Phong Nha, the new gem of Vietnam

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Until 2013, Phong Nha was just a small village where some cave enthusiasts used to go and discover the wonderful caves there. It was mostly a destination for local tourists who ventured on the boat tours to Phong Nha caves or dared to go to other sites that require more adventure, like Paradise cave. Then, suddenly, foreign tourists started to flow, and two years later it had become the second most popular destination for foreigners after Halong Bay, according to Lonely Planet.

How was that possible? Well, it is no coincidence that Phong Nha is the closest village to Soon Dong, the biggest cave in the world, which was just discovered in 2009 by a team of British explorers with the indispensable help of a local man named Ho Khanh. This gave a lot of publicity to the place, and although the tours inside Soon Dong are limited and very expensive, it allowed tourists to discover the other caves around, which are also wonderful and can be trekked in one day (two or three days for more distant ones, such as Hang En or Thu Lan).

The once quiet rural village where kids died of starvation 20 years ago is now a bustling village where everyone wants a share in the tourism boom. As you walk (or better, pedal) through the main street you will go through dozens of newly born hotels and restaurants that publicize western food, pizza, beer and hamburgers, with charming spelling mistakes, seeming to be the biggest hits.

But why are we talking about this in a blog about cycling? Because aside from this tourism gold rush there is another striking fact in the country of motorbikes: most tourists move around by bicycle. All homestays and hotels offer bikes for rent and it’s common to see groups of Western boys and girls in their twenties pedaling around the town by bicycles. The sportiest ones venture into the countryside with the bikes and park them in front of some of the caves near the road. It’s difficult to find a better place for cycling: there is barely any car, you are surrounded by nature and even the climate seems to help, the mountains bringing some fresh air (except during the hottest months in the summer). If you are in central Vietnam and you like cycling, it can be a good choice. You can even try cycling there from Hue; you can rent a bike in our office there if you don’t have one with you.

A Paradise On Earth Awaits Visitors

A beautiful cave inside the limestone mountain in Vietnam’s central region is named after Heavens and later turned into a tourist spot

Thien Duong Cave, or Paradise Cave, considered one of the most beautiful, magnificent caves in the world, has recently become a favorite tourist attraction to many people from in and outside the country.

Opened to tourists five years after it was discovered in 2005, the cave in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, certified as a world natural heritage site in 2003 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), is evaluated to be more beautiful and more wonderful than Phong Nha and Tien Son caves, also located in the park.

According to scientists at the British Royal Cave Society, Thien Duong Cave is part of a limestone mountain at the altitude of 191 meters above sea level and is surrounded by a primeval forest of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. It is 31.4 kilometers long and 100 meters high.

For tourists’ covenience, local tourism authorities have built a four-kilometer-long road, which extends from the foot of the mountain to the cave. Visitors can walk or go on an electric car, then continue to climb 524 rock steps to reach the cave. Arriving at the cave, they will see the mystical beauty of stalactites with the diameter of 3-4 meters and the height of up to 100 meters as well as extraordinary stalagmites, which are formed after millions of years. The stalactites and stalagmites are given such names as Thác Thiên Hà (Galaxy Waterfall), Qun Tiên Hi T (Fairies’ gathering), and Tr Tri (Heaven Pillar).

Hotels and travel companies under the umbrella of Saigontourist Holding Company have offered services related to Thien Duong Cave.

The Saigontourist Travel Service Company has opened tours for discovering Thien Duong Cave. The tours depart from HCM City by air on Tuesday and Thursday, last from 3-6 days and cost each tourist about VND3.7-7.9 million (US$176-376). Visiting Thien Duong Cave, tourists and their tour guides will travel on Asia’s longest underground river (the system of streams inside the cave) to see rows of stalactites and stalagmites of multifarious shapes as irresistible temptations.

The four-star Saigon-Quang Binh Hotel, which is located in Dong Hoi City, Quang Binh Province, by the Nhat Le River also opens tours of Thien Duong Cave. The tour takes one day and is priced differently depending on the number of clients. Guests staying at the 95-room hotel are given incentives for taking this tour. By Dat Tien

Thien Duong Cave, or Paradise Cave, an exceptionally beauteous cavern in Phong Nha-Ke Bang Natinal Park, one of Vietnam’s world natural heruage sites