July 8, 2020
When we get up in the morning, most of our roommates are gone, and it is only 7:00 in the morning. We also get up quickly, excited about the day ahead. For breakfast we eat leftovers from yesterday, which we consume at the balcony. The view of the city turned out to be fantastic. We saw a wide river over which a long bridge ran, roads in very good condition, sidewalks decorated with greenery and most importantly, finally clear sky! We are in a seaside city, but we will not have the opportunity to check its value, as we came here for another purpose.
Dong Hoi is a city located 55 kilometers from Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. This is another object in Vietnam, this time a nature one, from the UNESCO World Heritage List. The subject of protection are primary tropical forests in which 751 species of plants and 381 species of animals have been found. There are also the oldest limestone mountains of Asia with numerous caves and underground rivers, mostly unexplored.
Our goal is to visit one of the caves. You can choose from Phong Nha cave, which is 55! kilometers long. For visitors, only the first kilometer is made available, which is overcome by boat, as in most of the cave flows a river. The second is the Paradise Cave, which lies 20 kilometers away. It was discovered quite recently and made available to visitors only in 2011. We decide on the latter, which according to the guide, is less commercial than the first one, and lies deeper in the national park. To get there, we rent a motorbike from our hotel and set off. We have a small map to help, drawn by a lady from the reception. After leaving the city, we are going on the highway, which is in good condition, and the trip goes very well. On the horizon you can already see the limestone mountains, “approaching” us with every kilometer. We also pass rice fields, unfortunately they are not as beautiful as they probably are at the time of flowering, but they also have their charm. When the mountains are already close to us, a huge sign appears on one of the rock walls informing us that we are entering the park. From here, we still have about 20 kilometers. Along the way, passing through a small village, we pass by children returning from school. Almost each of them greets us with the famous "hello". The surroundings are so beautiful that we slow down from time to time to enjoy these amazing views. We have never seen such mountain formations before. They grow suddenly from a flat terrain, and in most cases they are so overgrown that it looks like someone covers them with a carpet of greenery. No piece of rock breaks through this rug. After about 30 minutes we reach our destination.
Paradise Cave is considered the largest dry cave in the world. It was discovered by British researchers in 2009. Its length reaches 35 kilometers and, as in the previous one, tourists can visit only the first kilometer. We get to the parking lot, and very exited run to the ticket office. To our satisfaction there are only a few tourists. We also notice that everything is quite nicely organized here. The car park is located about 1.5 kilometers from the cave. We can get there by special vehicles, or take a walk among wild areas. Of course, we choose to walk, which takes us several minutes. Then we overcome 500 stairs up, exactly counted by Viola, leading to the cave. Already standing a few meters from the entrance, you can feel a cool breeze coming from the underground.
The entrance, which is a small hole in the mountain's wall, begins with a wooden staircase, which leads downwards. The cooler air is more and more noticeable, giving clear relief. We descend below, daylight is almost gone, fortunately the stairs are lighted up so that you can see where to take the steps. Turning backwards, you can see the entrance to the cave, getting smaller with each step. After a few seconds the underground world appears in front of our eyes, difficult to describe in words. It feels like being on a different planet. The first view is a huge hall, several dozen meters tall and over a hundred meters wide, filled with shiny stalactites and glass-like pillars and stalagmites. Approaching closer, we gaze at amazing stalactite formations, wondering about the power and beauty of nature. Further path leads to the next chambers, huge and amazing. In each of them you can see similar, but also eye-catching miracles. An amazing feeling had to accompany the explorers of this cave, entering and exploring a previously unknown world, filled with darkness at that time. This shows how little we know about our planet. It is also confirmed by the fact that this year a new scorpion species was discovered in Paradise Cave.
Our trip continues until the end of the corridors and tunnels open to tourists, unable to enjoy the sight. Coming back we climb the stairs to the exit, turning our heads every now and then, casting our last glances at this magical world. Coming to the surface, heat hits us again. To the parking lot, to the surprised staff, we also go on foot. We stop at the restaurant for dinner and set off on the way back. We choose a route that allows us to discover more areas of the park. It was a very good decision. The scenery around us is so spectacular that from time to time we stop and just look around. One would like to stay here longer, but we have to move on. Along the way, we meet a couple that we met in a hotel, and we come back together.
We reach the city just before sunset. This time of the year, darkness falls here very quickly. It's already dark before 6:00 pm. At the hotel, from which we checked out in the morning, we collect our luggage and use the shower. We really like the fact that even after check-out, the guest is still welcome and treated well. Around 8:00 pm we go to the transport office, from where a bus will take us to the next town of Ninh Binh. As it turned out later, the bus will arrive more than an hour late, funding us a sleepless night ...
“The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.” – Henry David Thoreau