Explore Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park – the UNESCO World Heritage
Designated as a Unesco World Heritage site in 2003, and with its inclusion as a filming location of Kong: Skull Island, Phong Nha – Ke Bang has now become renowned as one of the most beautiful and interesting areas of Vietnam. This Phong Nha Ke Bang travel guide covers all the information you need to know before traveling to Phong Nha Ke Ban, Vietnam.
The remarkable Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park possesses the oldest karst mountains in Asia, formed approximately 400 million years ago. Blessed with hundreds of cave systems – many of extraordinary scale and length – and spectacular underground rivers, Phong Nha is a speleologists’ heaven on earth. The park was created to protect one of the world's two largest karst regions with 300 caves and grottoes and also protects the ecosystem of limestone forest of the Annamite Range region in North Central Coast of Vietnam.
The plateau on which the park is perched is probably one of the finest and most distinctive examples of a complex karst landform in Southeast Asia. This national park was listed in UNESCO's World Heritage Sites in 2003. In April 2009, the world's largest cave, Son Doong Cave, was discovered by a team of British cave explorers of British Caving Association. Tourist activities in this park includes expedition of caves and grottoes in boats, eco-tourism, discovering the flora and fauna in this park and mountain climbing and trekking.
Phong Nha town is on the edge of the park just off the main highway, and has undergone some growth since the caves were discovered. Most accommodation, restaurants and travel providers are in the town, although there are some good places in the surrounding villages - where the tradeoff is the peace and quiet.
II. How to get Phong Nha – Ke Bang
Quang Binh is in the center of Central Vietnam with convenient transportation facility from the south or north. To reach Quang Binh, you can go by plane, car or train.
1. By plane
Currently, the closest service is via Vietnam Airlines or Vietjet Air to Dong Hoi, check their website for latest fares and flight times.
2. By bus
- From Hanoi to Dong Hoi: the ticket price ranges from VND 200.000 - VND 300.000. It takes 9 – 10 hours to get there.
- From Da Nang to Dong Hoi: the ticket price is about 125.000 – 200.000 VND. It only takes 4 – 5 hours to get to Quang Binh.
- From Ho Chi Minh to Dong Hoi: the ticket price fluctuates from 500.000 - 600.000 VND due to the far distance between Ho Chi Minh and Quang Binh. It usually takes a day to get the destination.
3. By Train
- Dong Hoi railway station is the stop for Thong Nhat railway so train is definitely a reasonable mean if your travel expense is limited.
- From Hanoi to Dong Hoi Station: The price of bed is about VND 500,000 – VND 700,000/person/bed on floor 1-3 and soft seat price is about VND 300,000/seat. It takes from 10 to 12 hours to get to Quang Binh.
- From Saigon to Dong Hoi Station: Ticket prices vary from VND 400,000 – VND 1,300,000/person/seat or bed.
III. Best time to visit Phong Nha – Ke Bang
As Quang Binh has the monsoon tropical weather and is always affected by the climate of both the North and the South, Phong Nha Ke Bang weather is divided into two distinct seasons:
The dry season (from April to August) is a great time to explore the cave systems in the heart of the natural heritage of Phong Nha Ke Bang. While the temperature outside is around 36 to 37 ° C, the temperature in the caves is always at 20 to 21 ° C.
The rainy season (from September to March next year) is affected by the Northeast monsoon, so the average annual rainfall is from 2,000mm to 2,300mm each year. On rainy days, the flood of Son River rises and covers the gate of the caves, so tourist boats cannot come to Phong Nha Cave.
IV. The most stunning places
1. Phong Nha Cave
This cave, from which the name to the whole system and the park is derived, is famous for its rock formations which have been given names such as the "Lion", the "Fairy Caves", the "Royal Court", and the "Buddha". This cave is 7729 m long, contains 14 grottos, with a 13,969 m-long underground river. The scientists have surveyed 44.5 km of grottos in this cave so far, but tourists can only penetrate to a distance of 1500 meters.
Phong Nha Cave, like most of the caves in this area, has been continuously shaped by Chay River. As one gets farther into the cave, the more illusory the stalactites and stalagmites look as they glitter when bright light is shone on them. The Son River flows into the mouth of the cave and keeps flowing underground, where it is referred to as the Nam Aki River, then this river emerges at a site 20 km to the south near Pu Pha Dam Mountain. The main Phong Nha cave includes 14 chambers, connected by an underwater river that runs for 1.5 kilometers. Secondary corridors branch off in all directions. The Outer Cave and some of the Inner Caves have roofs that tower between 25 and 40 meters above the water level. From the 14th chamber there may be other corridors leading to similarly large chambers, but this area proves more dangerous for explorers because of the ongoing erosion of the limestone of the cavern.
2. Thien Duong (Paradise) Cave
Dubbed the "imperial palace in the ground", Thien Duong cave is one of the most magnificent and magical wonders in the world. It is located in the heart of a limestone complex at an altitude of 191 meters, surrounded by primeval forest in Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park. Paradise Cave is a dry cave that is considered as the longest one in Asia. Thien Duong cave has a length of 31.4 kilometers, the width ranges from 30 to 100 meters, the widest place is 150 meters and the height from the bottom to the ceiling is about 60 meters. Paradise Cave has a magnificent and magical structure that makes cave explorers think of a paradise on Earth.
Entering the cave, people will be delighted to imagine the countless stalactites of various shapes. Come with Cung Thach Hoa Vien as the statue of the Virgin Mary holding the comrades. Besides, Giao Thich is where the Jade Emperor discusses the state affairs with the gods, around is the unicorn and the phoenix. Compared to Phong Nha Cave, stalactites in Paradise Cave have more shapes and variations.
3. Tien Son Cave
The cave was discovered by a local inhabitant by accident in 1935. The entry mouth of Tien Sơn is 1 km from Phong Nha cave, at an altitude of 200 meters. This cave is 980 meters in length. A 10 meters deep hole is situated 400 meters from the entry mouth, then a 500 meters long cave, dangerous for tourists and open to professional expeditionists only. Like Phong Nha cave, this cave features spectacular stalactites and stalagmites shaped like several fairy-tales. Stalactite and stalagmite columns and walls here create strange sounds like that of gong and drum if they are knocked with the hand. According to British cave scientists, Tien Son cave was created tens of million years ago when a water current holed this limestone mount in Ke Bang. Following a series of landforms and movement of rocks, this mass was levered or lowered, blocking the current and creating what is now Tien Son cave while the underground river redirected its current to Phong Nha cave. Although Phong Nha and Tien Son caves are located next to each other, there are no linking grottos between them.
4. Son Doong Cave
Son Doong is currently known as the world’s largest natural cave in the world. Son Doong cave was first discovered in 1991 by a local named Ho Khanh, followed by a team of British cavers lead by Howard Limbert in 2009. According to the Limberts, this cave is five times larger than the Phong Nha Cave, previously considered the biggest cave in Vietnam. The biggest chamber of Son Doong is over five kilometers in length, 200 meters high and 150 meters wide. With these dimensions, Son Doong overtook Deer Cave in Malaysia to take the title of the world's largest cave.
What’s even more amazing is that the ecosystem created within the cave has its own weather system and creates its own clouds. Inside, you will find the largest stalagmite known to man, hanging at 262 feet tall (80 meters), and fossils dating back millions of years. Collapsed ceilings have created openings known as dolines, and this has allowed foliage to grow inside the cave. You will come across jungles and rivers enveloped by misty clouds, and microorganisms thriving in the darkness. You will be walking into an image of Earth as it was millions of years ago.
5. Dark Cave
Dark Cave is a branch of the Phong Nha cave system, discovered by British explorers in 1990 and 1992. The cave has a gate 20 meters wide and 40 meters high. Like other caves in Phong Nha - Ke Bang area, Dark cave is both a water cave and a dry cave with a length of 5. 258 meters and a height of 80 meters. Dark Cave is the name of the expedition of the Royal cave of England, because the "dark light" in the cave is so thick that it makes people think it cannot be touched.
This cave is still pristinely reserved with thousands of colorful and characteristic stalactite columns and is the refuge of many animals such as bats and swallows. In particular, the area of the cave is also a sanctuary for the Hatinh langur - one of the primate species listed in the Red Book of Vietnam. Located right by the river where the humidity is high, the stalactites at Dark cave are covered with a large amount of moss, creating a characteristic green color.
V. What to eat in Phong Nha Ke Bang?
Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park has a diverse system of primeval forests and rivers, and the water source is clean and fresh, flowing from the limestone so special dishes here have a unique flavor that cannot be found anywhere else.
You can try some tasty local dishes such as bighead carp, river shrimp, grilled broodstock fish, and grilled chicken. Especially, don’t forget to try the famous delicious eel. In addition, there are also some typical dishes from Phong Nha mountain forests such as deer meat and mountain goat.
Written by: Hieu La