Awesome is a word I use a lot, probably too much and not at the right times. Well today I was in awe and I think it’s fair to say Thien Duong (Paradise Cave) is awesome! I rode on the back of a motorbike, yes the first time I have used motorised transport since the taxi ride from the airport in Hanoi. It was about 40 minutes through the most beautiful scenery. Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park is breathtaking, some of the oldest karst mountains in the world at 400 million years old. It was beautiful riding through the rural areas with the farmers working out in the fields, the women selling the produce on the road side with the mountains in the background.
The mountains were covered with jungle, it was easy to imagine how the caves had gone undiscovered for so long. Thien Duong was first discovered in the 1990’s despite dating back as far as 35 million years. Walking in through one of three entrances that was smaller than a garage door into the most magical space, it was colossal. It was well lit, not with coloured lights, just white light because the colours in the rock from the copper, manganese, sulphur and calcium was enough, it was truly beautiful.
The wooden walkway went in for a kilometre, this is as far as the general public can go without a guide. Beyond the end of the walkway the cave extends another 6 kilometres. There are no walkways or lighting, this is where the magic began. We wore head lanterns, that I hoped like hell would last the distance, we also wore rubber sandals because we needed to wade through water. We continued on, walking another 3 km into the cave. It was the most surreal experience, frightening and amazing all at once. When the lights were out it was as dark as dark can be, not one sliver of natural light. It was also quiet, the occasional drip could be heard. Normally it’s possible to walk 7km but the water is too high at the moment. I kept thinking about how it must have been for the first person to venture inside this space, with no means to navigate their way back out.
We sat at the 4km point and ate lunch by torch light before returning to the entrance, it was magical, like walking to the centre of the earth or being on another planet where nothing can survive. There were only 4 of us and there was nothing in the cave that showed a human presence, the only living things were these strange looking crickets and spiders, the occasional bat lived closer to the entrance. I was in complete awe of it’s age, size and beauty.