Photo: Entering the cave by boat.

Introduction

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Nestled at the foot of limestone cliffs that began formation 400 million years ago, Phong Nha is the gateway to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, home to a series of world record-breaking caves. Situated 40 kilometres northwest of the provincial capital of Dong Hoi and built along the Son River, the small village of Son Trach (also referred to as Phong Nha) is growing to meet the growing number of tourists flocking to explore these underground worlds.


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This single road town now sports excellent hostels, homestays, treks and tours. While it’s possible to see a couple of caves as a daytrip from Dong Hoi, there’s no reason not to stay in town and enjoy the gorgeous scenery – we don’t use that word lightly. When you understand the scale of the park and the size of what lies underneath, nothing but grand superlatives do it justice.

Hang En cave. Just wow. Photo taken in or around Phong Nha, Vietnam by Cindy Fan.

Hang En cave. Just wow. Photo: Cindy Fan

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2003. Located in the Central Annamite Mountains (and adjoining the Hin Namno National Biodiversity Conservation Area across the border in Laos), UNESCO notes that the park’s 126,236 hectares “is one of the largest and most distinctive tracts of karst topography in the world.” It forms one of the largest remaining intact forest-limestone karst habitat in Indochina, with forest cover an estimated 94%, 84% of which is believed to be primary forest.

Tectonic uplift and changes in sea-level over time have created a complex and extensive underground network including the world’s largest cave. Opened to the public in 2013, Hang Son Doong is five kilometres long, with sections large enough to house an entire New York City block with 40-storey skyscrapers. Before you talk yourself into splurging on the required US$3,000 trek, know that only 500 spots are available each year and it’s sold out more than a year ... Travelfish members only (Around 1,200 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.


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