Soon after gorging ourselves with edible delicacies, the need for adventure had to be filled. The next destination was the Phong-Nga Park region near Dong Hoi, Vietnam, where the caves of this region are the next frontier of the nation.
Most of these caves were discovered recently including the first one we visited, Paradise cave which was discovered in 2005 and opened to the public in 2010. When learning about them after I landed in Vietnam, I kept hearing from people that “you could fit passenger jets inside the caves,” which I just met with disbelief.
On our first morning, we opted to not pay for the tour and just rented a motorbike to do the tour of the area ourselves. We reached the entrance of Paradise Cave park and quickly ascended the stairs up the mountain to the entrance of the cave. There were plenty of people near the top, but the entrance wasn’t visible.
Suddenly, a cool draft coming from one staircase gave us the indication. We quickly went to the stairs to retreat from the outside heat.
Upon entering, I saw the stairs continually descending and I was momentarily floored by the sight below me. You really could fit a passenger jet inside the cave.
Given the lighting and close proximity of all the features of the cave, capturing its sheer size and depth was difficult. I did take one fruitful panoramic shot which captures the size to some extent (above). For scale reference, those are stairs for humans extending to the bottom left of the picture.
Surprisingly, I found a small plant growing within the cave. Looking around, I could not see any openings in the limestone wall or streams of natural light. Could the light fixtures within the cave cause this?
The recently built path within the cave extended 1.1km until there was a gate, after which the cave extends another 30km! I spent some time there looking at the formations, colors, and natural pools until I heard some dripping. Looking to see where the water was falling from, I saw a local tourist urinating in the corner of the path to the cave floor beneath. I turned away with a grimaced smile and asked, What next? My question was answered. Another gentleman stopped at the gate where the lit part of the path ended and gazed beyond it. He took two swift looks around, hopped over the gate, and walked into the darkness. Maybe he was just looking for his buddy.
Later that afternoon after doing a small hike by the river, we stopped at a bridge to catch the setting sun over the karst region.
The next day we opted to catch a boat to the Phong-Nga Cave and explored the underground river which extends over 13km.
The mouth of the cave before entering the underground river.
Near the dark entrance, the cave roof was so low it barely allowed the boat to pass, but that changed quickly.
After wading the water for almost 1km, we turned back and approached a sand beach which opened into a separate shallow cave that we explored by foot.
Our mighty navigator and rower guiding us through the cave. She commanded a lot of respect from the passengers, and most of all from a small group of teenage boys who tipped her graciously.
After the Phong-Nga Cave, we completed our Central Vietnam adventures and continued northward. We were all karst out, or so we thought…