Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park - Vietnam

Phong Nha - Ke Bang (Vietnamese:Vưn quc gia Phong Nha-K Bàng) is a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site in the B Trach and Minh Hóa districts of central Quang Binh Province, in north-central Vietnam, about 500 km south of the nation's capital, Hanoi. The park borders the Hin Namno Nature Reserve in the province of Khammouan, Laos by the west, 42 km east of South China Sea from its borderline point. Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is situated in a limestone zone of 2,000 km2 in Vietnamese territory and borders another limestone zone of 2,000 km2 of Hin Namno in Laotian territory. The core zone of this national park covers 857.54 km2 and a buffer zone of 1,954 km2. The park was created to protect one of the world's two largest karst regions with 300 caves and grottoes and also protects the ecosystem of limestone forest of the Annamite Range region in north central coast of Vietnam.

The park is situated around 30 km west of South China Sea and National Road 1A, near Ho Chi Minh Highway and 28 km west of Hanoi-Saigon Railway and is accessed by road or waterway by boat through the estuary in South China Sea upwards. There is a small airport near the park accessible by helicopter or small aircraft (Khe Gat Airbase), an airbase used by North Vietnamese Air Force during Vietnam War, notably in the Battle of Đng Hi.

Phong Nha-Ke Bang area is noted for its cave and grotto systems as it is composed of 300 caves and grottos with a total length of about 70 km, of which only 20 have been surveyed by Vietnamese and British scientists; 17 of these are in located in the Phong Nha area and three in the Ke Bang area. After April 2009, total length of caves and grottoes are 126 km. Before discovery of Son Doong Cave, Phong Nha held several world cave records, as it has the longest underground river, as well as the largest caverns and passageways.

The park derives its name from Phong Nha cave, the most beautiful of all, containing many fascinating rock formations, and Ke Bang forest. The plateau on which the park is situated is probably one of the finest and most distinctive examples of a complex karst landform in Southeast Asia.

This national park was listed in UNESCO's World Heritage Sites in 2003 for its geological values as defined in its criteria viii. In April 2009, the world's largest cave Son Doong Cave, was discovered by a team of British cave explorers of British Caving Association.

Since the recognition by UNESCO in 2003, the government of Vietnam has continued to compile scientific documentation to seek recognition of the park as a world natural heritage in terms of biodiversity in addition to geographical values. According to World Wildlife Foundation report in 2000, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is one of 200 biodiversity centres of the world and one of the 60 significant sanctuaries of Vietnam. It has a unique forest type in the world: green tropical forest. The park also has 15 other types of forests.

The park is situated around 30 km west of South China Sea and National Road 1A, near Ho Chi Minh Highway and 28 km west of Hanoi-Saigon Railway and is accessed by road or waterway by boat through the estuary in South China Sea upwards. There is a small airport near the park accessible by helicopter or small aircraft (Khe Gat Airbase), an airbase used by North Vietnamese Air Force during Vietnam War, notably in the Battle of Đng Hi.

Like Bac Trung Bo in general and Quang Binh Province in particular, the climate in this national park is tropical, hot, and humid. The annual mean temperature is 23 to 25 °C, with a maximum of 41 °C in the summer and a minimum of 6 °C in the winter. The hottest months in this region fall from June to August, with an average temperature of 28 °C, and the coldest months from December to February with an average temperature of 18 °C. Annual rainfall is 2,000 mm to 2,500 mm, and 88% of the rainfall is from July to December. With more than 160 rainy days per year, no month is without rain. Mean annual relative humidity is 84%.

Rivers and streams
Besides the grotto and cave systems, Phong Nha has the longest underground river. The Son and Chay are the main rivers in this national park. Most of caves here have been shaped by Son and Chay Rivers. The Son River flows into the mouth of the Phong Nha cave and keeps on underground, where it is called as the Nam Aki River. It emerges 20 km to the south near Pu-Pha-Dam Mountain.

There are over ten spectacular streams, springs and waterfalls in Phong Nha-Ke Bang area, namely: Gió waterfall, Madame Loan waterfall, Mc stream erupting from a limestone mount range, and Tr Ang stream.

Cave and grottoes
Phong Nha-Ke Bang is home to the largest cave in the world and covers 300 different grottoes and caves. Before Son Doong Cave was found, Phong Nha cave was regarded by British Caving Association as the top cave in the world due to its 4 top records: the longest underground river, the highest and longest cave, broadest and most beautiful fine sand beaches inside the caves, the most spectacular stalagmites and stalactites. In the survey conducted in April 2009, the British cave explorers discovered 20 new caves with total length of 56 km, including world's largest cave Son Doong. According to the assessment of UNESCO, the karst formation of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park has evolved since the Palaeozoic (some 400 million years ago) and so is the oldest major karst area in Asia and Phong Nha displays an impressive amount of evidence of earth's history. It is a site of very great importance for increasing our understanding of the geologic, geomorphic and geo-chronological history of the region.

Tourist activities
The park is accessible by road (National Road 1A or Ho Chi Minh Highway 450 km south of Hanoi, 50 km north of Đng Hi, 210 km north of Hue); by rail at Dong Hoi Railway Station on Hanoi-Saigon Railway; by air at Dong Hoi Airport 45 km south of the park. Tourists are served at the Tourism Service Center at Sn Trach commune of B Trch District, the entrance of this center is located by Ho Chi Minh Highway. Tourists are required to buy entrance ticket for package services, including entrance fee, boat service. Ecotourism tour (if needed) requires additional service fee. Tourists then will be transported by boat along the Son River upstream to the Phong Nha Cave and Paradise Cave. Local tour guides can speak English, French and Mandarin Chinese.

The number of tourists has increased dramatically since the park was listed in UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. Quang Binh Province has invested into upgrading the Phong Nha-Ke Bang visitor site to turn it into one of Vietnam's major tourist destinations.

Multiple eco-tourist projects have been licensed for development and the area is being heavily developed by the province to turn it into a major tourist site in Vietnam. Phong Nha Ke Bang is part of a tourism promotion program called: "Middle World Heritage Road" which includes the ancient capital of Hue, the Champa relics of My Son, the city of Hi An, nha nhac and the Space of Gong Culture in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

Tourist activities in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park are organized by local travel agencies and vary in form:
Tour for expedition of caves and grottos in boats and with professional cave expedition means.
Ecotourism, discovering the flora and fauna in this national park in the Ke Bang Forest.
Mountain climbing, trekking: There are extreme sloping mountains here with a height of over 1,000 m, which is a real challenge for adventurous climbers.

One of the adventure tour sites is boating upward on the Chay River into primitive forests, as the river becomes sinuous with several waterfalls and whirlpools until tourists arrive at Tro Mong. This tour sites have been surveyed and included in local travel agents besides cave exploration tour. In Phong Nha-Ke Bang park, there are is a 50m-high waterfall, Chai Waterfall. There is a bull field called Ran Bo (Bull Field) because wild bulls usually comes and reproduce in mating season. There are also some interesting tourist attractions in this park like Nưc Ngang (lit.: Horizontal Spring), a spring runs horizontally instead of vertically as usual; Ðá Nm (Crouching Stone), a stone blockading a stream current; Chân Tht (Chopping Board), a chopping-board-shaped stone. But above all, the most spectacular scene is this area is Nưc Tri (Surfacing Stream), a stream surfacing from the ground. Several streams here run for a long distance, then disappear under the ground.

Thanks to the tourism development in this national park, about 1000 local residents have jobs in tourism. The provincial Centre for Phong Nha-Ke Bang's Ecotourism and Culture currently has 248 boats, creating jobs for 500 locals. Every boat has two trained boatmen earning VND 70,000 per day. This income is relatively high for peasants in this province. This centre also launched a programme in 2000 to train former loggers to work as photographers taking pictures for tourists and about 300 former loggers are now doing this.
In order to facilitate the increasing flow of tourists to the site, the Dong Hoi Airport was constructed and put into operation in May 2008 with air link with Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport and air link with Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Son Nhat International Airport beginning from 1 July 2009.

Phong Nha-Ke Bang, together with Ha Long Bay and Fansipan of Vietnam, is listed as a candidate for 7 new world natural wonders vote. As of February 12, 2008 it ranked 10th in the voting list

In January 2009, the United States-based Los Angeles Times listed Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in its recommended world's 29 destinations to visit in 2009.

Source, Images: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phong_Nha_Ke_Bang_National_Park