As the world’s largest and third-largest caves respectively, Hang Son Doong and Hang En loom large on Asia’s adventure tourism circuit. But don’t let them overshadow central Vietnam’s other underground dominions. Here are six other caves worth discovering, all of which you can only visit with a licensed company that provides guides, food, water, safety equipment and headtorches.
For multi-day expeditions you’ll stay in outdoor campsites in paradisal surroundings. Some are perched on riverbends enveloped by thick jungle. Others lie nestled within entrances to gargantuan caves. Your tour company will supply tents, sleeping bags and roll mats, as well as prepare hearty banquets in the evening and nourishing breakfasts in the morning. There are no showering facilities but there are often rock pools or gentle patches of river for late-afternoon or early-morning swims.
1. Hang Va
Hang Va attracts photographers eager to capture otherworldly photos of stalagmites that resemble gigantic upside-down ice cream cones rising up from ethereal green waters. You’ll get the best shots between December and March when the rock pools are at their fullest, but the cave is worth exploring any time of the year. Accessing Hang Va is an adventure in itself, involving a jungle trek over razor-sharp rocks and a 15m descent into the entrance. Visit this cave together with Hang Nuoc Nut with Oxalis Adventure Tours.
2. Hang Nuoc Nut
Hang Nuoc Nut is one of the few underground caves that you can visit within a day. After trekking deep into Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, you descend into complete darkness – save for the light from your headtorch – to squeeze through river passages and wade in underground pools. The journey links slender canyons with enormous chambers before culminating in a huge subterranean lake. Explore Hang Nuoc Nut in a single day or together with Hang Va over two days with Oxalis Adventure Tours.
3. Tu Lan Cave System
Tu Lan is not just one cave but many, making for a rich and diverse caving experience. This network of wet and dry caves, through which you walk, crawl, wade and swim, is punctuated by outdoor rock pools and picturesque campsites. Some scenes from the 2017 blockbuster Kong: Skull Island were filmed in and around the Tu Lan cave system, with location scouts drawn to the area’s cinematic ruggedness. Visit Tu Lan on one-day, two-day, three-day or four-day excursions with Oxalis Adventure Tours. The more days you go for, the more caves you visit.
4. Hang Tien
The largest of the Tu Lan dry caves, Hang Tien means “fairy cave” – but the sheer size of the biggest chamber feels more like the dwelling of a Lovecraftian monster than of pocket-sized winged creatures. You probably won’t discover Cthulhu, but instead clusters of stalactites that drip from the ceiling and bizarre stalagmite formations that have developed over aeons. Explore Hang Tien over one, two or three days with Oxalis Adventure Tours.
5. Hang Pygmy
Recent surveys suggest that Hang Pygmy is the world’s fourth-largest cave, and it will appeal if you’re a thrill-seeker without the time, budget or foresight for Son Doong, which can book up months in advance. After a few hours of steamy trekking, the cave entrance emerges from the jungle like the gaping mouth of a snoring monster. Pass through the entrance and out the exit, but not before a precarious (and rope-assisted) climb that will test your balance and your courage. Explore Hang Pygmy over two or three days together with other caves with Jungle Boss.
6. Hang Over
It’s easy to get lost in Hang Over, so don’t stray too far from your guide while plodding through this 3.5km dry passage that permits no natural light. Hang Over was connected to Hang Pygmy until a cataclysmic collapse millions of years ago severed the cave into two. If you’re afraid of the dark, then think carefully before signing up – you’ll spend hours in the cave’s belly before emerging back into the light. Visit Hang Over together with Hang Pygmy with Jungle Boss.
Singapore Airlines flies to Hanoi once or twice daily. SilkAir flies to Hanoi four times weekly. To book a flight, visit singaporeair.com
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