Paradise Cave was discovered in 2005, and have now taken over in popularity the better known Phong Nha Caves that are announced by a huge sign on one of the hills outside the town of Phong Nha. The latter caves can only be reached by boat then walking to the caves so we opted for Paradise. Which was just as well as we discovered later, which also explained why Paradise seemed to be suddenly getting crowded at one point, the Phong Nha Caves were closed due to high water. It took four years for experts to fully explore over the next four years before opening to the public – 31 km long, the largest dry cave in the world, we only explored the ‘easier’, monstrously large, dry section. 100 metres at its highest point and up to 150 metres wide. The boardwalk inside this section of the cave, once down the steep, steep stairs, is an impressive one and 1/4km long that provides many wonderful views of the various formations one would expect in a cave. The more intrepid can choose to stop at – before or after – one of the more challenging sections for dark caving (no thank you), wading in water through a cave, rafting, (I think that is what they meant when our guides were telling us about the activities) and cave climbing. There is also the very carefully protected cave in which only 300, carefully vetted, visitors per year are allowed to explore. This particular cave, Hang Son Doong, could fit an entire Manhattan city block insid and takes a week to explore! Like I said, we chose paradise (need I suggest, over Hell?)
Readers may note I say we versus me, I was on a four day motorcycle tour with my youngest daughter. She ended up not being a happy camper during the significantly long uphill, switchback trek to the mouth of the cave. (Rather than tell me she was hungover she just complained – most likely because I would not have felt a bit sorry for her. The blisters on her feet however were another issue) It took me 45 minutes to an hour to the mouth, she took longer.
Once there we had to climb down a short set of steps, enter the somewhat narrow mouth to the cave, adjust our eyes, then be wowed by the spectacular, disorienting view, in the eerie darkness. Plus the stairs. The steep stairs. Wooden, vertigo inducing stairs. I had a few moments when I did not think my equilibrium would balance on time to go forward or back. Fortunately my brain and feet worked in unison and I sallied forth. My daughter was somewhere behind me taking pictures and finally enjoying herself despite the muttering of ‘I’ve seen caves, why am I here’ that were audible enough for me to hear until I was further away – I never did remind her that sound carries. I focussed on being awed by the natural, internal world. White walls, cathedral surmounting ceiling, a couple of degrees cooler than outside, naturally formed, marbled statues that outclass even the most perfect of all statues – which is of course up to debate. I was happy to note this cave is tastefully lit, just enough light to not trip over your feet. We were also there, until as noted, more visitors were arriving, when it was relatively quiet. At one point it felt as though we were the sole inhabitants of a lost underworld.
Photos cannot do justice to the magnificence of huge spaces unless taken from above, and, although I took a few pictures from the top of the stairs’ the feel for the space – I never felt I was literally under millions of tons of rock, well not until now – cannot be depicted unless perhaps a drone (heaven forbid) were to be used. I hope I managed, with help from my daughter who has a much better eye for photo ops than I, to find enough shots for others to enjoy.