Driving southward in Vietnam, one of the distinct highlights of the natural landscape is the world-class cave formations. Although our time traveling through the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park was limited, the essential stop at Paradise Cave was incredible.
This gigantic cave was only discovered in 2005, and tourists have only been allowed to enter since 2010. So, it’s not a particularly old attraction, but in the years that it’s been open to tourism, supporting infrastructure has been build up to an extreme. From Wikipedia:
Thiên ???ng Cave (Paradise Cave) is a cave in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, UNESCO’s World Heritage Site, 60 km northwest of ??ng H?i city. Thiên ???ng Cave is located on an elevation of 200 meters above the sea level, near the west branch of Ho Chi Minh Highway, in Son Trach Commune, Bo Trach District, Quang Binh Province, Vietnam. The cave was discovered by a local man in 2005 and 5 first km of this cave was explored by explorers from British Cave Research Association in 2005, the whole 31 km was explored and publicly announced by the British cave explorers. This cave is 31 km long, longer than Phong Nha Cave which had been considered the longest cave in this national park. The height can reach to 100 m and 150 wide. The limestone formation is also more spectacular than that of Phong Nha Cave. The British cave explorers was impressed by the beautiful and spectacular stalactites and stalagmites inside this cave and they named it Thiên ???ng Cave (Paradise Cave). In 2012, a new scorpion species Vietbocap thienduongensis was found here.
On our way to Paradise Cave, we stopped at a very very tasty local restaurant – particularly, the banana flower salad was amazing.
Driving into Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park was beautiful, with limestone cliffs jutting out of the jungle everywhere.
Our drive south into the national park, we drove along the long, winding concrete road that runs the length of the park. For the most part, the road is well maintained, and very windy – lots of sharp turns, and ups and downs through the mountains. However, at one point near the end of our drive, we hit a strange section. As we were winding around the last corner, all of a sudden, the road took a turn, and suddenly we were on an extremely flat, straight, wide, and smooth portion of road. It looked strangely like a runway, including an a few unmarked roads leading off the straight section into another patch of concrete next to a few buildings next to it – much like an apron. Strange. Later, I learned that what we were driving on was in fact a north vietnamese secret runway, used during the war. It’s now been turned into part of the main road, but it’s obviously still in a condition that would allow it to be used again with a bit of rehab. Suspicious.
The Paradise Cave entrance area is way overbuilt, and heavily touristed. After driving hours into the jungle, we had all expected to be exploring a dark, peaceful, empty cave. But what we found was the exact opposite – hoards of tour bus package tourists had descended on the site, and were eating crappy icecream bars as golf carts drove them to the stairs leading to the entrance to the cafe.
Inside the cave, it was very built for tourism – a grand staircase led down to a perfect wooden walkway, allowing almost everybody to have a great stroll through the cave. Although overdone, the walkway and LED lighting everywhere gave everybody an excellent experience in the cave – as far as overdone tourist traps go, this was actually a fairly well executed one.
The inside of the cave is truly enormous – and it’s not just a bare rock cave. Stalactites drive from every bit of the cieling, and strange formations crop up everywhere. Everything is illuminated by well placed LED lights, and it’s a truly spectacular sight.
After the cave, we drove down the road a bit for a refreshing swim in the river, and then a tasty, fresh cooked lunch in a bamboo cabana next to the water. A great day!