Phong Nha-Ke Bang is an adventurer’s paradise – the world’s largest cave system , zigzagging rivers through karst topography and dense forested mountains.
Most caves in the Phong Nha are inaccessible during rainy season from October to December. Sadly , we could only catch a break in October – Ayesha, Tirtha , Debarshi and me in our festival holidays. This was probably the highpoint in our Vietnam trip .
We flew from Hanoi to Dong Hoi and quite an interesting incident occurred on landing. Ayesha , Debarshi & I were waiting in the bus at the tarmac. All the passengers and crew had alighted, yet no sign of Tirtha . Ayesha was quite nonchalant and replying to emails but finally looked up and said – “Tirtha must be looking for his cell phone , that’s in my bag !” Truly Tirtha finally emerged from the aircraft and in the bus and asked – is my Phone with you ? The airline crew are all looking for that !”
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is renowned for hiking trails and the lakes and rivers for kayaking. You will love the pristine nature, friendly locals, the wilderness, and the hospitality.
Phong Nha Cave and Paradise Cave are the most popular attractions in the national park. We stayed in Phong Nha for just two nights and thus could cover only Paradise Cave and Phong Nha cave. The 7 Km Paradise Cave Adventure trip closed for the rains disappointing us.
The entry to Phong Nha Cave features a journey along the river but it had rained so much that we had to climb through the wooden walkways. You can explore the Paradise Cave through well-lit wooden walkways.
The Cave Tours
Things to carry
Do keep in mind a few things being an humid environment with sudden drop by a few degrees inside the cave. Wear quick-dry and carry a set of dry extra clothes, Towel, Mosquito repellent, Sunglasses, Hat , Camera and drinking water.
Paradise Cave – Thiên Đường Cave
History of Paradise cave
Thiên Đường Cave or Paradise Cave is an astounding cave system in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park . It is the longest dry cave in Asia. Only one km is open for tourists round the year as a Classic tour. In the dry season an Adventure Tour of 7 km is possible – some steep trek , kayaking or wading across streams trudging along the stream bed ending in the Paradise Heaven Well and enjoying the less traversed path filled with stalactites and stalagmites.
The cave is about 31.4 km and 200 meters above the sea level and a height of 60m. This natural wonder was discovered by a local in 2005 and explored by the British Cave Research Association in 2005. The spectacular stalactites and stalagmites awed the British cave explorers who named it “Thien Duong Cave” or “Paradise Cave”.
How to reach
Phongnha Discovery Tours picked us up from our hotel and drove us down for about 40 minutes to the Paradise cave Car park. There are two options from the Car park to the Cave entrance – the first one and half km by golf cart or a trek (1.6km) from the main gate through the jungle and then an inclined hike to the mouth of the cave with spectacular views.
In our Discovery tour group, there were 3 more young girls – a Parisian solo traveler and two Indians who had just started their first jobs. Our guide was a young Vietnamese girl who took one look at all of us and said we are not using the golf cart on the way up. We loved that the guide understood us quite well since we were keen to do the trek as well.
Inside the Paradise Cave
The entrance to the Paradise cave is small and quite unassuming, hidden behind cliffs and forest canopy.
The first view starts with a descent and the scale will take your breath away as you walk in . You will step into a fairy land of incredible stalagmites and stalactites , a chasm opening into the earth , but yet so unearthly.
The stalactites and stalagmites are in myriad shapes and sizes and will appeal to your whim and fancy – may be an elephant’s trunk or a lion’s face or a cloud .
We truly had the most wonderful time in there as we walked though the wooden walkways. The temperature in the Paradise cave was lower by at least 10 degrees from outside and seemed naturally airconditioned.
Lunch at a local Vietnamese Restaurant
We walked out from the Paradise Cave, and it had started raining so we had to opt for the golf cart back. Our next stop was lunch at a local Vietnamese restaurant right beside the entrance to the Dark Cave. All the ziplining tourists really got our adrenaline rushing and we wanted to do that too. Alas! not enough time.
We had an interesting lunch as you can see and there were other tourists as well in the place. We then embarked on our way to the boat station for the Phong Nha Cave.
Phong Nha Cave
History of Phong Nha Cave
Phong Nha Cave is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is about 7 – 8 km long with numerous grottoes and a 14 km subterranean river. Tourists are only allowed to explore the first km and half. In the dry season the boats take you through the cave as you marvel at the limestone wonders. But as luck would have it, it had rained quite a bit and so we walked along the wooden pathway.
Phong Nha means ‘Wind and Teeth’ derived from the stalagmites that stand guard at the cave’s entrance. The Son River flows for about 19 km underground emerging from the mouth of this cave which gives this one a surreal charm.
How to reach
The wooden boats are dragon shaped and take you through the Son River encircled by karst mountains and verdant forests. You also do get to see quite a few houses and homestays along the river.
Inside the Phong Nha Cave
Paradise Cave is majestic and spectacular, but Phong Nha has been voted as the most wonderful cave in the world. We staggered at its beauty , the meandering long underground river, its wide entrance, the exquisite sandbank, the remarkable stalactites, stalagmites, and water grottos. Debarshi was so mesmerized , he changed the camera settings only to forget about it and blurring all the images !
Our guide mentioned the rock formations have often been referred to as the “Lion”, “Fairy Caves”, “Unicorn”, “Kneeling elephant”, “Royal Court” and the “Buddha”.
Phong Nha Lake House
We stayed at the West Lake Villas in the Lake House, truly the cherry on the icing. A Vietnamese and Australian Couple own and run this resort. Lovely villas equipped with creature comforts like air-conditioning, hot baths and WIFI. The expansive views of the Dong Suon Lake with the surrounding mountains was idyllic far from the maddening crowd. A traditional Vietnamese house built in 1954 in North Vietnam in the village of ‘Ha Giang’ inspired this resort.
The weather was sunny skies on both days except the last morning during our kayaking. More about our kayaking adventures in a bit.
The Lake Villas
The West Lake Villas are the best with huge rooms , the textbook picture-perfect view overlooking the natural Dong Suon Lake. We had an open balcony to enjoy the morning tea soaking in the nature with the lake view. The rooms have a Balinese style outdoor shower, indoor hot showers, soft beds and view of the surrounding mountains. The villas offer the perfect privacy away from the main property with a superb night’s rest.
Our Kayaking adventures !
The Lake house offers diverse activities like fishing, cycling, swimming and of course kayaking. We had the most amazing kayaking experience after our first taste of kayaking earlier in the La Han Bay as we took out the kayaks to explore the lake with a few bird views as well. Our kayaks took us to the nearby golf course as well and on our way back kayaked beside the local village with a concerned dog and a rooster on proximity alert ! We also had a share of adventure when Ayesha instead of boarding the kayak fell into the water! We also kayaked on the morning of our check out where we were caught in a rather heavy down pour and soaked to the bone. Quite a dripping adventure!
Funnily I almost drowned in the Kids swimming pool and the men – Debarshi & Tirtha were laughing away instead of rescuing me.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang is a true showcase of nature in all its beauty and scale . We plan to return some day for a Adventure: Hang Son Dong , Tu Lan , Hang VA and Nuoc Nut , Hang En with Oxalis Adventures.
We travelled from here by road to Hue which is a story for another day when one of us kept thinking that we were travelling in the opposite direction all the while !