Aug 23 2011
While staying at Phong Nha farmstay earlier this month we joined a day trip to the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Until recently the park was not open to foreigners, but thanks to the efforts of people like Ben from the farmstay this wondrous area is now available to explore, though you will still need to go with a guide.
Located in Quang Binh province, at the narrowest part of the country, the park is not only rich in geology but also history: during the American War it was a vital route through to the Ho Chi Minh Trail and across the border to Laos. Going with a guide who can regale you with stories of this time — as we did — adds another dimension to a visit.
This is one of the world’s largest karst regions, with a similar landscape to Halong Bay, Tam Coc and Yangshuo in China. Splendid examples of karst scenery can be seen both inside and outside the park along with streams, springs and waterfalls scattered throughout the jungle-clad landscape. Although there are no longer any tigers in the park, a number of species of monkey and moon bears still inhabit the area, though they are rarely seen.
Not all of the park is open to visitors but on our trip we got some great vistas, visited an animism temple, the Eight-lady Cave (where 8 Vietnamese were trapped and died after a bomb hit the cave during a raid) and Paradise Cave.
Paradise Cave or Hang Thien Duong was discovered in 2005 and, at 31km long, is longer than Phong Nha Cave. It’s huge. Seriously huge. Visitors can walk along platforms for about the first kilometre and in just that kilometre you’ll be treated to a myriad of formations and just an expanse of well, space. I’ve visited quite a few caves in my time and my jaw still dropped upon entering this one. Son Doong Cave, also located in the park, is larger — the largest cave in the world apparently — but is not yet open to the public.
To get to Paradise Cave you have to walk a couple of kilometres from the car park — or take the golf buggy — then walk up 524 steps to the entrance. Once inside it’s another couple of hundred steps down into the belly of the cave.
During our visit the water levels were very high and the water was muddy thanks to flooding in Laos. This meant we weren’t able to swim in what is usually crystal clear water. Kayaking was an option, but we decided against it (legs still wobbly from the climb).
Although the park is now accessible to foreigners, you will still need to go with a guide. Tours can be booked at Phong Nha Farmstay or directly with Chau at Oxalis Adventure Tours. Chau was born in Phong Nha and, after spending time away, has recently returned to the area to help develop tourism. His English is excellent and he’s very passionate about the region.
At the moment it’s possible to do the tours by motorbike or jeep. As well as daytrips, Oxalis also offers a two-day hiking trip.
Oxalis Adventure Tours
T: (052) 367 7678 / (0903) 376 776 (Jo)
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