Long before Phong Nha-Ke Bang (also spelled Phong Nga-Ke Bang) National Park came into existence, the Champa people were using its caves for various purposes. The Champa were people of ancient Cambodia and Vietnam who ruled most of southern and central Vietnam from the seventh century through the mid-nineteenth century. Carving out inscriptions on steles and altars inside the caves, the Champa left their mark in the magnificent caves many years before modern Vietnamese and British scientists would begin to explore the caves. Later explorations discovered Neolithic axe heads in the area, showing that use of the caves date back even before the time of the Champa people.
There is no overstating the magnificence of the caves in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. The park was created to protect the world's two largest karst, or limestone, regions. Inside the limestone topography are over 126 km of cave systems, with over 300 caves and grottos (grottos are caves that have been inhabited or used by humans). For anyone visiting Vietnam with the slightest interest in caves, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is a must-see destination.
Phong Nha Cave
The cave from which the park takes its name is Phong Nha cave, which is considered by many to be the best cave in the world. At 7,729 metres long, with 14 grottos and a 13,969 metre-long underground river, Phong Nha cave has been a site of mystery and wonderment for natives and visitors alike for centuries. With towering ceilings that can reach 40 metres above the water level and rock formations that excite the imagination, Phong Nha is open to tourists up to 1,500 metres.
Son Doong Cave
Son Doong cave isn't new, but it is newly discovered. In 1991, a local man stumbled upon the cave for the first time in modern memory, but unfortunately he couldn't remember how to get there until January 2008. The man assisted British scientists to find the cave mouth, and they have been exploring it ever since. Son Doong cave is currently the largest known cave in the world. Unfortunately, due to precarious conditions inside the cave, it is not yet open to tourists. In the future, hopefully visitors will be able to catch a glimpse of the enormous cave; the biggest chamber is over five kilometres long, 150 metres wide, and 200 metres high.
Tien Son Cave
While Phong Nha and Son Doong may be known for their size, Tien Son cave is known for its beauty. Created tens of millions of years ago, the stalactites and stalagmites inside Tien Son twist and turn into fairy-tale shapes. Tien Son is located right next to Phong Nha, making it easy for visitors to take a look at both caves.
Other Park Features
As if the spectacular caves at Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park weren't enough, the park is also a great place for mountain climbing, hiking, and eco-tours of the surrounding Ke Bang Forest. With sharply sloping mountains reaching heights of over 1,000 metres, you don't have to be a spelunker to find a challenging adventure at Phong Nha-Ke Bang.
There's a little something for every visitor of every age at Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. For anyone who enjoys the outdoors and natural wonders, this park should make it onto your Vietnam itinerary.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
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