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A short flight away from Hanoi is the small town of Dong Hoi the capital of Quang Binh Province. It can also be reached by train or a short drive from Imperial city of Hue. It has largely been left as an off the beaten track location. Although there is not much in the town itself the surrounding area is one of limestone karsts, rivers and mountain scenery and of course the local and world famous caves.
Paradise cave known to the locals as Thien Duong Cave was discovered by the British Cave research Association in 2005 and located in the Phong Nha – Ke Bang park’s conservation area and is around 40 km from Dong Hoi airport and the flight takes just over 45 minutes.
Although just 200 metres above sea level, the cave is 31 km long and the longest dry cave in South East Asia. The name paradise cave was chosen due to its spectacular stalactites and stalagmites. With naturally primitive features Thien Duong Cave looks like a landscape painting with a series of white crystal stalactites resembling glass pillars and many other spectacular formations. The cave was thought to have formed over 400 million years ago from the streams flowing through the area and was made a UNESCO world heritage site in 2003.
Paradise cave is not the only cave in the area. Son Doong Cave was discovered in 1991 by local Vietnamese villagers and when the British Cave Research Association conducted a survey in the area in 2009. They concluded the cave was over 5 times as big as paradise cave. The biggest chamber of the cave is over 5 km long, 200 m high and 150 wide. Following their expedition Son Doong Cave has become the world’s largest cave and stretches all the way to the Laos border.
For those worried about accommodation in Dong Hoi there has been more and more hotels and guesthouses opening up to cater to a variety of budgets. The area is seeing more and more tourism and that is great news for the local population. The area has an additional benefit of also being on the coast. There are plenty of resorts just a few minutes from Dong Hoi airport all along the Nhat Le Sea some with private beaches which have not yet seen a mass of tourism. That said there are all the facilities that you would expect if you are looking for some down time at the beach. You can try your hand at windsurfing, canoeing, water skiing or even jet skiing. For those on a romantic getaway there are variety of restaurants serving local and western food.
All in all for something different add Dong Hoi into your travel plans. The area has it all forests, pristine beaches, mountains and two of the most impressive caves in the world. It is also a great idea to visit now when on a tour in Vietnam before the area quickly develops into a mass tourism market.