Why not spend your next vacation underground?

If you’ve been living in Vietnam for a while, you’ve likely checked off many tourist hotspots such as Ha Long Bay, Ha Noi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Lat, Hue, and the Mekong Delta. But the country’s cave systems offer a unique adventure for those ready to get out of their comfort zone and into some off-beat exploration of towering stalactites and hidden rivers. 

*The following tours are conducted by Oxalis Adventure, a tour company in Quang Binh Province specializing in adventure tourism, with a focus on safety, conservation, and community development. Explorers can choose their challenge level from 1 (family friendly) to 6 (a difficulty level appropriate for people between 18-70, with a high fitness level.) 

Hang En Cave: A Soaring Adventure 

Tucked within Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park, Hang En Cave is a titan of limestone, boasting entrances so high you’ll feel like a speck in comparison. Hang En Cave’s fame as one of the largest caves in the world has even reached Hollywood, with a cameo in “Pan: In the Neverland.” 

Venture inside, and you’ll be greeted by a pristine stream, winding its way through the cavern’s depths. In the evening, you’ll camp next to an underground lake. Getting there is half the fun, you’ll take a one-day trek through lush wilderness and the ancestral lands of the Bru – Van Kieu ethnic group, crossing terrain that only Oxalis is licensed to visit for tourism. 

Hang Son Doong Cave: Nature’s Mega Mansion 

Hang Son Doong Cave, Vietnam’s crown jewel, is known for being the world’s largest natural cave, boasting a staggering 9-kilometer length and a volume of 38.5 million cubic meters. With a length that could rival the full distance of a marathon and enough volume to house a small city, this cave is the ultimate playground for explorers. Marvel at the towering stalactites and lush rainforests within, and don’t miss the Hope and Vision Passage, where you could fit a 40-story skyscraper or even a Boeing 747. Here, visitors can marvel at the world’s tallest stalagmite, an imposing structure that rises 80 meters from the cave floor. It’s like something out of a fantasy novel, complete with mist-filled passages, an underground river, and thundering waterfalls. 

The discovery of Son Doong was the result of local villager Ho Khanh’s chance encounter with the cave entrance in 1990. Thanks to the efforts of organizations like Oxalis Adventure, Son Doong has become more accessible to visitors, offering guided expeditions that showcase the cave’s otherworldly beauty. This newfound attention has not only put Quang Binh on the map as a tourism destination but has also provided economic opportunities for the local community. 

Tu Lan Cave System – A Natural Labyrinth 

This sprawling network of caves is a playground for adventurers, with hidden rivers and caverns waiting to be explored. Hang Hung Ton Cave boasts ancient skeletons and archaeological treasures, while Hang Ken Cave, the longest river cave in the system, captivates visitors with its dramatic entrance and stunning limestone formations, immortalized in the award-winning photographs of renowned National Geographic photographer Carsten Peter. Other notable caves within the Tu Lan area include Hang Tien Cave, Secret Cave, discovered serendipitously during a routine camp setup trip, and Hang Song Cave, perched atop a hill with a labyrinth of diverse terrain waiting to be explored. 

Despite decades of exploration, the Tu Lan Cave System continues to reveal new discoveries, with local residents and cave experts stumbling upon previously unknown caves every year. 

Hang Va Cave: The Bizarre and the Beautiful 

Located in the heart of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Hang Va Cave isn’t your average cave. It boasts some seriously unique features that’ll that will make you wonder if you haven’t been transported to a different planet. It’s home to something called tower cones, with complex structures created from mineral deposits. It is the only cave in the world to have formations of this number and style. When you enter the cave, the tower cones are everywhere, rising from the earth like an army of clay soldiers. 

Hang Va Cave is also believed to be connected to the largest cave in the world – Hang Son Doong Cave. Scientists believe these caves share the same underground waterways, adding an extra layer of intrigue. Hang Va Cave isn’t exactly easy to get to. You’ll need to strap on your hiking boots and trek through rocky terrain, wade through rivers, and maybe even do a bit of swimming. But it will be worth it. 

Hang Ba Cave: A Jungle Escape 

Within the wilderness of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park lies the Hang Ba Cave area, home to some of the most unique caves in Vietnam, each boasting its own set of unusual features. The area is strictly protected, with only a handful of lucky explorers granted access each year. 

Some of the area’s most impressive caves include Hang Ba Cave, Hang Vinh Dai Cave, Hang Dai Cao Cave, Maze Cave, Circle Cave, and Light Cave. Each cave is like a world of its own, with stunning rock formations, crystal-clear pools, and hidden passageways waiting to be discovered. 

Your visit to Hang Ba Cave isn’t just about the subterranean sights – it’s also about the journey. Travelers have the chance to trek beneath the jungle canopy to see some of the many rare animals, and plants in the protected botanical forest.

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Tim Burrill
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