Story: Chi Hoa
Photos: Ryan Deboodt, courtesy of Oxalis

Located in Central Vietnam, Quang Binh province offers unspoiled beaches, vast sand dunes and the world-famous cave network of Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park

It’s no exaggeration to say that Quang Binh is the dominion of caves and grottos. The province boasts a staggering number of impressive caves, in particular the Phong Nha – Ke Bang Cave System, which was registered as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage for its outstanding geological, geomorphic and ecological values and biodiversity.

Recently, the British Cave Research Association (BCRA) discovered a new cave system that offers a golden opportunity for adventurers, namely the Tu Lan Cave System.

Located deep beneath perennial tropical foliage in the National Park lies a tangled web of caves. From the small village of Tan Hoa in Minh Hoa District, just 70km northwest of  Phong Nha, a river winds into limestone mountains. Here the river sinks underground and runs through a series of caves before finally resurfacing over 10km away, near Cao Quang village in Tuyen Hoa District.

To date over 30 caves have been discovered in this region, comprising over 20km of underground tunnels. Ten of these caves are open to visitors from around the world who love to venture deep into the unspoiled wilderness. This cave system has existed for at least two million years.

To approach this cave system, adventurers must sneak between gigantic stalagmites and stalactites along a narrow lane in the high and dry caves. In other passages they must wade through cold underground rivers and pass over waterfalls to discover a long string of caves and grottos. The journey tests their bravery and perseverance, as well as the skills they learned before embarking on their adventure.

The reward of this grueling toil is a scene beyond their wildest imagination: an immeasurably high dome with cliffs marked by rising tides or cut into undulating steps that stretch below their feet. Stalactites rise in sparkling columns of numerous shapes or form round globes like pearls. In this mysterious realm, experts have discovered extremely rare creatures. Over one km inside Tu Lan Cave a large river drops over a series of waterfalls. Here, or in the dry caves, fortunate travelers may catch sight of white cave-dwelling animals that are only found in this environment.

Tours of one to four days are being offered in Tu Lan Cave, drawing both domestic and foreign visitors. Tourists trek over steep passes, swim and trek through the caves and camp in scenic enclosed valleys. There are tours of differing levels of difficulty, from relatively easy to extremely challenging. Sustainable tourism is a key feature. Visitors are required to remove their own litter and cannot trespass on the surrounding natural creations. Highly trained guides ensure that the tours are run safely and that the caves and jungle are protected. These guides also take photos to allow visitors to capture spectacular moments of their journey.

  In 2016, a caving team from the BCRA discovered a huge cave in this region, namely Hang Tien (the Fairy Cave). With areas over 80m tall and 50m wide, this cave was a fantastic new discovery. Superb formations line its entire length. In the future, visitors can look forward to exploring the Fairy Cave.

As the cave systems of Quang Binh are fully explored, these natural wonders will put the province on the map, making it a must-visit destination for adventurers and nature-lovers.