I have been in a lot of caves. All the major ones in the US and a bunch of others around the world. Thien Duong Cave, better known as Paradise Cave is 31 km long! Tourists can venture in for the first 1.5 km. This part of the cave has a huge walkway and great lighting, the designers of the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park have done a phenomenal job. It’s the best national park infrastructure I’ve seen anyplace in Asia.
They let about 10 people a day to on a guided trek that goes 7 km into the cave, I was fortunate enough to get a slot. In fact there were only 3 of us! We had an english speaking guide and a porter. The cave complex is amazing! There are places inside that feel like a stadium. There are also parts you have to swim through as well as some tight pass throughs. And of course stalagmites and stalagtites galore.
Before starting out they cave us camo uniforms and running shoes to change into. Out of the three of us, I was the only one who could fit into the camo and no one could fit into the shoes. They are really not set up for western tourists. The cave was discovered by a local man in 2005. They have been doing tours in it for 3 years. My advice is go now. It’s hard to say what it will be like in a decade. The only down side is that it’s costy. 2,600,000 dong ($130).
We started by going through a gate the tourists never get past and walked about 1/4 km. Then the guide had us turn out our lights and we were in pitch darkness and there were no sounds at all. It was very cool. If I had my way, I’d set up a rope that could be followed so you could do the whole trek in complete darkness. Though I’m not sure there are enough weirdo’s like me to market it to.
We continued on for about 3 km and stopped to take everything off but foot gear and swim wear. The wet parts were coming. There’s a strange cultural disconnect for me with the modesty involved. When I put the camo on over my tee shirt and swim trunks, I had to go around the corner so no one would see me, but the guides use underwear for swim wear. I guess what happens in the cave, stays in the cave.
It was me, an Aussie riding a bicycle through SEA and a girl from Northern Europe and when we got in the water, the Aussie was a bit shocked with the temp. I’ve swam in caves before but not for this long. After walking past all sorts of very interesting formations and getting detailed explanations of how they form we arrived at our stopping point for lunch. At the 7 km mark the cave is open the the sky.
It was breathtaking to come around the corner and see daylight shining down on a little valley in the cave. We found a big rock to have lunch on. Lunch was crap, a bunch of rice, a few pieces of non descript meat and an over ripe banana. After lunch we went exporing and swimming. There was a shaft of like shining down on a bolder, way up on a ledge. Of course I had to climb up there and bask in the light.
The trip back was a rocket run. I kept stopping to take more pictures and the guides tried to hurry us along. Which of course inspired me to take even more pictures. I do not think the guide said two sentences on the way out. There was one other problem with the guide, he only talked to the first person in line as we were walking through the cave. The cave itself is stunning and if your anywhere near the central\northern coast in Vietnam, it is a must do!