PHONG NHA - KE BANG NATIONAL PARK
The World Natural Heritage Site of Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park is situated in Quang Binh Province, 50km northwest of Dong Hoi City and 500km south of Ha Noi. The land of Phong Nha - Ke Bang covers an area of about 200,000ha in Quang Ninh, Bo Trach, Tuyen Hoa and Minh Hoa districts of Quang Binh Province and con- tains part of the oldest karst area in Asia which was formed 400 million years ago during the main periods of the Earth. The karst plateau stretches from Phong Nha - Ke Bang of Viet Nam to Khammouane Province of Laos, covering an area of 400,000ha, making one of the largest karst areas in the world with global out- standing values of geomorphology and geology. Phong Nha - Ke Bang is consider as king- dom of grottoes and caves. There exists a system of hundreds of imposing grot- toes and caves, with the total length of nearly 100km (excluding undiscovered ones). Located within the land of Phong Nha - Ke Bang, the national park established in December 2001 consists of the 85,754ha core zone and the 195,400ha buffer zone. Karst formation, hundreds of grot- toes and caves, subterranean rivers, rare flora and fauna system listed in VietNam's Red Book and World Red Book are highlights of the park. Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park con- tains an impressive amount of evidences of earth's history. It is a site of great im- portance for increasing our understanding of the geologic, geomorphic and geo- chronological history of the region. It was recognized as a World Natural Heritage Site at the UNESCO's 27th General Assem- bly session held in Paris in July 2003. The natural beauty of Phong Nha - Ke Bang with spectacular caves and grottoes system, rich biological diversity and unique cultural characteristics of local community have been the most attrac- tive to visitors from everywhere.
Quang Binh Province
Located in the North-Central region of Viet Nam, Quang Binh Province has an area of 8,055km2. The nature has endowed this province with magnificent landscapes, includ- ing Ngang Pass (situated between Ha Tinh and Quang Binh provinces), Ly Hoa Pass, Nhat Le and Da Nhay beaches, and Bang Hot Spring. In addition, Quang Binh is also famous for its well-preserved architectural construc- tions of great cultural and historical values. Among them are Quang Binh Gate, Dong Hoi Citadel, and many historical war relics of the anti-US aggression.
The climate in Phong Nha - Ke Bang is tropi- cally hot and humid. The annual average tem- perature is 23 to 25°C, with a maximum of 41°C in the summer and a minimum of 6°C in the winter. The hottest months in this region fall from June to August, with an average temperature of 28°C, and the coldest months from December to February with an average temperature of 18°C. Annual rainfall is 2,000mm to 2,500mm, and 88% of the rain- fall is from July to December. Flood in the val- ley area occurs from September to November, but in dry season from February to August, the streams are almost dried up. Relative humidity is 84%.
History of Exploration
Ancient Champa inscriptions carved on the cave wall proved that the Phong Nha Cave was discovery by Cham people long ago. In 1550, Duong Van An (1514 - 1591), a mandarin in Mac Dynasty, was the first Vietnamese man to write about Phong Nha Cave. In 1824, the cave was conferred the title "Dieu ung chi than" by King Minh Mang. This cave was even depicted in one of the Nine Urns (Cuu Dinh) in the Hue Citadel. In the late 19th century, Leopold Michel Cadiere, a French Roman Catholic priest, conducted an expedition to explore Phong Nha Cave, where he discovered Champa inscriptions. He proclaimed Phong Nha Cave "The number one cave of Indochina". In July 1924, Barton, an English expedi- tionist, ranked Phong Nha Cave with fa- mous caves in the world as Padirac (France), Cuevas del Drach (Spain) in terms of its magnificent beauty. In 1935, a local inhabitant accidentally dis- covered a dry cave, 1,000m from the mouth of Phong Nha Cave, at an elevation of 200m. It was called Tien Son Grotto. In 1937, the Bureau of Tourism of French Resident Superior (in Hue) issued a brochure to introduce tourism in Quang Binh. Phong Nha Cave was included in this introduction and ranked second in the Indochina peninsula. Prior to 1990, several explorations were conducted by Vietnamese and foreign scientists but the mystery of this area still remained. In 1990, for the first time, Ha Noi Univer- sity and the British Caving Association co- ordinated to explore caves and grottoes in the area comprehensively. Research of Vom Cave was completed at that time. In 1992, in the second exploration, a group of 12 British scientists, 6 professors from Ha Noi University discovered 7,729m of Phong Nha Cave and 13,690m of Vom Cave and adjacent caves and grottoes. In 1994, 11 British scientists and 5 Viet- namese professors of Ha Noi National University conducted the third explo- ration researching 20 caves with total length of 70km, of which 17 caves in Phong Nha and 3 ones in Ke Bang. In 1999, scientists from the Viet Nam - Russia Tropical Centre also surveyed the fauna and flora system in the area of Ke Bang. In 2005, a dry cave named Thien Duong Cave was discovered. In the period of 2007 - 2008, the British Caving Association organized a survey in upstream part of Chay River, Vom Cave and some new caves in Thuong Hoa, Hoa Son, Dan Hoa, Trong Hoa (Minh Hoa Dis- trict), Truong Son (Quang Ninh District). They also re-mapped system of Phong Nha caves and grottoes. In April 2009, a survey by the British Cav- ing Association and Ha Noi National Uni- versity revealed some remarkable outcomes: 20 new caves with total length of 56km; discovery of over 5km Cha Lo Cave (Minh Hoa), 57km Phong Nha Cave (45km previously), 35km-Vom Cave; Khe Ry Cave possessing the world's longest subterranean river; Son Doong Cave being the world's largest cave; a karst sinkhole in Vom Cave with the depth of over 255m In 2012, 41 new caves were found in the core zone of Phong Nha - Ke Bang with total length of 20km. Noticeably, there exists a 50m high and 4km long grotto named Ky Grotto at the bottom of a 320m deep sinkhole.
The karst mountains area in Phong Nha - Ke Bang can be compared with a huge geological museum providing a lot of valuable information about the earth's prolonged geological process through various periods about 400 million years ago. The geological structure here expresses the diversity and long development history of the earth's crust. The earth's crust has undergone several main develop- ment stages (from the Ordovician period up to now) with 5 tectonic megacycles corresponding with the 5 geological evo- lution stages of the world. Late Ordovician - Early Silurian stage (463.9 - 430 million years): The earth's crust was broken down and then sub- sided, forming the terrigenous sediments of the Long Dai formation, yielding fossils of Graptolithina.
Middle - Late Devonian stage (386 - 362.5 million years): The earth's crust subsided for the second time, and the sea ex- panded. The sediments that evolved were composite of sandstone, siltstone and clay stone intercalated with lime- stone; corresponding to Rao Chan, Ban Giang, Muc Bai, Dong Tho, Cat Bang and Phong Nha. Carboniferous - Permian stage (362.5 - 245 million years): This was the stage when the Carboniferous - Permian lime- stone massifs were formed. The earth's crust in the Phong Nha - Ke Bang area was broken down for the third time, creating shallow, isometric basins (marginal sea of continent), and yielding fossils aged from the Lower Carbonifer- ous to the Middle Carboniferous and fi- nally the Permian. Specific characteristics were La Khe, Bac Son, Khe Giua forma- tions. Mesozoic orogenic stage (Triassic, Juras- sic, Cretaceous): The Phong Nha - Ke Bang limestone massif was lifted up above the sea level, and karst, weather- ing and denudation processes occurred. Mu Gia formation is typical with Chan Riu fossils. Cenozoic stage: This was the stage when the mountains and old karst cave systems of Phong Nha - Ke Bang were formed, with typical of Dong Hoi formation. The vivid evidences of the earth's history are useful in researching the history of geology and topography of the area.
The endogenous and exogenous geolog- ical processes, which have occurred from Triassic up to now, have created the di- verse topography and geomorphology of the area, with ages respective to the fol- lowing surface levels: 1,600 - 1,400m level: corresponding with the first generation of caves dating from the Oligocene. 1,000 - 800m (in the west) and 700 - 600m (in the east) level: corresponding with the first generation of caves dating from the Miocene (23 to 5 million years). 600 - 400m and 300 - 200m levels: corre- sponding with Pliocene (5 -1.75 million years). 100 - 0m level: corresponding with vari- ous interglacial cycles in Quaternary (1.75 million years to present). In general, there are two typical types of landforms in the Phong Nha - Ke Bang area namely non-karst and karst land- forms. The karst landform occupies the majority of the area, with two groups. The karst on the surface includes cone and tower karst, karrens, valleys and dolines, border polje, etc. The subterranean karst con- sists of caves along the valleys of Son and Chay Rivers and at the margins of the central limestone massif.
Non-karst landform includes three types: the middle and low round-top mountains developed in intrusive magmatic massifs; the middle denudation-structural moun- tain belts developed in terrigenous rocks of Cretaceous Age; and the low block-de- nudational mountain belts developed in other terrigenous rocks.
Phong Nha - Ke Bang is distinct from other tourist attractions in Viet Nam. It serves as a natural museum with evi- dences of the earth's crust formation. In addition, the Phong Nha - Ke Bang Natu- ral Park still hides various myths of na- ture. It also has spectacular karst caves formed for hundreds of millions of years. In the area of Phong Nha - Ke Bang, one can also discover the peaceful scenes with simple house roofs, small boats, and ingenuous peasants who embody the fine cultural qualities of the Vietnamese peoples - industriousness, diligence and hospitality. Pure rivers and streams wind- ing along rocky mountains and hide through grottoes and luxuriant trees with colorful flowers lying by river banks make a marvelous view for nature lovers. Phong Nha - Ke Bang boasts imposing limestone mountains in pyramid shapes with average height of about 800m such as Phu Sing Peak (965m), Ma Ma Peak (835m). Some peaks higher than 1,000m can be named as Co Rilata Peak (1,128m), Co Preu Peak (1,213m), and Phu Et Va Peak (1,512m) - the highest one.
Value of Biological Diversity
With its characteristics of topography, cli- mate, soil and hydrograph, Phong Nha - Ke Bang is endowed with a rich, diversi- fied and unique flora system. Investiga- tions show that Phong Nha - Ke Bang has a large tropical forest floor. It covers 96.2 percent of the natural area, of which nearly 90 percent is covered by primeval forests. The diversity of rare and precious species of animals and plants in Phong Nha - Ke Bang is corollary of its natural conditions, and is a feature of the forest ecosystem. Surveys(1) show that the flora system of Phong Nha - Ke Bang belongs to 193 fam- ilies, 906 genera, and 2,651 vascular plant species including 62 listed in Viet Nam's Red Book, 79 in the IUCN's(2)Red List of Threatened Species 2006 and 419 endemic species. The favorable conditions in Phong Nha - Ke Bang are also a good environment and a safe habitat for various species of ani- mals. According to statistics, this area preserves 132 species of animals, 46 of which are listed in Viet Nam's Red Book and 34 in the lUCN's Red List. Three rare and precious species - Sao la, Mang Ion and Mang Truong Son - have been dis- covered in this area, beside other rare species like gayals, tigers... Of the 96 recorded reptile and 45 amphib- ian species, 22 are listed in Viet Nam's Red Book and 18 in the lUCN's Red List. In addition, there are 270 butterfly species, 124 fish species; 338 bird species including 20 species listed in Viet Nam's Red Book and 17 in the lUCN's Red List. Particularly, black-comb blue pheasants (ga loi lam mau den), white-tail blue pheasants (ga loi lam duoi trang) and peacocks are the global-level endangered species.
Archeological, Cultural and Historical Values
Phong Nha Cave contains vestiges of the Cham ethnic group (altars and inscrip- tions on the cliffs) and of the ancient Vietnamese people (statues of Buddha, worshipping tablets, ceramics). The cave used to be the resistance base of King Ham Nghi in the fight against French in the late 19th century. The area of Phong Nha - Ke Bang also has numerous historical sites related to the anti-US Resistance War, such as Xuan Son Ferry, Thanh Nien Xung Phong (Vanguard Youth) Cave, Road No. 20 and the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which suffered severe bom- bardment during the war. It is in these places where Quang Binh people and sol- diers showed their iron will and undaunt- edness and made numerous glorious feats of arms.Inhabitants in this area include the ethnic minorities of Sach, May, Rue, Arem and Ma Lieng. Their life and customs con- tribute to increasing the diversity of tourist products in this world heritage site. By exploring the beautiful landscape and Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park, visi- tors will have opportunities to study the cultural beauty of these communities. SYSTEMS OF GROTTOES AND CAVES Phong Nha - Ke Bang lies in the area with a high average rainfall. However, few rivers and streams can be seen because water is absorbed into subterranean rivers flowing inside limestone mountains. Over tens of million years, water has eroded rocks, cre- ating numerous caves in the area. Surveys show that Phong Nha - Ke Bang boasts hundreds of extraordinarily beautiful caves and grottoes divided into three main systems: Phong Nha caves, Vom caves, and Rue Mon caves. The system of Phong Nha caves derives from the southern area of Ke Bang lime- stone mountains and has a lot of branches with total length of over 57km. The main entrances of the system are Khe Ry and En caves situated at a height of 300m above sea level. The tree-branches shaped sys- tem of caves runs northeast - southwest, including some notable ones as: - Phong Nha Cave is 7,729m long; - Tien Son Grotto (also known as Dry Grotto); -Toi Cave is 5,258m long, 83m high and lo- cated upstream part of Son River; - Cha An Cave is 667m long and 15m high; - Thung Cave has a subterranean river of 3,351m long; - En Cave is 1,645m long, 78.6m high and the habitat of swallows; - Khe Tien Cave is 520m long and located to the south of Phong Nha; - Khe Thi Cave is located to the south of Phong Nha; - Khe Ry Cave is located to the south of
Phong Nha and has a subterranean river with the length of some 20km. The system of Vom caves has the total length of over 35km, running north- south. The system starts with Rue Ca Roong Cave located at a height of 360m above sea level and ends with Vom Cave. - Vom Cave is 15.05km long, 145m high with spectacular stalagmites and stalac- tites; - Dai Cao Cave is 1,645m long and 28m high; - Duot Cave is 3,927m long and 45m high, with sandbanks inside; - Ca Cave is 1,500m long and 62m high; - Ho Cave is 1,616m long and 46m high; - Over Cave is 3,244m long, 103m high and 30-50m wide; - Pygmy Cave is 845m long; - Rue Ca Roong Cave is also the habitat of Arem ethnic group. The system of Rue Mon caves lies in the district of Minh Hoa. Information about this system is not abundant because few surveys have been conducted in this area so far. Most of the caves are pristine with unique, beautiful stalactites. Many of these caves have not been explored. Only a few caves have been invested for tourism purpose as Phong Nha, Tien Son, Thien Duong, Toi, En... Phong Nha - Ke Bang still contains many mysteries, so far, national and international caving explor- ers have been continuing to research this area.
Phong Nha Cave
Phong Nha (Wind Teeth) Cave, also known as Nuoc (Water) or Lower Phong Nha Cave, is located in Son Trach Com- mune, Bo Trach District. The cave lies in- S|de the area of limestone mountains covered with tropical jungles of the Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park. In the late 19th century, French priest Cadiere explored the cave and praised it "the most beautiful cave in Indochina." He was also the first person who discov- ered inscriptions by Cham people on the cave's walls.
Phong Nha Cave's mouth is 20m wide and 10m high, with numerous stalactites. The inside is spacious. The river is limpid and tranquil as if it is a large mirror. Deep inside the cave, the light fades out and disappears. In quietness, the noise of oars stirring water and echoes from mountain cliffs mix together and produce mysterious sounds. The system of Phong Nha caves has many branches. Up to the present, only the longest branch has been explored. This is a section of the subterranean river named Nam Aki, of which the open-air Son River is a part. In front of the cave is a breath- taking scenery of mountains and rivers. In rainy season, water from the Son River rises up and floods the cave entrance. The main cave in this system consists of 14 "chambers" linked together by a 1,500m- long "water corridor." From the 14th "chamber", there are narrow corridors leading to large "chambers" in which lime- stone continues to be weathered. Boats go upstream for 800m and reach Nuoc Can Cave where there are only sand- banks and rocks. Stalagmites and stalac- tites in strange shapes rouse visitors7 imagination. According to scientific reports of explor- ers from the British Royal Geographic As- sociation, Phong Nha Cave is estimated 7,700m in length. In addition, it has "seven best": the most beautiful subter- ranean river, the highest and widest en- trance, the most beautiful sand and rock banks, the most beautiful subterranean lake, the widest and most beautiful dry grotto, the most magnificent and fanciful stalactites and stalagmites, and the longest stream-grotto.
Tien Son Grotto
This grotto is also known as Kho (Dry) Grotto or Upper Phong Nha, 1,000m from the entrance of Phong Nha Cave and 200m above sea level. Climbing to sloping steps, visitors reach the entrance. Deep 1,000m inside the mountain, the grotto looks like a stone castle. Up to now, no passage has been discovered to link with Phong Nha Cave. Visitors are allowed to go 400m deep inside. According to the explorers from the British Royal Geographic Association, Tien Son Grotto was formed tens of mil- lions of years ago. It is even older than Phong Nha Cave.
Toi (Dark) Cave
According to survey by explorers from the British Caving Association in 1992, Toi Cave is 5,258m long, 50m wide and 80m high. The entrance of the cave has di- mensions of 30m in height, 10m in width. There exists many spectacular stalag- mites and stalactites in different shapes as a turtle, a bell etc. some of which are home of ferns. Many old stalactites changed their colours to lemon chrome, lime white, moss green. The cave has a lake with many species of fish. In 1995, a Russian scientist named L.Deharveng proclaimed the discovery of a new species of crab and named it Nemoron nomas.
Toi Cave is also the shelter of many species of animals like bats and birds and espe- cially Ha Tinh langur which can only be seen in Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park.
En (Swallow) Cave
En Cave was first found by the British Caving Association in 1994. The cave used to be the habitat of Arem ethnic group years ago. The cave was named En (Swallow) since it was home to many swallows. En Cave is 1,645m long, 120m high, 170m wide and has three gates, two of which are entrance gates situating at mountain foot and the other one being exit gate lies at mountain slope. The southeast en- trance is 100m wide and halved by a stone pillar. The entrance is beautified by a ground of many beautiful pebbles by side of Rao Thuong stream and green wood. The northwestern exit gate is 83m high and 35m wide in diamond shape. The cave boasts 3 lakes separated by small alluvial grounds and stones over- lapping one another. Many stalactites and swallow nets can be seen around the cave.
Khe Ry Cave
Khe Ry Cave is recognized by the British Caving Association as the longest water cave in Asia with the length of nearly 20km. According to the experts, Khe Ry Cave owns rare geomorphology value with geological faults formed hundreds of millions years ago. The cave was first dis- covered by a local man named Ma Coong who lived in Ban Village, Thuong Trach Commune, Bo Trach District. Exploring Khe Ry Cave, visitors will be amazed by a world of colourful stalactites in many different shapes and sizes. The cave has terrestrial and aquatic systems with many rare species listed in Red Books of Viet Nam and the world such as bat, anguilla marmorata... According to assessment of the experts, Khe Ry is a magnificent water cave of great geomorphologic and ecological values.
Thien Duong (Paradise) Cave
Thien Duong Cave was discovered in 2005. The cave is situated on a mountain near the western branch of Ho Chi Minh Trail which belongs to the core zone of Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park (Son Trach Commune, Bo Trach District), 14km to the southwest of Phong Nha Cave. After the exploration by the British Cave Research Association, the cave was an- nounced to be the longest dry cave in Asia with the length of 31.4km, the width of 30-100m, the widest part being 150m, and the height of 60m. The first chamber °f the cave is formed in arch shape with the width of 100m and the height of 10m and many stalactites. The most impres- sive is a group of stalactites stretchir,c the floor of the cave, which looks like a military sand table. Going further inside the cave, one can witness a world of sta- lagmites with many interesting and mys- terious shapes.
Deep inside the cave appear a series of silvery-white round shaped stalagmites lined up side by side and a group of strange stalagmites about 60cm in height sticking together which look like man- made tanks containing pure water.
Son Doong Cave
First found by Mr. Ho Khanh, a local man, in 1991, Son Doong Cave was explored and publicized by the British Caving As- sociation in 2009. The cave is located in Ha Doong area, Tan Trach Commune, 20km to the south of Phong Nha Cave. The cave is about 200m high, 200m wide and 8.5km long. With these tremendous dimensions, Son Doong Cave is much larger than Deer Cave in Malaysia, and has replaced Deer Cave to take pole po- sition as the world's largest cave. Son Doong Cave consists of two en- trances, which is unique among explored caves in Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park. Exploring the cave, explorers were surprised with spectacular scenery of nu- merous stalactites of which some giant stalagmites are more than 70m high. Especially, deep inside the cave exists a grandiose tropical jungle called "Garden of Eden" by the explorers. The jungle is home to a diversified system of fauna and flora. Besides, the cave possesses a 2.5km subterranean river with layers of shells agglomerated in the river bed. Not far from the "Garden of Eden" lies an enormous "pearl collection" consisting of tens of thousands of small stone pieces in dry ponds, contributing to magnificent beauty of the cave. After the publication, Son Doong Cave quickly drew the attention of interna- tional mass media. The National Geo- graphic Magazine (US) has published some articles admiring the beauty of the cave. The cave has also been voted by the BBC (UK) as one of the most beautiful caves in the world.
SYSTEMS OF RIVERS
Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park owns a complicated system of rivers consist- ing of three main rivers of Son, Chay, Trooc and many subterranean rivers. Chay and Trooc rivers meet Son River and then together flow into Giang River at Ba Don Town, Quang Trach District and finally flow to the East Sea. The region of Phong Nha - Ke bang has a big rainfall, most of which is absorbed into subterranean rivers in caves and grottoes. Spectacular streams, springs and water- falls can be found in Phong Nha-Ke Bang as: Moc, Tra Ang, Rao Thuong streams; Gio, Me Loan waterfalls...
Son River flows within the territory of Quang Binh Province. The upstream part of this river runs inside limestone moun- tains west of the province. There have been many legends about the origin of the name Son. A legend says it was about the love story between a rich girl and a poor man. Being opposed by family rela- tives, the desperate couple came to river
to commit suicide. Their love story touched the heart of local people and the river hence was named Son (faithful) to commemorate the eternal love of the couple.
The pure Son River flows through roman- tic landscapes and countryside villages living along the river, offering visitors re- laxing experiences. Chay River Chay River, deriving from Chay Waterfall, is a tributary of Son River. The lOkm-long Chay River boasts rich biodiversity of high value with many unique aquatic species which include anguilla marmorata and clupanodon thrissa listed in the lUCN's Red List. The color of water changes into emerald green, green, yellow... at differ- ent sections of the river. Taking a boat trip along Chay River, visi- tors will have chance to contemplate scenery of imposing limestone moun- tains, corn fields, saraca declinata flowers and enjoy traditional culture and daily life of local people living in old villages of Ha Loi, Na, Phong Nha, Tram, Me, Chay Lap...
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