Having spoken to a lot of people about things to do and places to see in Vietnam, a few of them talk about the Phong Nha Caves near the town of Dong Hoi but not many people recommended going to Phong Nha Ke Bang (PNKB) National Park itself, which is where the caves are located. I decided to stay at the park to save the hassle of taking a day trip from Dong Hoi.
PNKB national park is a UNESCO world heritage site and was created to protect the worlds 2 largest karst regions with over 300 caves (and not just one cave as I thought)!
After taking an 8hr sleeper bus and arriving at the park at 5am I decided to get some sleep before I could do sight seeing. Once I was well rested, I was recommended to ride around the national park and then see the caves later in the day. I’ve been wanting to ride a bike since I got to Vietnam and I decided to give it a go. I did the short loop (around 60k) around the park and was blown away by the beauty of the karsts, it just doesn’t stop surprising me!
A lot of the roads I rode on weaved in and out of these rock formations but there are times when you are riding on the roads made on the karsts themselves. The 2hr bike ride was made up of non existent traffic, stunning beauty, lots and lots of butterflies fluttering past, and most of the times all I could hear is my bike and the loud noise made by the insects.
Phong Nha Cave
Phong Nha Caves is the second largest cave in Vietnam and holds the record for the longest underground river. It is Viet Nam’s longest underground cave network, has the tallest cave entrance, the most beautiful underground beach, the most stalagmites and stalactites, and the deepest dry cave. These caves are also rich in history as sites that harbored those loyal to the King during the first resistance to French as well as a preparation site for those going to the south along the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the War of Resistance Against the United States. The journey to the caves began with an amazing 25min boat ride. Once at the mouth of the cave, the motor boat was turned off and the boat was rowed by 2 tiny women for the next 45mins-1hr. The cave is HUGE and minimally lit so as to not spoil the natural effect. The cave is known for the stalactite and stalagmite formations. Limestone stalactites take a 1000yrs to grow under 10cms and some formations in the caves were at least 25ft high!
It was an amazing experience to see the caves while imagining how people must have lived there (or rather hid there) during the resistance against the French and later the US. Towards the end of the boat ride, we were let off onto one of the beaches within the cave from where we could see some more stalactites and stalagmites before walking out and taking the return journey by boat.
This cave is very different to the Phong Nha (PN) cave. The roof of the PN cave is higher, the cave is minimally lit, in a lot of places the lighting is natural, it is located at the foot of the mountain and the cave can only be viewed while on the boat. Paradise cave on the other hand bigger, wider, is ‘in’ the mountain (we first had to climb up the mountain and then climb down the cave), and the size of the cave is simply staggering. The cave is lit by a lot of lights (but without which it would be pitch black) and a walkway has been created right from the start to the end of the caves. The stalactites and the stalagmite formations was even more spectacular, some as high as 40ft!
I am glad I toured both caves as they are totally different but equally fabulous! So basically, the beautiful caves along with the stunning national park has so far been a hightlight of my trip