According to data collected in a recent field-study conducted by the British Cave Research Association (BCRA), the total length of the Phong Nha - Ke Bang cave system - as surveyed up to 1997, is 64,386m, comprising 17 separate caverns in two distinct systems, both located in Bo Trach district. The Phong Nha system has 9 caves, with a total surveyed length of 33,758m, while the Vom system has 9, with a total length of 30,627m.
The Phong Nha cave itself (which lends its name to the whole system), in Son Trach village, is probably the most beautiful of all the caves in the region. As studied in 1987, it has a length of 7,729m, and at its maximum point, the ceiling height is 83m. The cave contains many fascinating rock formations, enchanting visitors with evocative names such as Lion, Fairy Caves, Royal Court, Buddha…
The results of their study have enabled BCRA to publish a number of scientifically valuable works about the region. In comparing Phong Nha with other cave systems of the world in general, and of Vietnam in particular, the organization has commented: “Phong Nha, over a 200,000ha. area, has by far the longest underground rivers, the largest caverns and passageways, the widest and prettiest sand banks, and the most astonishing rock formations.”
Nevertheless, Phong Nha - Ke Bang is not famous merely for the marvels of its caves and river, but also for its forests and woods. Research documents from the Institute of Forestry Research have asserted: “The topography of Phong Nha - Ke Bang is a mixture of earth and limestone mountains, with a 90% surface vegetation coverage rate. Of this, 19% by area is occupied by primitive forests, with a huge, and probably unique, biological diversity, containing numerous plants and animals currently listed in the Red Books of protected species of Vietnarn and the world.”
Phong Nha - Ke Bang is also home to the Ruc tribe, only a very small number of which now remains. This is a primitive, cave-dwelling community which, up till only very recently, retained a stone-age way of life and a hunter-gatherer existence.
The Vietnamese Government recently declared Phong Nha-Ke Bang a National Park with 150,000 ha of the area have been placed immediately under the strict management of the local authorities.
After Vietnam joined the international Convention on the Protection of Nature on October 19, 1997, Phong Nha - Ke Bang became one of six regions nominated by the Vietnamese Government to be considered by UNESCO as an official World Natural Heritage Site. Cooperation between the local authorities of Quang Binh province with the Ministry of Culture, the Institute of Forestry Research, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development have resulted in a comprehensive program to protect and develop this precious natural resource.
Photo by Dust Mason