Phong Nha - Ke Bang, National Park - a fabulous Heaven Land

The Nature has awarded Vietnam a fabulous Wonder with grandiose green tropical jungles, nice & mysterious caves & grottoes, and the Asia’s oldest limestone mountains.., that is, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

1. Geographical Location

Phong Nha - Ke Bang (or Vườn quốc gia Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng in Vietnamese) is a huge national park located in Bo Trach and Minh Hoa Districts of central Quang Binh Province, in north-central Vietnam. The National Park is about 500 kilometers south of the nation's capital, Hanoi. The park was created to protect one of the world's two largest karst regions with around 300 caves and grottoes, and the ecosystem of limestone forest of the Annamite Range.

The core zone of this national park covers 85,754 hectares, which are divided into three zones, a "strictly protected zone" (64,894 km²), an "ecological recovery zone" (17,449 km²), and an "administrative service zone" (3,411 km²). The plateau is probably one of the finest and most distinctive examples of a complex karst landform in Southeast Asia.

2. Climate

Like the North-central (or Bac Trung Bo) in general and Quang Binh Province in particular, the climate in this national park is tropical, hot, and humid. The annual mean temperature is 23 to 25°C, with a maximum of 41°C in the summer and a minimum of 6°C in the winter. Annual rainfall is 2,000 mm to 2,500 mm, and 88% of the rainfall is from July to December. With more than 160 rainy days per year, no month is without rain. Mean annual relative humidity is 84%. The typical tropical climate has helped build up a pure atmosphere of the green ecological environment, ideal for any visitor.

3. Formation History

Formation: The Phong Nha–Ke Bang karst has evolved since the Paleozoic (some 400 million years ago) and so is the oldest major karst area in Asia. Like much of Vietnam, it has been subject to extensive tectonic changes, thus the limestones of Phong Nha are inter-bedded with a number of other rocks. There is also strong evidence that sulphurous solution and hydrothermal action have played an important role in shaping the broad-scale landscape and the caves.

Historical name: The Park deprives it name from Phong Nha cave, the most beautiful of all, containing many fascinating rock formations, and Ke Bang forest. One has explained that Phong Nha means “Wind and teeth” based on Chinese transcription, which expresses the blowing wind inside the cave and teeth-like rough stalagtites. There have been several other ways of explanation, yet none is more popular than this. 

People now flock to this National Park for contemplating the UNESCO-recognized world natural beauty, and also for directly witnessing the fabulous rock formations inside the caves.

A nature-gifted magnificient landscape: 7 best in one

Phong Nha-Ke Bang Park takes pride in the assessment of containing “7 best things” as a result of a National Science Conference held in Quang Binh in April, 1997. They are:

1.     The longest water cave 

2.     The highest and widest cave mouth

3.     The widest and most beautiful sand & rock bank 

4.     The most beautiful underground lake 

5.     The most magnificient and miraculous stalactite 

6.      The nation’s longest underground river (around 13,969 m)

7.     The nicest and widest dry cave

It is certain that when one goes on a bout around this beautifully miraculous zone, he may be surprised and feel that he were lost in somewhere in the Heaven where he does not want to leave at all! So now let’s take a round trip to try this fabulous feeling!

Let’s tour!

Rivers & Streams

Phong Nha is such a beautiful landscape that you may have to hold your breath on contemplating. Here are the charming Son and Chay Rivers, (the two longest underground ones in the Phong Nha-Ke Bang), gently flowing in the middle of the two sides’ reed and green bamboo rows. Most of the caves here have been shaped by those two rivers.

The Son River flows into the mouth of the Phong Nha cave, which is the only point where it emerges in around 20 kilometeres. Also, there are more than ten spectacular streams, springs and waterfalls in Phong Nha-Ke Bang area, namely Gió waterfall, Madame Loan & Chài waterfall, Mọc stream erupting from a limestone mount range, and Trạ Ang stream. 

Far away can you see the enchanting pure Bong Lai Lake and Chai waterfall, adorned with a number of dark violet “bằng lăng” flower baskets blooming in the warm weather. Some tourists ever uttered: “Wow! Heaven!” since the scenery is so much romantic and marvellous!

Limestone Mountains

The Park also contains two dozens of mighty limestone mountains with over 1,000 m in height. Some of the most noteworthy peaks are the Co Rilata Peak with the height of 1,128 m and the Co Preu Peak with a height of 1,213 m.

Non-karstic topograhical area accounts for a low percentage, distributing mainly in outer circle of limestone in the north, northeast and southeast of this national park. The height of these summits varies from 500-1000  m with the deep divisions. The grandiosity and uniqueness of the limestone mountain ranges that only can be found in Phong Nha-Ke Bang is of great attraction to tourists.

Flora-Fauna

It’s now time to explore the zone in its rich Flora-Fauna composition. The Ke Bang primary jungles have been home to 98 families, 256 genera and 381 species of vertebrates, many of which are listed in the Vietnam and World's Red Book.

If you are bold enough, you can go further into jungles to see by yourself these lively rare animals, Gecko, Macaque, White-cheeked Crested Gibbon, Hatinh and Black Lagur, Mainland Serow, Giant Muntjac, Saola, Bear, Bull, and so forth. Watching them closely and directly is somehow thrilling but extremely interesting! 

Besides, for those fond of plants, it’s good news that the tropical jungles have a huge number of tropical trees, grass, bush on limestone rocks and soil mounts, sindora trees, rattan and bamboo forest, and the nation’s greatest Calocedrus rupestris. It has 140 families, 427 genera, and 751 species of vascular plants, of which 36 species are listed in the Vietnam's Red Data Book.

Visiting Phong Nha Cave

Penetrating to a distance of 1,500 m inside Phong Nha Cave, tourists may go from surprise to surprise! Phong Nha - Kẻ Bàng is also named “Kingdom of Caves”. Up to now, there are more than 300 caves that have been discovered, and still continuously shaped by the Chay River.

The Son River flows into the mouth of the cave and keeps flowing underground, where it is referred to as the Nam Aki River. The main Phong Nha cave comprises 14 chambers, connected by an underwater river that runs for 1.5km.

Notable caves and grottos of Phong Nha are Phong Nha Cave (Hang Phong Nha), Dark Grotto (Hang Tối), E Grotto (Hang E), Cha An Grotto (Hang Chà An), Thung Grotto (Hang Thung), En Grotto (Hang Én), Khe Tien Grotto (Hang Khe Tiên), Khe Ry Grotto (Hang Khe Ry), and Khe Thi Grotto (Hang Khe Thi).

The most famous one is Phong Nha cave, which has been considered as “First-ranking Cave Wonder” for its world’s most beautiful stalactites and longest rivers by the Brishtish Royal Geography Association. Sitting on your boat along the Son River into the Cave, listening to the wind whistling as if in a Cathedral, you may be unable to return! As you get farther into the cave, the more illusory the stalactites and stalagmites look as they glitter when bright light is shone on them.  

Here you can contemplate the splendid landscape of the ancient huge teeth-like stalactites falling and stalagmites roughly rising. The stalactite brilliant light stretches throughout the cave as a beautiful silk full of colors.

Each of the caves contains its own mysterious and miraculous secrets of the eternal dark Caves, stimulating and absorbing tourists to come and discover by themselves!

World recognition

Honorably recognized to be the World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2003, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park has brought in a great pride for not only the locals but also all the Vietnamese.

The reason for being recognized is that it meets criteria viii “outstanding geological, geomorphical, and geographical values”. This year, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park has submitted to UNESCO second time for recognition as a world natural heritage for biodiversity. 

Besides, in the “7 New World Natural Wonders” voting, Phong Nha-Ke Bang has been one among 3 sites of Vietnam (together with Ha Long Bay and Fanxipan) to be in the candidate list.

Though the final results are to be given at the end of the year, in the announcement of the New7Wonders at 6 a.m on February 22nd, 2008 (Vietnamese time), Phong Nha-Ke Bang was ranked second (to Ha Long Bay) in the list of 77 world natural wonders. Ever since the significant moment of being on this list, the National Park has attracted a much greater number of visitors from all over the world!

How to get there?

If you are in Hanoi, the best way to get to the site is by train, the Thong Nhat one. After arrival at Dong Hoi station, you could travel by road or by sea. Both are easy to use, yet the latter could bring you the realistic understanding of a riverside life.

Tourist activities

• Tour for expedition of caves and grottos in boats and with professional cave expedition means.

• Ecotourism, discovering the flora and fauna in this national park in the Ke Bang Forest.

• Mountain climbing: There are extreme sloping mountains here with a height of over 1,000m, which is a real challenge for adventurous climbers.

4. Spectacular Tien Son Cave

Tien Son Cave belongs to Phong Nha - Ke Bang  tourist complex that comprises natural beauty-spots in central province of Quang Binh. The site is now on the list to be recommended to UNESCO for recognition as a World Heritage Site.

Originally called Dry Cave, Tien Son Cave was discovered in April 1935 in the limestone mountain of Ke Bang. The Phong Nha - Ke Bang Caves consist of the Phong Nha Cave system, with 9 caves of various sizes and the Vom Cave system, with 8 caves of various sizes. 

Of which, spectacular Tien Son Cave is the most magnificent limestone cave in Vietnam and just opened in 2000.  It is about 400 metres away from the famous Phong Nha Grotto and at a height of 135 metres.

Tien Son Cave is more than 980 metres long. Going into the cave for about 400m, you will see an abyss, about 10m deep. Then comes another part of the cave, about 500m long, which is rather dangerous for walking. At present, nearly 400m of the cave have been installed with lighting system to make it safe for visitors.

The Cave looks marvelous inside with hundreds of stalagmites and stalactites of different sizes and shapes. Some look like a man or an animal, and there is one that looks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy. On the cave ceiling, there are glittering gold and silver-like veins. Some stalagmites produce an echoing sound when slightly knocked.

Limber Howard, Chief of the British Royal Team of Cave Researchers, who visited and made studies of the site, said that Tien Son cave may have been formed tens of millions of years ago. A river ran through the limestone mountain and eroded it. Then, huge rocks fell, separated the mountain and formed the cave. An underground river ran through the lower part of the mountain, creating Phong Nha Grotto. Thus, Tien Son Cave is older than Phong Nha Grotto and they do not link with each other. Geographical tectonics in Tien Son Cave are rather stable, so the cave is safe for visitors.

At the present, Phong Nha and Tien Son cave always open to welcome to visitors to discover marvelous beauty and hidden values here.

5. Son Doong, the world's largest cave

Son Dong, a cave belongs to the Phong Nha - Ke Bang   grotto system in central Quang Binh Province, has been discovered to be the biggest in the world.

Son Doong cave, discovered by a local 18 years ago, is more than 200 meters wide, 150 meters high, and at least 6.5 kilometers long, though the explorers said they were unable to explore it fully. Bristish explorers have recently discovered that So Dong is much larger than the world’s biggest known cave.

The biggest section of Son Dong is five kilometers in length, 200 meters high and 150 meters wide, said Howard Limbirt of the British Cave Research Association team searching the area April 10-14, 2009.

Son Dong is much larger than Deer Cave in Malaysia, currently considered the world’s largest, an explorer said (Deer is 90 meters wide, 100 meters high and 2 kilometers long). The Son Doongcave has replaced to take pole position as the world’s largest cave.

The Son Dong is situated below another cave in Phong Nha-Ke Bang, though its entry passage is very difficult to traverse. The exploration team said they had set foot on just 6.5 kilometers along the cave, as there is a large amount of fast flowing water inside Son Dong.

It takes explorers six hours of walking through a 10 kilometer long forest path from Truong Son Highway to reach the mouth of Son Dong cave. The explorer added that the Quang Binh cave has beautiful stalactites and stalagmites that are not seen anywhere else.

Phong Nha-Ke Bang grotto system belongs to the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. It is a limestone region of 2,000 square kilometers in Vietnam and borders another limestone area in Hin Nammo in Laos.

When describing the newly-discovered cave, the team’s spokesman,Haward Limbirt, said that it was a thing of overwhelming beauty and grandeur. He added that each grotto has its own beauty, but he is impressed by Ca Xai. This cave is near the Vietnam-Laos border. It is very deep and has a big lake inside. Explorers measured the depth of this lake, but they had only 200m of rope and the end didn’t reach the lake bed.

The British team suggested to the local authorities not to develop Son Doong Cave as a tourism site immediately to preserve its natural beauty.

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