Story: An Dung

Photos: Phu Duc, Hai An, Quang Ngoc

According to CNN, over the past decade, Vietnam has emerged as one of the world’s leading destinations for cave-enthusiasts.

In Quang Binh, the famous Phong Nha – Ke Bang cave complex has earned recognition as a world-class attraction. Other not-to-be-missed sites include Surprise Cave (Quang Ninh), Tam Coc – Bich Dong (Ninh Binh), and Huong Tich Cave (Ha Tay).

Son Doong Cave, Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park (Quang Binh Province)

Son Doong and Swallow Cave (Quang Binh province)

Nestled in the core of Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park, Son Doong is said to be the largest cave in the world. Tucked in a fault line of the Truong Son Range and tunneled out by the Rao Thuong River over millions of years, Son Doong is an enormous cave passage hidden deep beneath the karst mountains. The cave stretches nearly nine kilometers long. Some parts are as wide as 160m and over 200m high. In the ceiling’s fractures, limestone eroded over time, leading to collapses that formed mysterious sinkholes – or gateways to the outside world.

Every year from January to August, during the dry season, the Son Doong Expedition Tour is offered to small groups of six to 10 people. Participants hike through indigenous villages, trek through the jungle, and set up camp inside the mouth of Swallow Cave before negotiating rough trails and starting a series of short descents to drop 80m into the cave. They also conquer the cave’s biggest challenge: the “Great Wall of Vietnam” – a 90m-tall rock wall. Having overcome these obstacles, participants enjoy unforgettable experiences in a miraculous underground world.

Thien Duong Cave, Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park (Quang Binh Province)

Paradise Cave (Quang Binh province)

This is one of the most popular caves in Vietnam. While the entrance is too narrow to allow more than one person to worm through at a time, once inside, visitors are welcomed by a large space ornamented with otherworldly and formidable stalactites. Thanks to its rock formations, the cave is often described as an “Underground Palace”. Paradise Cave is considered the longest dry cave in Asia, being more than 31.4 km in length. It reaches a width of 150m, and is from 60m to 80m-high from floor to ceiling.

Regular tours only cover a one-km walk along a network of wooden stairs to enjoy the most magnificent and unique stalactites and stalagmites in Asia. Visitors seeking more adventure can take tours that include an overnight’s stay underground and a seven-kilometer hike.

Surprise Cave - Ha Long Bay (Quang Ninh Province)

Surprise Cave (Quang Ninh province)

It would be a mistake not to mention Surprise Cave in the Halong Bay cave system, which sprawls across ten thousand square meters. This cave is divided into two chambers, with the second one accessed via a tiny entrance before astounding visitors with a space vast enough to house thousands of people. Visitors are also amazed by the rock formations in mystical shapes and patterns, named after folk tales.

Tam Coc - Trang An Heritage Site (Ninh Binh Province)

 Tam Coc (Ninh Binh province)

Tam Coc is often called “Halong Bay on land” or “the second-most majestic cave of the South”. The name Tam Coc means “Three Caves”. Travelers board small boats and enjoy a peaceful cruise down the Ngo Dong River, passing through Hang Ca (First Cave), Hang Hai (Second Cave), and Hang Ba (Third Cave), while listening to legends about the karstic caves. From May to June, the rice paddies start to ripen, transforming the scenery to a gorgeous amber hue.

Huong Tich Cave (Hanoi)

Huong Tich Cave (Ha Tay province)

Located in the stunning Huong Son Landmark Complex, Huong Tich Cave is full of sacred legends. Lord Trinh Sam reportedly visited this area in 1770 and granted the cave the title “Nam Thien de nhat dong” (1770), or the “Most Majestic Cave in the South”. Huong Tich Cave resembles the huge jaws of a dragon. Inside the cave, visitors will find a blue stone sculpture of Padmapani Bodhisattva carved in the Tay Son era (1793). There are tens of thousands of large illuminated stalactites in bizarre shapes, including: Bau sua Me (Mother’s Breast), Dun Gao (Pile of Rice), Dun Tien (Pile of Cash), and so on. On the cave’s ceiling, nine dragon-like stalactites hang facing a spherical stalagmite on the cavern’s floor in a formation called “Nine dragons battle for the pearl”.