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UNESCO: Phong Nha, Ke Bang National Park

Phong Nha – Ke Bang is a national park in the center of Quang Binh province in north-central Vietnam. It is one of the world’s two largest limestone regions with several hundred caves and grottoes. Its name derives from Phong Nha cave, the most beautiful one, with numerous fascinating rock formations, and Ke Bang forest. The plateau is probably one of the finest and most distinctive examples of a complex limestone formation in Southeast Asia.

Vietnam Photo, Phong Nha Cave
Phong Nha Cave: Near Hue, Vietnam
Photo by discopalace

Spanning over 200,000 ha of land, the park boasts beautiful limestone formations, grottoes and caves, with lush forestland covering 95 percent of the park area. Though nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998, the Park only received official status as a World Heritage Site at the UNESCO’s 27th general assembly session held in Paris in 2003. Phong Nha-Ke Bang, together with Ha Long Bay and Fanxipan of Vietnam, is also nominated for the 7 New Natural Wonders of the World, ranking 10th in the voting list then.

There is a never ending quest for discovery here in Phong Nha – Ke Bang and it is definitely the place to be for nature lovers and the adventure spirited. The park has around 300 caves and grottos in an area of approximately 80km long but so far only 20km of which has been covered by explorers.
• Phong Nha Cave was previously the largest in Vietnam (before Son Dong Cave was discovered) but no doubt the most beautiful still. It’s remarkable for its thousands of meters of underground passageways and river caves filled with plentiful stalactites and stalagmites. In November and December the river is prone to flooding and the underground cave may be closed. Phong Nha means Cave of Teeth, though the ‘teeth’ (or stalagmites) that were by the entrance are no longer there, the rest of the cave remains almost unspoiled

• Tien Son Cave is a dry cave in the mountainside just above Phong Nha Cave. You can walk to it from the entrance to Phong Nha Cave (1,000m) – look for the sign at the foot of the stairs. This cave was discovered in 1935 by locals and named the Fairy Cave due to its extraordinary beauty, later it was called Dry cave to distinguish it from Phong Nha cave which is the water cave. The Chams used the cave’s grottoes as Hindu sanctuaries in the 9th and 10th centuries and till today, the remains of their altars and inscriptions can still be seen. This cave was last used as a hospital and ammunition depot during the War and thus one of the key entry points to the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

• Heaven cave is the large and longer cave than Phong Nha cave. This is a dry cave with no underground river flowing through as Phong Nha cave.Heaven cave ground is soft and flat so it’s easy to visit and explore.

• Just recently, in April, 2009 a team of explorers found Son Dong Cave and much to their surprise it was far larger than the world’s largest cave then – Deer Cave, Malaysia. Son Dong is 5km long, 200m high, and 150m wide compared to the Deer Cave which is only 2km long, 100m high and 90m wide. However, more has to be found out about the cave before they can be opened up to tourists.

My To Do List

While in Phong Nha – Ke Bang, you can embark on the following 3 activities:
– Kayaking to explore the caves including Tien Son cave, Phong Nha cave, Heaven cave, or even Son Dong cave (do take note that this particular cave can be more physically taxing as it requires a10km walk through the forest)
– Eco-tourism in the form of discovering flora and fauna in the national park in Ke Bang Forest.
– Climbing adventure, there are dozens of mountain peaks that are higher than 1000m and these terrains have proven to be challenging even for regular climbers. Of worthy mention are the Peak Co Rilata with a height of 1,128 m and Peak Co Preu, at 1,213 m.

Why Go

With accolades such as the longest water cave, highest and largest entrance, most beautiful swallow holes, largest and most beautiful grottoes, most magnificent and unusual stalagmites and stalactites, longest subterranean river, and the most beautiful and largest stone and sand beaches, the list looks set to go on as more is being learnt about the place. And it’s always a special to come discover a place while its beauty and people are still untainted by commercialism.

Why Not Go

There is no denial that Phong Nha is a place of “heaven on earth” but the experience can sometimes be marred by fellow visitors. No offense but many visitors are Vietnamese and they tend to take a less strong stand on preserving and protecting this beautiful place. Littering, people climbing on stalagmites and smoking cigarette in confined spaces are some of the acts that are prohibited, but enforcement is lax or non existent to say the least.

Best Time to Go

Similar to Northern Vietnam’s weather, Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park has a typical tropical monsoon weather with hot temperature in summer and high humidity. In summer it can go up to 41°C and it also can drop as low as 6°C in winter. As such, it is not advisable to go there during summer, especially from June to September, although the temperature inside the cave is still cool (around 20°C) but the temperature outside is simply unbearable.From October to May, the weather is more ideal, but do prepare more warm clothing during the month of December to March as the weather can turn cold.

Where to Stay

As the park has been discovered not to long ago, most lodging options are located in Đong Hoi Town and Nhat Le Beach.
For the budget conscious travelers, you will be able to find rooms ranging from $7-20 per night. Pink Hotel (+84 52 3821804), Truong Phap Street, Dong Hoi City for a room around USD10. Hoang Linh Hotel (+84 52 3821 608), Mac Dinh Chi Street, Dong Hoi City for a room around USD12

There are some ongoing projects of resort development in Quang Bình. However, only Sunspa is fully in operation. Room rate is from $70 to $150 depending on facilities and view. Most of the tour agencies will recommend you to stay in Sunspa Resort. Another luxury hotel is Sai Gon – Quang Bình ((+84 52 3822276), 20 Quach Xuan Ky Road, Dong Hoi City, room rate falls within the range of $58 to $128.

Where to Eat

You will not be able to find any eateries in Phong Nha – Ke Bang. So it might be better to pack some food along for the trip. Otherwise, most visitors usually travel to Phong Nha – Ke Bang in the early morning and have lunch on the way back to Đong Hoi Town or Da Nhay Beach.
Seafood is very popular here and the choices aplenty as to how you like them prepared. Highly popular is the Đẻn (a kind of sea snake) and it often featured in a few dishes. The Fish rice soup is also very nice and comforting especially after a tired day of activity or when the weather is cold.

Getting There

Phong Nha-Ke Bang is easily accessible from Dong Hoi City (50km), you can take a taxi, motorbike taxi or a shuttle bus.

To get to Dong Hoi City, there are various connecting options such as bus, train or flight from the major cities.

Buses depart from Hanoi, My Dinh Station frequently. An 11h journey costs around VND 160,000. From Ho Chi Minh, Mien Dong Station the 23h long journey will cost you around VND 280.000.

Filed Under: Featured, Quang Binh

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