Continuing our travels north towards Hanoi, our next stop was Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park. The park is famous for its 300 caves and grotto systems with a total length of more than 130km. The Sơn Đoòng Cave which was discovered in 2009 by British and Vietnamese explorers is even considered the largest cave in the world.
Obviously we did not want to miss out on this grandiose opportunity of exploring two of the most famous caves in the world. We started our travels at the train station in Hue. By the way train stations are called “Ga” in Vietnamese:
From Hue we started out by rain,
and continued on by bus to Dong Hoi:
We organized the tour for the next day and had a quick dinner at our hotel:
From the roof we had a pretty nice (over-)view of the city:
After breakfast and a 45 minute ride we arrived at Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park which already has a beautiful scenery even without entering any caves:
The only way to reach Phong Nha Cave is by boat. Luckily we were early and thus one of the first groups to set off to the cave:
The boats wound their way approximately 5km upstream to the cave entrance. On this half-an-hour boat trip we passed by every-day river scenery.
The cave is a whopping 8km long, but only the first kilometer is open to the public. But even this first part is by far beautiful enough to make a visit worthwhile. It was the largest cave in Vietnam until the discovery of the nearby Son Doong Cave, which is now widely regarded as the largest cave in the world and the second cave we would be visiting.
After entering the cave the captain stopped the engine and the boat was only propelled by the force of paddling. This avoided the loud engine noises echoing on and on within the cave.
After passing through the small entrance the inside opened up and was breathtaking.
We drifted between rippling walls of limestone and saw immense stalactites and stalagmites lit by multi-colored spotlights.
The boat eventually drew into a small shore site at which we disembarked and followed a trail around parts of the cave.
The National Park is one of the world’s two largest limestone regions. The karsts of Phong Nha can be traced back to Palaeozoic era, which was around 400 million years ago. This makes Phong Nha the oldest major karst in Asia.
Besides the grotto and cave systems, Phong Nha also has the longest underground river. While the cave is roughly 8km long and contains 14 grottoes the underground river is around 14km long.
Once we left the cave on a narrow path we met back up with the boat and headed back to the landing point.
From there it was only a short hike to Sơn Đoòng Cave. In Vietnamese the name means “Mountain River Cave” and interestingly this cave was discovered relatively recently by a local man. Today it is regarded the largest cave in the world.
Entering this cool and dark place from the hot and bright outside it is a very pleasant place to be. Wooden stairs and a gangplank have been constructed and help guide the visitors through the cave. It appears the more impressive with the lights indicating the sheer dimensions.
The cave was discovered by a man named Hồ-Khanh in 1991. The local jungle men were afraid of the cave because of the whistling sound it made from the underground river. Its existence was only made public in 2009 when a group of British scientists from the British Cave Research Association conducted a survey in Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng.
The biggest chamber of Sơn Đoòng is over five kilometers in length, 200 meters high and 150 meters wide.
walking deeper and deeper into the mountain with all the different sounds, shapes and lighting it was an overwhelming experience to walk along the stalactites and stalagmites which took millions of years to develop.
In the late afternoon after exploring the two most impressive caves we have ever visited we headed back to Dong Hoi.
We arrived at the train station in the evening and bought our over night sleeper train tickets.
Our next stop was going to be Hanoi, where we planned to arrive in the very early morning.
Lying in our bunks the monotonous rattling and clanking of the train had us slumbering off into a world of secret caves in no time 🙂This entry was posted in Asia, WorldMap