One of the world’s biggest and grandest cave networks is Phong Nha in Quang Binh Province. The network contains sixteen caves across seventeen kilometers. Phong Nha has been a tourist destination for years, long before it gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2003. However, because of its geographical isolation, the immense cave network attracted only the most intrepid travelers until recently, when expansion of the Ho Chi Minh Trail into a highway from Ha Noi to Ho Chi Minh City opened up the Truong Son Region, making Phong Nha more accessible. Now, thousands of people enjoy its peace as they drift along the Son River and marvel at how, year after year, the river has pushed water through the mountains, forming some of the world’s most spectacular caverns.
Phong Nha contains both underwater and dry caves and a story to explain the network’s legions of stalagmites and stalactites. According to legend, the Jade Emperor descended form Heaven and began to preach his gospel to an assembled crowd, whose members stood rapt. The Jade Emperor’s listeners included local farmers and laborers as well as noblemen and academics who had traveled hundreds of kilometers. Each listened, spellbound. These followers awoke from their reverie only when the Jade Emperor boarded his boat to return to Heaven. They remained motionless is awe. Moved by their piety, the Emperor immortalized his audience by turning his listeners into the petrified forms that fill the Phong Nha Caves.
Vietnamese experts and members of the British Royal Society have explored the caves, attempting to reach the farthest nooks and crannies. From their work, geologists know that Phong Nha deserves its many accolades. Phong Nha is Viet Nam’s longest underground cave network, has the tallest cave entrance, the most beautiful underground beach, the most stalagmites and stalactites, and the deepest dry cave. Its magnificence is too much for the naked eye to absorb; visitors must harness their imaginations. These caves are also rich in history as sites that harbored those loyal to King Ham Nghi during the first resistance to French as well as a preparation site for those going to the south along the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the War of Resistance Against the United States.
(Source: Vietnamese Culture Book – Hữu Ngọc and Lady Borton Authors)