Cave system in Quang Binh: The charm of heaven under earth

Sunday, 2018-02-18 09:34:21
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A shaft of sunlight hits a section of the cave, called Watch Out for Dinosaurs, every day around noon. (Photo: Ryan Deboodt)
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NDO – Attracting more than 3.3 million visitors in 2017, including 100,000 foreigners – a 120% increase over the previous year, Quang Binh province has risen to become the second most attractive tourist experience in Vietnam, according a recent survey by renowned travel publication Lonely Planet.

By successfully establishing itself as a “kingdom of caves” on the world’s adventure travel map, Quang Binh has targeted the top position among tourist attractions in Southeast Asia, making it a centre of adventure travel in Asia by 2020.

A push for tourism from Son Doong “phenomenon”

At the end of last year, the Business Insider website released a list of nine amazing caves, with Quang Binh province’s Son Doong Cave claiming the first place. The magnificent cave also ranked first among the world’s top 15 breathtaking destinations that adventurous people should visit once in their lifetime, according to Buzzfeed, an American online social news and entertainment giant.

There isn’t any other place in Vietnam, even the popular UNESCO-recognised Ha Long Bay in Quang Ninh province, which has been named in most of the prestigious tourist publications and travel columns such as Son Doong. The enormous cavern is also the most-visited by film crews and some of the world's leading news agencies, such as the BBC, NHK, ABC and the National Geographic, as well as world-famous public figures who are working in politics, sports, and the entertainment industry.

The spectacular beauty of the cave has also brought large prizes to photographers John Spies, Carsten Peter and Ryan Deboodt.

Despite the expensive price of US$3,000, for a short four-day-one-night tour to explore inside the cave, conquering the cave is still a faraway dream for most enthusiastic cave explorers due to the strict limitation in the number of tourists. The cave welcomed 482 people in 2015 and 460 people in 2016. Three years after it was discovered, the charm of Son Doong cave has become even more immense among the fans of adventure tourism.

The establishment of the “Kingdom of Caves” brand

Tourists walking in the underground jade river inside Toi (Dark) cave (Photo: phongnhaexplorer)

According to experts from the Hanoi University of Science, the terrain of Quang Binh is narrow and uneven; with the narrowest place at around 50 kilometres. The province’s Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park has pristine ecosystems, enormous cave systems, and jungles and rivers, making it attractive to nature lovers and fans of adventure travel.

While the number of hidden caves which have not yet been discovered at Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park remains unknown, the total length of the caves which have been unearthed there, as of 2015, was up to hundreds of kilometres.

Most recently, 57 grottos with a total length of nearly 30 kilometres were discovered in the province by the British Cave Research Association’s exploration team as a result of an investigations conducted over more than a month.

The finding shows the vast potential of adventure tours and cave exploration in Quang Binh. As said by Ho Khanh, who found Son Doong, one might not explore the entire matrix of caves in Quang Binh even if he spends all of his lifetime attempting to do so.

The dream of a “Kingdom of Adventure Travel in Asia”

Quang Binh province’s cave system has become a favourite location for the filming of many of the world’s leading film studios. En (Swallow) cave was scouted to unravel the tale of Peter Pan in the film of the same-name by Warner Bros. The exotic cave also joined Son Doong to be featured in ABC's Good Morning America programme. Meanwhile, the picturesque beauty of Tu Lan valley and Chuot cave were highlighted in the Hollywood blockbuster “Kong: Skull Island”, which hit the big screens in March 2017. The films have created a huge global effect on the stunning natural landscapes of Vietnam when they were released.

Vietnamese Ambassador Pham Sanh Chau (third from left) joins a group of ambassadors to Vietnam from seven countries to pose with their national flags for a group photo inside Son Doong Cave, during their expedition to the cave in May 2016. (Photo credit: Oxalis)

In May 2016, a group of ambassadors to Vietnam from seven countries - Australia, Sweden, Italy and the United Kingdom, Czech Republic and Argentina – joined US Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski and Ambassador Pham Sanh Chau, Head of the Foreign Ministry’s Culture and UNESCO Department, to participate in a seven-day expedition to Son Doong cave. Then US Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius also made an unforgettable excursion to the the cave in early 2017.

The visits made by the foreign politicians have brought Quang Binh to the spotlight of foreign media, contributing to increasing the number of visitors to the province in 2016 to 686,000, including roughly 78,500 foreigners, from 453,000 people, including 54,000 foreigners in 2015. The number was collected within nine months of the year, as the three remaining months fall into flood season when tours are not open for tourists.

The encouraging number of visitors, as well as their positive feedback following their trips, have laid a firm foundation for the Quang Binh tourism sector to make their dream of establishing the province as a “Kingdom of Adventure Travel in Asia” come true in the near future.