbled upon the entrance -- just a hole in a rock, hidden behind thick foliage -- in 2005.

Soon after, Thien Duong was labelled the world’s most beautiful and magnificent cave when it was explored by scientists from the British Cave Research Association in 2005.

It's now one of the most frequently visited caves in Vietnam -- the otherworldly stalactites, which tumble from the cavern ceiling like waterfalls, and sculptural columns never fail to impress visitors.

Located about 4 km west of the Ho Chi Minh Road, the cave, which is believed to be formed hundreds of millions of years ago, is surrounded by underground streams and rocky mountains. Thien Duong Cave is 30-100 metres wide, with the widest point measuring 150 metres. With a length of over 36 km, it is considered the longest dry cave in Asia.

Travelers can experience it two ways: a one-kilometer walk via a network of illuminated wooden stairs or an overnight excursion that includes a seven-kilometer hike.

"I always recommend the seven-kilometer trek because you will have much more of an experience, spending at least six hours trekking deep inside the cave itself," Loc Nyugen, founder of private tour operator Xinchao, tells CNN Travel. "This is a really unforgettable experience."

Tam Coc

Beyond the popular Quang Binh province is the UNESCO-listed Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex. Located in the northern Ninh Binh Province, it's another place to find beautiful caves.

"What I love about caves in Vietnam is that each one has a different character," says Nguyen.

"The journey is also part of the experience. Sometimes it's more about how you reach the caves that makes it really special -- maybe you walk, hike, swim or boat there. It adds to the experience."

That's particularly true of Tam Coc, meaning "three caves," within Trang An. This trio of caves -- Hang Ca, Hang Hai, and Hang Ba -- can all be accessed on a rowboat tour starting from Van Lam village.

A gentle, three-kilometer cruise down the Ngo Dong River passes by glistening rice paddies and karst formations before finally reaching the caves.

Hang Ca Cave is the largest of the three caves stretching more than 120 meters long, while Hang Ba is the smaller at just 45 meters long.

"Since you just take a boat through the caves, it's very pleasant and easy to reach," says Nguyen.

"The best time to go is March through May, when the farmers will be growing rice in the field -- it's a beautiful sight, just a sea of bright green and yellow."

Sung Sot Cave

Halong Bay might be best known for its thousands of limestone islands, rising out of the water. But there are also lots of caves too -- at least 59 listed to date.

The most famous is Sung Sot, also known as Surprise Cave. Located on Bo Hon Island within Halong Bay, the cave was first discovered in 1901 by French explorers.

Sprawling across 10,000 square meters, the cave is wide and spacious with an incredible array of stalactites and stalagmites, many of which take the shape of flora and fauna.

"There's actually a lot of folklore and myths around the shapes and patterns of the rocks, which can be fun for travelers," says Nguyen.

"Most boat tours include Sung Sot on the itinerary, stopping by the entrance and letting you off to explore for a couple of hours."

Luon Cave

While much smaller in size than Sung Sot, Luon Cave feels like a gateway to a secret world within Halong Bay.

This arc-shaped grotto, which is just 60 meters long and four meters high, can only be accessed by kayak or small boat.

When the water's high, you have to crouch to get through the low entrance.

Inside, the cave looks eerie and feels cool, with clear blue water below and another narrow exit straight ahead.

On the other side of the cavern, a peaceful lagoon is surrounded by limestone cliffs where tribes of monkeys complete the picture./.

VNF/CNN travel  
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