I finally reached central Vietnam. I have never found any information that this region is so interesting. Central Vietnam – magnificent Hoi An, historic Hue and one of the most incredible national parks in the world – Phong Nha – Ke Bang.
Phong Nha National Park – Ke Bang
The main city in the national park is very small, it’s mostly offers an overstay guesthouses to backpackers who came to explore here the caves. But it’s worth coming here. It’s something completely different that the rest of the country. The city is surrounded by incredible nature, this region is probably one on the most beautiful places on earth.
Trip to the world’s biggest cave
This is where you find the longest cave in the world which is 7 km length. Most of the cave can be explored by boat, the deepest water has 31 meters and the cave is 80 meters high. The locals say the cave is so big that it would fit in a warship. There’s a long bridge built inside the cave so visitors can explore the cave with long walks.
Tu Lan is the whole cave system here with over 20 km length. The longest cave – Hang Tien was explored in 1992. During the summer the cave is dry but during the wet, monsoon season a river flows through it to cover few kilometers. Just when you find yourself in the cave you are astonished by it’s beauty. I have never seen more amazing earth formations.
The impression is compound by the shadows of huge highlighted stalactites and stalagmites and their reflections in surrounding water on the other side. Only 1 cm of these rocks need 100 years to form. The caves have around 400 million years. While sailing inside the cave you can see sandy beaches. This phenomenon occurs only in this one cave in the world. The sands here are brought by the monsoons, which can totally change the landscape of this area.
The river that flows into the cave is called „Lipstick” in Vietnamese of course. In December during tropical monsoon climate, the monsoons accumulate lots of sands from the surrounded calcareous mountains and bring it straight to the river, which changes it’s color into red – this is where the name of the river come from – the lipstick.
Trekking in the biggest caves in the world
Trekking prices are insane!! If you want to buy one week trekking you need to pay 3000$. Three day trekking costs around 600$. That’s why I picked one day trekking 🙂 But I visited two main caves.
They made a great job making the caves a tourist attraction. There are many amazing things to do in the caves – swim under water between the caves, rope climbing, kayaking and mud bathing. And of course the survivals tours, which are the most exciting option for me, but too expensive. The expedition leads through tight tunnels and it’s mostly climbing. There are no lights in the tunnels so if your headlights brakes down you gonna live a really thrill adventure.
Most of the caves were opened 10 years ago, but some of them only last year (2014). It was too hard to maintain the trails inside the caves. For some trails it took 2 years before they become safe enough for people. Every single trekking trip includes an insurance. 🙂
Where to stay in Phong Nha National Park?
The town offers two guesthouses. Mine has a dorm with 22 bed 🙂 Including two sick people (they did not move for 2 days) and 3 backpackers with broken bodies (after motorbike accident – very typical in Asia). You have to book a room in advance! On the reception there are 5 people, but the mess around is still huge!
There’re thousands of paper sheets flying around, and trust me, the word organization does not exist there! There are about 30 people in reception room, with a restaurant, sitting room and waiting room. You have absolutely no clue what are all those people waiting for 🙂
So after 30 minutes we finally heard: “room no hab” which means „room don’t have”, even when I made a reservation in advance. They are taking me to another building. After reaching a first floor they point a bed which is located in the middle of the huge corridor and respond with a big smile – ‘Free!’ 🙂 WTF??? Ohh no no no, I’m not sleeping here for sure! I booked a bed in a dorm not in somebody’s house in the passage.
The sleeping place adventure continues 🙂
OK, we’re going back to the guesthouse. Of course no one waits for me once I’m putting my trainers on, as they just shuffle in flip flops all the time. 🙂 In the guesthouse the boss gives us free beer and asks if we can sleep on the couch located in dorm room. Well, it’s not a big problem for me so I agree. But they shortly discover that there are few free beds ready for new guests. Probably they just didn’t notice them from the beginning, which would avoid this silly running around the city buildings.
They are so happy discovering this fact that you simply cannot be angry with them. After lying down on our beds, the staff takes all the spare couches in the room. Everyone is playing with his smartphone. So there’s 26 people in the room, when people from the other guesthouse are paying us a visit. I have no idea how many people are in the room but I’m too tired and fall asleep. Staying in dorms you’re trying to stay quiet not to disturb others. But no… not the Spanish girls. Incredibly noisy from the morning!
Do it yourself!
What’s interesting every cave has it’s God stamp. Local religion is very interesting and full of superstitions. It’s like every stairs leading to the temple winded around by dragons. They plait on the front gates or paintings aside. They symbolize wisdom and strength. Heading the Van Long region and northern Vietnam.
A very usefull tip – it’s possible to rent a boat to visit some of the caves without an organized trip. The caves are not far and they are easy accessible from the nearest village. You can see a starting point in the pictures below. You just need to hire a boat and the guy will take you there for half price.