Story: Tue Minh
Photos: Ryan Deboodt, Minh Tran, Ama Chau, Le Huy Hoang Hai
Phong Nha – Ke Bang is a colossal natural museum of major geological, topographical, and ecological importance. As well as witnessing this region’s stunning beauty, visitors can learn more about the earth’s evolution.
Son Doong – the biggest
Discovered in 1991, the existence of Son Doong Cave was not made public until 2009. Son Doong Cave measures 9,000m long, roughly 200m high and 150m wide, making it the world’s largest cave, surpassing Deer Cave in Malaysia.
Apart from its size, Son Doong stands out for other reasons, including its perennial forests, jewel caves, deep holes, fossils, aquatic species, bats and a giant stalactite known as the Great Wall of Vietnam. National Geographic magazine reported that the cave contained “entire forests” and “white sand beaches large enough to contain a New York city skyscraper”. In 2014, the New York Times ranked Son Doong as eighth among the 52 most attractive tourist destinations on Earth, while the Smithsonian Science Magazine ranked Son Doong at the top of 25 destinations visitors should explore in the 21st century. The US website Smarter Travel Tourist declared Son Doong one of the top 27 natural wonders of Asia. The Huffington Post website ranked Son Doong fifth among 10 must-visit destinations. And the Guinness Book of Records confirms Son Doong’s status as the largest cave on earth.
Dong En (Swallow) Cave – the widest
Swallow Cave is the world’s third-largest cave with an entrance measuring 78.6m high and spanning over 70m across. Although it’s just 1.645km deep, it has the widest interior of any cave found in Vietnam.
The cave impresses visitors with its beauty, which has been lauded by publications including National Geographic and the New York Times. The 2015 blockbuster movie, Pan, included a couple of scenes shot in this beautiful cave.
Phong Nha – superlative beauty
Phong Nha Cave is both stunning and geologically important. The British Royal Academy voted it one of the most impressive caves in the world based on seven criteria: highest and widest entrance; finest submerged sand and rocks; most beautiful underground river; most splendid and mysterious stalactite networks; high and wide dry caves; deep and beautiful underground lake; and the longest river.
French travel magazine Extreme-Asie, published in 1929, described it as follows: “Several stalactites take the form of lanterns in festivals that are adeptly arranged while others are hang loose like flower petals and sepals. Some cave edges are filled with long tubes like the flutes of church organs.”
Also in 1929, a team of French explorers named Charly, Qualaggi and Buoffier recorded the following in their diary: “Numerous spiky stone statues of quaint shapes are in disarray and yet unutterably tranquil, featuring all the colors of the rainbow. We can see the faint pinks of paintings by Watteau, the blues of works by Raphael, yellowish-grey sediment and vermillion reflected with bright reds and the evergreens of lush fields. All mirror themselves in the water…”
Paradise Cave – Underground palaces
Paradise Cave stretches over 31.4km long. It is generally from 60m to 80m wide, 150m across at its widest point, and between 30m to 100m high. The Record Association lists it as the longest dry grotto in Asia.
Nature created a fairytale palace of stalactites and stalagmites, which are diverse in shapes and sizes and vary greatly in color. These formations take the shapes of bells, tubes, towers and curtains, leaving both visitors and scientists enchanted.
The caves of Phong Nha -Ke Bang are drawing visitors from all over the world. Other nearby tourist sites include Nuoc Mooc Fountain, the Chay River – Dark Cave zip line route and Survival Valley – Aquarium Cave. Visitors to this wild region will find rich biodiversity, natural beauty and many opportunities for adventure.