Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park
Phong Nha literally means Wind and Teeth, and Ke Bang is regarding the flora and fauna of the rainforest. Isn’t it the most beautiful way to describe a paradise of cavernous mountains crowned by deep jungle?
If you are a nature lover or adventure seeker this is a name you should be familiar with. Phong Nha-Ke Bang is one of the biggest national parks in Vietnam. Located in the middle of it, Quang Binh province and extending its mountainous rainforests up to the depths of eastern Laos. It is home of more than 300 caves, of which around 20 are open to the public.
Have you ever swam inside a cave river? Submerging yourself into the crystal clear and pure waters, ice cold and body warm streams fusing together, flowing and dancing around fantasy worldly rock formations? Well…what are you waiting for?
The national park offers the visitor plenty of caves including all sorts of experiences to combine. Within wet and dry , you can choose in between the most popular and advertised caves, which include Paradise, Phong Nha, Dark cave, Fairy cave, Hang 8 Lady, etc.
Absolute incredible formations, watching centuries of construction and design drop per drop; all sorts of wonders to discover inside. Furthermore they have a close relation with the recent dark historic past of the country. One of the most clear examples is the 8 Lady cave (yes, Hang means cave in Vietnamese) Whoever goes inside will get out with goose bumps… after hearing the story that gave it it’s name.
Caves such as Paradise can see up to 5.000 tourists per day in high season. A bit hectic, doesn’t it seem?
They are fully prepared for this invasion though, with wooden paths, modern light system, some as fairy cave will count with different colour lights to help the visitor immerse in a surreal journey. This advances make them accessible for all publics, however this intrusion doesn’t come free from environmental impact.
The heat of the lights combined with the acidification of the environment caused by increased unexpected levels of CO2 (our human breath) have lead to a cease in the growth of the stalagmites and stalactites. Together with some sneaky opportunists looking for unfortunate souvenirs the inner cavernous world may be at risk.
Fortunately the inner depths are tourist free, only the first couple of km are open to visitors. Being an area with the world’s largest cave complexes would seem that there is plenty to rely on. However we could ask ourselves for how long will this protection last?
Dark cave on the other hand, as it’s name indicates, is dark inside. You will be provided with full gear and equipment before exploring it’s inner secrets. If you haven’t arrived with your tour guide already the place will provide you with one (in high season is highly recommended to book a tour previously, mainly because on rush hours the waiting list to be assigned a default guide can take forever) But no, it’s not possible to go alone inside. Sorry. Safety reasons and as mentioned in the previous paragraph, we tourists are dangerous alone.
In spite of being in a group you will have loads of fun, even more as you will have mates to share the experience with. It is a muddy cave, for being able to explore it’s secrets you will have to get wet, dirty and in shape… Jk, it is suitable for all physical conditions, however we must warn previously: it can get pretty narrow at some parts. And here not everything is just caves, there is an adventure complex surrounding Dark cave: kayaking, ziplining with dry and wet landing (jump directly to the river), in addition to some trekking trails through the jungle and over the unbelievably turquoise or emerald waters (in spite of being very depending on the weather, it’s blue might make you think is not naturally possible, that must be due to contamination. But don’t worry, you won’t mutate if venture to jump to it’s waters. You will just be bathing in a sort of cave soup, waters filled with calcium and other minerals scratched from the holes of mother earth, generating a colour needless of any filters)
However…where do the real explorers go? Son Doong? Most definetely if you own 3 thousand dollars just to invest on it. But while we wait to sell our kidneys in the black market there are other choices we can enjoy.
The National Park is wide and vast, extending it’s immensity through endless km of rainforest that commonly tourists don’t even consider to investigate. Exploring caves is not one of the cheapest activities (regarding money and time), and you might have to carefully choose where to invest. If this is your situation, what would you rather do? Visit the main sightseeing points, crossing them from the list, a museum-like experience; or push yourself through rocks and rapids, climb the darkness of almost untouched caves, submerging yourself in a journey engaging both, body and soul?
Or to put it through on another way: for how long do you think these new caves will remain this ‘untouched’, free of tourist masses, wooden trails and ladders?
The city of Phong Nha, the Son Trach village has seen an incredible boom in only 3 years. For this 2018 there are plenty of growth and construction projects. All to cover and supply for the increasing waves of worldly tourists that come thirsty of adventure but still want their 1st world quality standards to be met.
Not implying anything, but it is clearly obvious that it might be a now or never sort of experience. Start getting your chances, pursue your dreams, live a life worth telling! And seek to live the best story, even if only for telling it to yourself.