One of the main reasons I’d always wanted to visit Vietnam was Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. This national park, a couple hours north of Hue and situated deep in the jungle on Vietnam’s border with Laos, contains some of the most spectacular caves in the world. Specifically, Phong Nha-Ke Bang contains Hang Son Doong, the cave with the largest cross-section in the world (and more than twice as large as cave number two).
Unfortunately, the only way to get to Hang Son Doong is on a $3000 five-day four-night tour. Yeah… no. But thankfully, Phong Nha-Ke Bang has more than 300 other caves, and while none are as amazing as Hang Son Doong, many are pretty spectacular in their own right.
To get to Phong Nha-Ke Bang, we stayed in nearby Dong Hoi (not the best city, not worth showing), then took a shuttle to a cart to a hike to our destination. Pretty secluded, just how we like it!
Phong Nha-Ke Bang has several caves in addition to Hang Son Doong, but we chose Thien Duong (also known as Paradise Cave) because it was huge, gorgeous, easy to get to, and easy to explore. The only drawback is that this cave can get pretty crowded, so we made sure to arrive early, before the crowds came.
The outside entrance may not look like much, but inside… well look. Thien Duong goes on like this for nineteen miles, although only the first four are open to tourists. The first mile is easily done by walking the cave’s boardwalk, while the following three can only be accessed through a guided tour.
So how big is Thien Duong? Well, in addition to being 19 miles long, the cave’s largest cross-section is 230 feet high and 500 feet wide. So despite Hang Son Doong being much larger (660 by 500 feet, respectively), this cave was enormous! Inna and I were humbled, and very impressed.
Even more impressive were the caves stalactites and stalagmites. Just look at these things!
The lighting in this cave, although unnatural (natural lighting would be pitch black), was beautiful and greatly added to the wondrous effect.
And some of the formations even resembled animals, like jellyfish.
This one even looked like a turtle!
This cave was so beautiful, so interesting and surreal and grand in every way. It was like a Dr Seuss book, or Avatar, or parts of Crazy House. It barely felt real, but it was awesome.
And so huge! Experiencing this cave, we can only imagine how Hang Son Doong must be. Some day we’ll go there, some day…
Because Inna and I arrived at Thien Duong early, we also left early, right before the crowds came. This was actually doubly lucky for us, because it also gave us time to book a bus out of Dong Hoi that day, meaning one less day in crappy Dong Hoi and also an extra day in our next destination: the amazing Hanoi.
On our way to Hanoi, they put us in the back of the bus, right next to each other. Oh the temptation, if only we were still in college, or even high school…