Landing at Dong Hoi airport after an hours flight from Hanoi, my group and I were taken to Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park by bus.
As we drove towards the park, I marveled at the beauty of the vibrant green fields stretching for miles on either side of the road. Among the fields small boys rode playfully on the backs of water buffalos, creatures who are often a famer’s most valuable asset and are usually treated like family members.
At the par gate, our tour guide Yen Nguyen presented us with a schedule which include walking through the primary forest, exploring Dark Cave, taking a mud bath and kayaking.
“Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park contains the oldest karst moutains in Asia, formed about 400 million years ago.” She told us, adding that the area is riddle with hundreds of cave systems and spectacular underground rivers.
Phong Nha Cave
The first destination was Phong Nha cave, which is over 7km in length. As we enjoyed cruising down the river and into the cave, Trang told us that thanks to improvements in the cave’s lighting system, the underground river now appears more beautiful than before.
Entering Phong Nha cave was like stepping into another world-a world that only appears in fairy tales. The cave is a miracle of nature, with layers of beautiful stalactites and coloured rock.
According to our tour guide, Phong Nha cave was formed by tectonic movements in the heart of the region hundreds of millions of years ago. “Traces of writing carved on the rock in the ancient Cham language have been found here,” she said.
The cave’s most interesting feature is its beach. We were able to walk around on the sand to explore various formations of stalactites.
After visiting Phong Nha cave, we were guided to Mooc Spring, and eco-tourism attraction only 20 minutes by car from the cave. In the local dialect, Mooc means unknown and the spring earned the name Mooc Spring due to the mystery that surrounds it.
The spring surface at the bottom of a karst cliff where the cool water is of a unique blue and is credibly fresh. Our guide told us that we could either hike along the water’s edge or go kayaking.
A stone path led us to bamboo bridges, so thin that hesitated. However, with Trang’s calm encouragement and guarantees of our safety, we made it cross, enjoying the spectacular – if slightly scary – sight of white water rushing through the rocks.
Chay river – Dark cave
After a short rest, we continued our journey along Chay river; the blue, clear water sparkling as it reflected the cloudy sky. A backdrop of green forest lent a breathtaking quality to the scene.
Soon we came to the 400 metre zip line stretching from the wildlife observation tower to the entrance of Dark cave. Before taking off, we were given a life jacket and a helmet with headlamp.
“Dark cave was found in the years of the anti- American resistance war by local people and used as a bomb shelter. It’s a branch of Phong Nha cave system,” Trang told us. “The cave is 5,558 meter high entry is surrounded by dense forest.
The deeper we went, the darker it became. Without stairs and a guide, I would never have dared to go so far inside. Following a section of underground river, we waded in cold water before turning onto another path for a mud bath. Mud covered the walls and the path zigzagged for about 30 metres. We enjoyed the feeling of being covered in mud, sliding and yelling like kids.
After some minutes of soaking in the mud, we followed our tour guide to Thuy Tien, a large pool of clear and refreshing water. We stayed there for a while before heading back to the exit as darkness fell outside.
On the way back to Dong Hoi city, the bus was full of chatter about what we had seen, from the crystal clear water and primary forest to the bamboo bridges and the mud bath. It was an experience none of us would forget.