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Travel GuideMonday, 08/14/2006, 12:02

The amazing netherworld of Phong Nha-Ke Bang

Recognized by Unesco as a World Heritage Site in July 2003, the caves of Phong Nha-Ke Bang in Quang Binh Province have become one of the most visited places in Vietnam's central region
The amazing netherworld of Phong

The amazing netherworld of Phong Nha-Ke Bang


Recognized by Unesco as a World Heritage Site in July 2003, the caves of Phong Nha-Ke Bang in Quang Binh Province have become one of the most visited places in Vietnam's central region.


The twin systems of Phong Nha-Ke Bang are located 50 kilometers northwest of Dong Hoi in the limestone cliffs of Ke Bang and boast 300 majestic tunnels along with a number of underground rivers and streams, and there could well be much more waiting to be discovered.


Maps compiled by British speleologists in 1997 show nearly 65 kilometers of caverns and passageways underneath the ground of Bo Trach District.


Phong Nha (which usually lends its name to the whole system) just outside the village of Son Trach is perhaps the most beautiful. Fascinating formations crowd its 7,729-meter length plus there are the distinctive caverns like


Toi (dark), Vom (vault) and En (swift). At the maximum point, the ceiling is 83 meters above the cave floor.


The farther one ventures into the bowels of the earth, the more illusory the stalactites and stalagmites look as they glitter in the artificial brightness of the spotlights.


One of the most striking features is the pristine nature of many of the caves, seemingly untouched by human hands despite the rising frequency of visitors on guided tours.


Phong Nha-Ke Bang is listed in most of the tours to the central region arranged by travel companies in HCMC. Their package deals usually take in all four World Heritage Sites in the region, the others being Hue, the town of Hoi An and the Champa ruins at My Son.


Cholontourist operates a five-day tour by air and road to Danang, My Son, Hoi An and Phong Nha for VND3.3 million. Or you can pay VND3 million and travel up by bus but still fly back to HCMC, in which case the trip takes eight days.


Saigontourist Travel offers three alternatives, all of them taking in Danang, Hue and Phong Nha. One is to fly both ways, which makes for a five-day excursion costing nearly VND2.8 million, or you can travel the entire way there and back by coach for VND2.3 million.


The third option is to go north by road and fly back, which takes seven days and costs VND2.7 million.


Fiditourist has a five-day tour by air to Hue, by bus to Phong Nha, Danang and Hoi An, and by air back to HCMC for VND3.563 million. Alternatively, you can fly up to Vinh, the capital of Nghe An Province, and travel by road to Phong Nha, then motor back to Vinh for the flight home. This four-day outing costs VND3.5 million and takes in some of the sights of Nghe An too.


Another way to see Phong Nha-Ke Bang, to get the big picture, is to go on Saigontourist Travel's new 17-day tour starting in HCMC. The trans-Vietnam excursion is called
Con Duong Cai Quan (interprovincial highway) and goes to Nha Trang, Quy Nhon, Hoi An, Danang, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Hue in the central region then Hanoi, Halong Bay and other spots in the north. The average price is VND12.15 million.


To take advantage of the swelling number of visitors to Phong Nha-Ke Bang, Saigontourist is building a 100-room hotel called Saigon-Quang Binh close by the caves and hopes to finish the three-star establishment this year.


The State-owned holding company has also teamed up with four other firms to establish the Saigon-Quang Binh Tourism Shareholding Company.


Its partners in the new venture are Ben Thanh Corporation, Tan Tao Industrial Park Shareholding Company, a private enterprise called Dang Ngoc Hoai, and the Quang Binh Tourist Company.


To book a tour or simply to find out more, here are the contact details:


Saigontourist Travel, 49 Le Thanh Ton Street, District 1. Tel: (08) 829 8914


Fiditourist, 129 Nguyen Hue Boulevard, District 1. Tel: (08) 914 1414


Cholontourist, 134 Nguyen Tri Phuong Street, District 5. Tel: (08) 835 7100

 

 


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