Just as I arrived at the boat terminal at Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in the north-central province of Quang Binh, I heard a familiar boat engine sound in the distance and in no time recalled a worthwhile trip to Ba Be National Park in the northern upland province of Bac Kan.
The very image of a calm, shallow, crystal-clear river that meanders through the limestone mountains, the humming sound of boats carrying nature-loving tourists, and the same three-hour duration of the tour are among the similarities that could be drawn between Phong Nha-Ke Bang and Ba Be.
Unlike Ba Be, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park does not possess many breathtaking towering karst limestone mountains on both banks of the Son River along the way to Phong Nha cavern though it is located in a 2,000 square kilometer limestone zone.
After a half-an-hour ride, the boat arrives at the lofty entrance of the cavern and then switches off the engine. The pilot and his assistant shift to rowing along a 600-m stretch of the underground river to protect the environment inside the cavern from air and noise pollution, and give tourists some time to contemplate the stunning limestone formations.
Cruising deep into Phong Nha cavern in what is the world’s longest underground river, one may have a feeling of being engulfed by darkness. But in some places there are lighting systems highlighting the diverse and awestriking shapes and sizes of stalactites that could arouse one’s imaginability. One stalactite may be claimed to be similar to a tiger, one looks like an eagle, one can be perceived as a child, and one seems to be similar to a young or old woman holding her child in her arms depending on where you stand to view it.
So all the wonders that one must view and have some photo opportunities for are inside the cavern. This differs from Ba Be. The beauty of Ba Be lies along the path of the Ba Be Lake, which is formed by smaller lakes. The high mountains are covered by the thick lowland evergreen forests on the way to Ba Be. Meanwhile, the jaw-dropping views inside Phong Nha cavern make a 190-km tiring bus journey from Hue City a real rewarding experience.
Tourists, especially those nature-minded, should drop by both Ba Be and Phong Nha-Ke Bang for a visit when they are in Bac Kan and Quang Binh provinces. And they won’t regret it. By Anh Khoi in Quang Binh
A stalactite looks like a woman’s hair – Photos: Anh Khoi
A tour boat is seen in front of the entrance to Phong Nha cavern