SOUTH-CENTRAL COAST SITES include Phan Rang (400 kilometers northwest of Ho Chi Minh City), known for its pronged Cham towers; Cam Ranh Bay (40 kilometers north of Phan Rang), the site of a massive naval base during the Vietnam War; and Qui Nhon, with Cham towers, bird nest islands and less-than-appealing beaches.

QUANG NGAI PROVINCE covers 5,152.7 square kilometers and is home to 1,218,600 people (2010). The largest ethnic groups in the province are the Viet (Kinh), Hre, Co, Xo Dang. The capital is Quang Ngai City. Districts: Ly Son, Binh Son, Tra Bong, Son Tinh, Son Tay, Son Ha, Tu Nghia, Nghia Hanh, Minh Long, Mo Duc, Duc Pho, Ba To, Tay Tra.

Located on South-Central Vietnam, Quang Ngai borders Quang Nam Province on the north, Binh Dinh Province on the south, Kon Tum Province on the west and The South China Sea on the east with 135 kilometers seaside. The province is surrounded by Truong Son Mountains on one side and the South China Sea on the other. As a result, the topography includes mountains, plains, seaside and offshore islands. The main rivers are Tra Khuc, Tra Bong, and Ve rivers. The rain season lasts from September to December. It is hot between April and August and the weather is cold from January to March. Annual average temperature is 26 degrees C.

Sights in Quang Ngai: Quang Ngai is famous for the cultural vestiges of Chau Sa Citadel, Ong and Mai Son pagodas. The beautiful landscapes are An Mountain, Thien An Mountain and Tra Khuc River, Co Luy Commune under coconut trees, Sa Huynh and My Khe beaches.

Nha Trang is endowed by nature with deep, quiet and warm waters all the year round, surrounded by archipelagoes, islands, mountains and white sand beaches — a wonderful and attractive tourist resort. Sa Huynh Beach is well-known with clear water, golden sand and pine trees. My Khe Beach is the most beautiful beach in Central Vietnam. It has fine white powdery sand, gently waves and poplars forest.Coming to there, tourists have chance to visit old battlefields with popular names like Ba To, Tra Bong, Ba Gia, Van Tuong and Son My.

Getting to Quang Ngai: Quang Ngai City is 100 kilometers from Hoi An, 131 kilometers from Danang, 174 kilometers from Qui Nhon, 238 kilometers from Hue, 860 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City, and 889 kilometers from Hanoi. National Highway No.1A and North-South Express Train runs through the province. National Highway No.24A links Quang Ngai to Central Highlands and Laos. Nha Trang City Bus Station: 58/23 Thang 10 Road, Tel: (8458) 3822 192. Nha Trang Flights from Hanoi: 21 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 647, 1,041, 01h40'; Flights from Danang: Daily, Vietnam Airlines, 272, 438 01h05'; Flights From Ho Chi Minh City: 28 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 198, 319, 00h55'.

Traveling and Transportation in Vietnam: The easiest way to get most anywhere in Vietnam is through a tour organized in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City or another major tourist town. Usually you can work out something with the staff of your hotel. If you want to shop around there are plenty of tour agencies on the streets of the tourist areas or on the Internet. For long distances you are best taking a flight. Air Asia serves many places but the flights often originate in Kuala Lumpur. Vietnam Airlines, budget carrier VietJet Air and Jetstar Pacific Airlines, a unit of Vietnam Airlines, all operate domestic routes. The trains are okay but the destinations they service are limited. It is possible to take local buses and minibuses but traveling that way is hassle and time-consuming: you have to deal with language issues, scheduling, locating where the buses leave and often crowded, hot conditions on the buses.

Nha Trang

Nha Trang (on the trans-Vietnam highway, 1,278 kilometers from Hanoi, and 448 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City) is a pleasant seaside town with wonderful beaches and nearby Cham towers in Khanh Hoa province, Central Vietnam, lies Hong Chong Promontory is a beautiful place. The Cham Towers at Po Nagar are very good. Also check out the Thung Chai basket boats. On Meiu Island, Monkey, Bamboo Island, and other island features wonderful clear water, and excellent diving and snorkeling. Most travelers visit the islands on days trips. Doc Let Beach (20 miles north of Nha Trang) and Dai Lanh Beach (50 miles north of Nha Trang) are regarded by many as the most beautiful beaches in Vietnam. They are largely undeveloped

Ana Mandara Resort & Six Senses Spa in Nha Trang has been voted one of the top resorts in Asia and one of the top 100 hotels in the world by Travel & Leisure. Tourism and fishing are the mainstays of Nha Trang's economy. Tran Son Hai, director of the tourism department of Khanh Hoa province, said the city received 1.1 million tourists last year, of whom 30 percent were international. Diving is one of the city's main attractions. But the tourism and fishing industries come into sharp conflict over the area's coral reefs. Long said overfishing is the main reason for the coral's decline. [Source: Deutsche Presse Agentur, June 12, 2007]

Nha Trang is regarded as Vietnam's scuba diving capital. Experts say it could lose all of its coral within 30 years. "The coverage of coral in Nha Trang Bay shrank from 52.4 percent in 1994 to 21.2 percent in 2005," Nguyen Van Long, head of the seafood resource department at the Nha Trang Oceanography Institute, told Deutsche Presse Agentur. "The bay may not have any coral left in 30 years if the coverage keeps shrinking at that pace.

Tourism and fishing are the mainstays of Nha Trang's economy. Tran Son Hai, director of the tourism department of Khanh Hoa province, said the city received 1.1 million tourists last year, of whom 30 percent were international. Diving is one of the city's main attractions. But the tourism and fishing industries come into sharp conflict over the area's coral reefs. Long said overfishing is the main reason for the coral's decline. Many fishermen in the area employ explosives or poisons like cyanide to stun large numbers of fish for easy harvesting. Those techniques are deadly to the coral reefs, Long said, though tourist activity also plays a role. "We are very concerned about the shrinking of the coral," said the tourism department's Hai. "If it keeps shrinking like this, the local tourism industry will be badly hurt." In 2002 the government established a Nha Trang Bay Marine Protected Area to try to halt the decline of marine life. But bans on dynamite and cyanide fishing have been inconsistently enforced, and recent surveys show biodiversity and marine life density have continued to decline.

Nha Trang City covers 251 square kilometers and is home to 362,000 people (2008) Administrative division: Wards: Vinh Hoa, Vinh Hai, Vinh Phuoc, Vinh Tho, Ngoc Hiep, Van Thang, Phuong Son, Xuong Huan, Van Thanh, Phuong Sai, Phuoc Tan, Phuoc Tien, Phuoc Hai, Phuoc Long, Loc Tho, Phuoc Hoa, Tan Lap, Vinh Nguyen, Vinh Truong. Communes: Vinh Luong, Vinh Phuong, Vinh Ngoc, Vinh Thanh, Vinh Hiep, Vinh Trung, Vinh Thai, Phuoc Dong.

Getting to Nghe An: Nghe An is an important transportation for all of Vietnam. It has the national highways and railways, as well as the Cua Lo International Port and Vinh Airport. Highway 7, Highway 48, Highway 46 and Highway 15 all pass through Nghe An Province. Vinh is 14 kilometers from Kim Lien Village, 16 kilometers from Cua Lo Beach, 139 kilometers from Thanh Hoa, 197 kilometers from Dong Hoi,291 kilometers from Hanoi, 368 kilometers from Hue, and 468 kilometers from Danang. Railway: 124 kilometers (of which 94 kilometers North South line, with 7 stations, Vinh station is the main station. Seaport: Cua Lo port now for the 10,000 toned ship. It will be convenience for being the international clue. There us a border gate at Nam Can. Vinh has an airport and flights to and from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang. Tan Son Nhat flight (and reverse direction). Vinh Flights from Hanoi: Daily, Vietnam Airlines, 158, 254, 01h00'. Flights From Ho Chi Minh City: 21 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 549, 884, 01h45'.

Near Nha Trang

To the north of Nha Trang stands the Chong mount which looks like a wide open hand over the sea. Far offshore, the Yen (Swallow) Island appears with lush green colours where salangane nests have been harvested for years to make the traditional "bird's nest" tonic and food. The seven kilometers white sand beach of Nha Trang is often called Vietnam's Mediterranean Area, considered one of the jewel along Vietnam's long stretching coast line. Nha Trang is sunny all year round, with an average temperature of 23 degrees C due to northern winds.

The rainfall is less than anywhere else in the country and the area is not threatened by storms since it is protected by the Truong Son Mountains and Ca Pass. From Ca Pass, one can see Ro Bay (Vung Ro) and Hon Do. Hon Tre Island is 36 kilometers offshore and belongs to a group of islands located southwest of Nha Trang. It takes two hours to reach Hon Tre Island by rowboat and only 20 minutes by ferry.

Nha Trang has many specialties. Especially, bird's nest soup, or swallow's nest soup is very famous in Nha Trang and round Vietnam. The magnificent coral seabed in Nha Trang makes it ideal for scubadiving and snorkeling. Nha Trang Bay is recognised as one of 29 most beautiful bays in the world.

Dien Khanh Citadel (Dien Khanh Townlet, Dien Khanh District, Khanh Hoa Province) was built by Nguyen Anh in 1793 and has an area of 36,000 square meters. Built according to the Vauban military architecture which was popular in Western Europe in 17th

18th centuries, the citadel's wall is inequilateral hexagon 3.5 meters height. The outer face was vertically constructed while the inner was a little bit sloping by two terraces forming a favorable pavement. Inside the corners, there were large fields which were convenient for military resident. On the top of corners there stood fortresses of two meters high with canons above. On the roof of the citadel, there planted closet bamboo and other barricade trees. Surrounding the citadel were moats of 4 to five meters deep, 10 meters wide, flooded by water.At first the citadel had 6 gates but nowadays it remains only 4 ones which are East Gate, West Gate, Front Gate (to the South), Back Gate (to the North). There had been here royal palace, private residents of feudal mandarins, warehouses and jails. Dien Khanh is one of the oldest citadels in the south of Vietnam.

Binh Dinh Province

Binh Dinh Province (304 kilometers from Danang) covers 6,039.6 square kilometers and is home to about 1.5 million people (2009). The largest ethnic groups in the province are the Viet (Kinh), Cham, Ba Na, Hre. The capital is Quy Nhon City. Districts: An Lao, Hoai An, Hoai Nhon, Phu My, Phu Cat, Vinh Thanh, Tay Son, Van Canh, An Nhon, Tuy Phuoc.

Binh Dinh is located on the coast of Central Vietnam. It is surrounded by Quang Ngai in the north, Phu Yen in the south, Gia Lai in the west, and the South China Sea in the east with the coastline of 100 kilometers and some island offshore. The topography is divided in four regions: highlands, midlands, plains, and coast. The annual average temperature varies between 26 and 28 degrees C. It is hottest in August and coldest in January. The annual average rainfall is 1,700 millimeters- 1,800 millimeters. The rainy season lasts from August to December.

The long coast with many coves and lochs makes many beautiful spots and beaches such as Phuong Mai Peninsula, Queen, Quy Hoa and Ghenh Rang beaches. Besides these, Ham Ho Valley is a beautiful fresh water spot as a change for visitors who prefer tramping in the bush and a swim in the fresh water stream.

Binh Dinh is famous as the center of the old Sa Huynh Culture. It used to be established as one of the capital cities of the former Cham Kingdom for a long period. The popular Cham towers are Banh It, Duong Long, Canh Tien, and Doi.Binh Dinh has special products such as silk, swallow nest, shrimp, fish, precious wood, vegetable oil, rice, marble, titanium, and handicraft articles.

Binh Dinh is homeland of national hero, Quang Trung- Nguyen Hue. His name can be related to the great Tay Son Uprising and the glorious victories over the forceful invaders of Chinese and Siam.Binh Dinh is cradle of Tuong opera (hat boi), Tay Son martial music, bai choi musical plays, ba trao festival music of the littoral people, and especially Tay Son wasted sect. The traditional festivals are Tay Son, Ca Ong, An Thai Village and Thi Tu Village.

Getting to Binh Dinh: Road: Binh Dinh is 1,065 kilometers from Hanoi and is accessible either by car, train, or plane. Quy Nhon is 174 kilometers from Quang Ngai, 186 kilometers from Pleiku, 223 kilometers from Buon Ma Thuot, 238 kilometers from Nha Trang, 304 kilometers from Danang and 677 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City. There are National Highways No. 1A and 19.

There are buses departing to Dalat, Danang, Hanoi, Hue, Nha Trang, Ho Chi Minh City, and others. The Thong Nhat Express Train runs from the North to the South through the province. It stops at Dieu Tri, 11 kilometers from Quy Nhon. The province has Quy Nhon Port, an important port of South- Central Coast.

Air: Phu Cat Airport is 30 kilometers north of Quy Nhon. There are flights between Ho Chi Minh City and Quy Nhon everyday and flights between Danang and Quy Nhon twice a week. Airport to City Transport: VND 25,000 (Minibus); Vietnam Airlines' sales agents: 2 Ly Thuong Kiet Street, Tel: 3823 125; Vinh,, 2 Le Hong Phong Street, Tel: 3595 777; Fax: 3847 359. Flights From Hanoi: 5 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 548, 882, 01h40'; Flights From Ho Chi Minh City: 8 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 268, 431, 01h10'Daily, Air Mekong01h05';

Cham Sites in Binh Dinh Province

Banh It Tower (25 kilometers from Qui Nhon City) is located at the high hill in Dai Loc Hamlet, Phuoc Hiep Commune, Tuy Phuoc District. The site now includes 4 towers: Main Tower, Nam (South) Tower, Cong (Gate) Tower, and Dong (East) Tower.The Main Tower is 22 meters in height. The architecture of Banh It Towers bears the Binh Dinh sculptural style of 12th century with small, embossed lines on the walls. Leaf- and flower-shaped motifs are only found on edges of the roofs, and dancing senses are found on false gates. Carvings of dancing girls and many valuable sculptures such as the stone statue of Siva, statue of Ganesa, statue of goddess Uma, and bronze statue of Bhahma, were discovered here in the French domination period (and brought to France). The Banh It Tower has got specific architectural characteristics and is one of the great temple-towers of the Champa Dynasty, which draw the attention of researchers.

Doi Tower (Hung Thanh Tower) (three kilometers from Qui Nhon City) was built in the late 12th century and early 13th. Here, there are 2 towers of 18 meters and 20 meters in height respectively. Both of them have got a special structure different from traditional, multi-storey towers. They are composed of two main parts: the square-shaped body and the similarly curved roof.

Besides the aforesaid towers, in Binh Dinh Province there are also Phu Loc Tower located at Nhon Thanh Commune, An Nhon District (35 kilometers northwest of Qui Nhon City), Thu Thien Tower in Binh Nghi Commune, Tay Son (35 kilometers from Qui Nhon City), and Binh Lam Tower in Phuoc Hoa Commune, Tuy Phuoc District (22 kilometers from Qui Nhon City) which was built between 11th and 15th century in the time of the Champa Kingdom.

Duong Long Cham Tower (40 kilometers from Quy Nhon and 270 kilometers from Danang) is located at Go Dang, Binh Hoa Commune, Tay Son District, Binh Dinh Province. The site comprises three large towers built in the 12th century. Duong Long Cham Tower, also called Thap Nga means "ivory tower." The highest tower is 35 meters high, is in the middle, and the two others are 22 meters high..

The bodies of the towers are built of bricks. The corners have got motifs with stone carvings of sacred animals such as Garuda birds, elephants, and eagles. Its gate faces the east and is rather high (about 1.5 meters) and the gate's frame is made of big stones. Its upper part is built of big stones, which are skilfully superimposed on each other. Many big, body leaf-shaped bas embossments describing monks, dancers and singers are found on the walls. These figures with rather big heads wear corner hats. Especially, the top of the tower looks like a great lotus with its rising petals. All the decorative motifs of the tower are very big and carved on sandstone. They are well-preserved. This tower complex is one of the most beautiful in Central Vietnam. This tower complex is one of the most beautiful in Central Vietnam.

Nghe An Province

Nghe An Province covers 16,490.7 square kilometers and is home to about 3 million people (2010). The capital is Vinh City. The largest ethnic groups in the province are the Viet (Kinh), Kho Mu, Tho, Thai and Hmong. Administrative divisions: Town: Cua Lo, Thai HoaDistricts: Dien Chau, Quynh Luu, Yen Thanh, Do Luong, Nghi Loc, Hung Nguyen, Nam Dan, Thanh Chuong, Tan Ky, Anh Son, Con Cuong, Nghia Dan, Quy Hop, Quy Chau, Que Phong, Tuong Duong, Ky Son.

Nghe An is a large province in the central part of Vietnam that connects the North to the South. Nghe An shares its border with Thanh Hoa in the north, The South China Sea in the east, Laos in the west, and Ha Tinh in the south. Nghe An is located on the Northeast of Truong Son range, with complicated topography, divided by hills, mountains, rivers and streams slanting from North-West to South-East, the highest peak is Pulaileng (2,711 meters) Mountainous and hilly lands cover 83 percent natural area of the whole province. The province is located in the tropical monsoon area, directly affected by the Southwest hot dry seasonal winds (during April- August) and the northeast wet and cold seasonal winds (during November- March). The annual average temperature varies between 23 degrees C and 24 degrees C.

Sights in Nghe An Province: Nghe An marks the starting point of the Heritage route in the central part, and the legendary Ho Chi Minh Trail. In addition, it is also the starting point of the tourist route following the east-west corridor, connecting Vinh- Laos- Thailand through Highway No. 8. Two thirds of its area is forested. Nature has endowed Nghe An with beautiful landscapes for tourism development. Among them include its long seaside with pristine beaches, especially Cua Lo which is considered one of the best in Vietnam, and Pu Mat National Park, which is home to diverse flora and fauna, apart from breath-taking landscapes.

Nghe An takes pride in its tradition in the building and defence of the nation. One hundred and thirty-one historical-cultural sites have been recognized as national treasures. The Kim Lien historical-cultural site, the native village of President Ho Chi Minh, World Cultural Celebrity and National Liberation Hero, is one among those. Nghe An people have won kudos for their intelligence, diligence, eagerness to study and their hospitality, cultural traditional imbued with national identity. Nghe An is fast changing with every passing days. It will be a highlighted destination for tourists near and far.

Quang Binh Province

Quang Binh Province (166 kilometers from Hue) covers 8,065.3 square kilometers and is home to 849,300 people (2010). The largest ethnic groups in the province are the Viet (Kinh), Bru

Van Kieu, Chut and Tay. The capital is Dong Hoi City. Districts: Tuyen Hoa, Minh Hoa, Quang Trach, Bo Trach, Quang Ninh, Le Thuy. Road, rail and shipping routes are fairly well developed. Dong Hoi City is 491 kilometers from Hanoi, 94 kilometers from Dong Ha,166 kilometers from Hue, and 197 kilometers from Vinh. National Highway No.1A and North-South Express Train runs throw the province and stop at Dong Hoi City. Quang Binh has Cha Lo Border Gate in Minh Hoa District to Laos.

Located in North-Central Vietnam, Quang Binh Province is surrounded by Ha Tinh Province on the north, The South China Sea on the east, Laos on the west and Quang Tri Province on the south. The provincial topography is narrow and sloping from the west to the east. The area is divided into specific geological zones: mountainous, hilly and midland, lowland, coastal sandy area. The seaside stretches 116 kilometers with large Gianh and Nhat Le ports. Quang Binh belongs to the monsoon-tropical zone. The climate is divided into two seasons. The rainy season lasts from September to March next year. The annual average rainfall is 2,000-2,300 millimeters. Heavy rains concentrate in September, October and November. Dry season lasts from April to August. Annual average degree is 24 degrees C to 26 degrees C.

Sights in Quang Binh Province: Quang Binh is known for its mountain and sea landscapes. The coast is dotted with blue water, yellow sand beaches that sparkle under forests of green willow trees. Attractions include Phong Nha, Tien Son caves, primitive forest in Phong Nha

Ke Bang reserve, Nhat Le, Da Nhay beaches, and Bang Mineral Hot Spring. Phong Nha- Ke Bang National Park was recognized as a World Natural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2003. In addition of these, Quang Binh preserves objects from Bau Tro Remains, Hoa Binh and Dong Son culture as well as historical sites like Quang Binh Gate, Luy Thay, Rao Sen. Among the places related to the wars against the American and French are Cu Nam, Canh Duong, Cha Lo, Cong Troi, Xuan Son, Long Dai and Ho Chi Minh Trail. Dong Hoi has an airport. Flights from Hanoi: 4 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 248, 399, 01h05'; Flights From Ho Chi Minh City: 4 flights/ week, Vietnam Airlines, 463, 745, 01h35';

Phong NhaKe Bang National Park

Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park (50 kilometers northwest of Dong Hoi City Quang Binh Province, central Vietnam) covers an area of 85,754 hectares can be compared to a huge geological museum thanks to its complicated geological structure with different categories of stone including sandstone, quartz, schist, siliceous limestone, granite, granodiorite, diorite, applet and pegmatite. Phong Nha-Ke Bang contains some of world’s oldest and largest tropical karst, some of which were formed 400 million years ago

The Phong Nha Nature Reserve is situated on the edge of the Phong Nha/Ke Bang Karst plateau in the middle of the Annamite Mountain Range. Only part of the total plateau, which extends to and adjoins the Hin Namno karst and shares its boundary with the Hin Namno Nature Reserve in Laos to the west. The park contains terrestrial and aquatic habitats, primary and secondary forest, sites of natural regeneration, tropical dense forests and savanna and is rich in large, often spectacular and scientifically significant caves.

There are 104 kilometers of caves and underground rivers, making it one of the most outstanding limestone karst ecosystems in the world. The karst formation has evolved since the Palaeozoic period (some 400 million years ago) and as such is the oldest major karst area in Asia. The Phong Nha Cave is the most famous in the entire system, with a currently surveyed length of 44.5 kilometers. Its entrance is the last part of an underground river that connects with the Son River and tour boats can penetrate inside to a distance of 1,500 meters.

Some 92 percent of the park is covered by tropical forest, 92.2 percent of which is primary forest. By far the largest vegetation type is tropical dense moist evergreen forest on limestone. Although this was severely damaged by fire during the war, it is recovering rapidly and is now in a healthy state. It has a high level of faunal diversity and there are many vascular plants. In the non-karst geomorphologic area, there are many low mountains covered by a floristic carpet. The erosion has created a number of abrasion-accumulation terraces along the valleys of the Son and Chay rivers and at the margins of the central limestone massifs. The transition terrain consists of a diversity of rock intercalated by limestone mountains.

Even though the parked is located in an area with a high average rainfall, few rivers and streams can be seen because water is absorbed to run inside limestone mountains. Therefore over tens of million years, water has eroded rocks, creating numerous caves in the area. The Phong Nha grotto system has evaluated as the most value in the world by the British Cave Research Association (BCRA) which held several world cave records, as it has the longest underground river, highest and widest entrance, the most beautiful sand and rock banks, the most magnificent and fanciful stalactites and stalagmites.

A large number of faunal and floral species occur within the park. A total of 568 vertebrate species have been recorded in the site, comprising 113 mammals, 81 reptiles and amphibians, 302 birds and 72 fish. This impressive level of biodiversity and species richness. The fauna is typical of the limestone karst forests of the Annamite mountains. The high mammal species richness includes threatened species such as tiger, Asiatic black bear, Asian elephant, giant muntjac, Asian wild dog, gaurs, and the newly discovered sao la. The site is particularly rich in primates, with 10 species and subspecies forming 45 percent of the total number of species in Viet Nam. See New Species under Animals.

Of particular importance has been the discovery of three new species: Sao la, Mang lon and Mang Truong Son. Rare birds found in the park include black-comb blue pheasants (ga loi lam mau den), white-tail blue pheasants (ga loi lam duoi trang) and peacocks. According to initial statistics, the primitive tropical forest in Phong Nha

Ke Bang houses 140 families, 427 branches, and 751 species of high-rated plants, of which 36 species are endangered and listed in the Vietnam Red Book.

Phong Nha

Ke Bang also boasts dozens of mountain peaks of over 1,000 meters still unexplored by men and seen as ideal sites for activities like climbing and exploration. Worthy of note are Peak Co Rilata with the height of 1,128 meters and Peak Co Preu, 1,213 meters. Lying between these peaks are valleys which promise tourists exciting eco-tours. In addition to the diversity in the ecosystem, Phong Nha

Ke Bang is home to archeological and historical sites, such as an ancient hieroglyphic script of the Cham ethnic minority, King Ham Nghi's base built for the resistance war against French colonialists in the late 19th century, and the Xuan Son ferry station, Ho Chi Minh Trail and Road 20 used during the US resistance war. Central Quang Binh Province has poured heavy investment into upgrading the Phong Nha

Ke Bang visitor site to turn it into the country's major tourist destination.

Geology of Phong Nha

Ke Bang National Park

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is one of the world's two largest limestone regions, Subject to massive tectonic changes, the karst landscape is extremely complex, comprising a series of rock types that are interbedded in complex ways and with many geomorphic features. The karst landscape is not only complex but also ancient, with high geodiversity and geomorphic features of considerable significance. The karst formation process has led to the creation of not only underground rivers but also a variety of cave types including; dry caves, terraced caves, suspended caves, dendritic caves and intersecting caves. With a length of over 44.5 kilometers the Phong Nha cave is the most famous of the system with tour boats able to penetrate inside to a distance of 1,500 meters. [Source: UNESCO]

Phong Nha is part of a larger dissected plateau, which also encompasses the Ke Bang and Hin Namno karsts. The limestone is not continuous and demonstrates complex interbedding with shales and sandstones. This, together with the capping of schists and apparent granites has led to a particularly distinctive topography. Phong Nha displays an impressive amount of evidence of earth's history. It is of great importance for increasing our understanding of the geologic, geomorphic and geo-chronological history of the region.

Phong Nha has an Earth crust development history from the Ordovician period (464 million years ago). This has produced three types of topography and geomorphology. One type is the non-karst landforms, which consist of low, round-top mountains with planation surfaces and abrasion-accumulation terraces along the valleys of the Son and Chay rivers and at the margins of the central limestone massif. The other major type is karst landforms, which are characterized by old tropical karst mainly from the Mezozoic era, but two-thirds of the site consists of karst from the Cenozoic. Extensive transitional landforms comprise an extremely complex intercalation of limestone massifs and terrigenous terrain with a diversity of rock types. The limestone occupies an area of about 200,000 hectares, with a similar adjacent area in the Lao People's Democratic Republic and its highest point is 1,290 meters above sea level.

The karst formation process has resulted in many features such as underground rivers, dry caves, terraced caves, suspended caves, dendritic caves and intersecting caves. The active river caves are divided into the nine caves of the Phong Nha system discharging to the Son River, and the eight caves of the Vom system discharging to the Chay River. The Phong Nha Cave is the most famous in the entire system, with a currently surveyed length of 44.5 kilometers. Its entrance is the last part of an underground river that connects with the Son River. Other extensive caves include the Vom cave at 15 kilometers in length and the Hang Khe Rhy cave with a length of 18,902 meters.

The caves demonstrate discrete episodic sequences of events, leaving behind various levels of fossil passages, formerly buried and now uncovered palaeokarst (karst from previous, perhaps very ancient, periods of solution); evidence of major changes in the routes of underground rivers; changes in the solutional regime; deposition and later re-solution of giant speleothems and unusual features such as sub-aerial stromatolites. The location and form of the caves suggests that they might owe much of their size and morphology to some as yet undetermined implications of the schists and granites which overlay the limestone. On the surface, there is a striking series of landscapes, ranging from deeply dissected ranges and plateaux to an immense polje. There is evidence of at least one period of hydrothermal activity in the evolution of this ancient mature karst system. The plateau is probably one of the finest and most distinctive examples of a complex karst landform in Southeast Asia.

There is strong evidence that sulphurous solution and hydrothermal action have played an important role in shaping the broad-scale landscape and the caves. The park also has many 'fossil' caves at a high level, which occur when the groundwater and rivers move to a lower level. Only a very few have been visited to date. It is one of the most important eco-regions of the Indo-Pacific. A large number of faunal and floral species occurs in the park, including some endemic to the site.

Caving in Phong Nha-ke Bang National Park

Describing his experience in mammoth cavern in the park with a jungle inside and spaces large enough for a skyscraper, Mark Jenkins wrote in National Geographic: ““Past the hand of dog, watch out for dinosaurs,” says a voice in the dark. I recognize Jonathan Sims’s clipped, British military accent but have no idea what he’s talking about. My headlamp finds him, gray muttonchops curling out from beneath his battered helmet, sitting alone in the blackness along the wall of the cave. “Carry on mate,” growls Sims. “Just resting a buggered ankle.” The two of us have roped across the thundering, subterranean Rao Thuong River and climbed up through 20-foot blades of limestone to a bank of sand. I continue alone, following the beam of my headlamp along year-old footprints. [Source: Mark Jenkins, National Geographic, October 2011]

“In the spring of 2009, Sims was a member of the first expedition to enter Hang Son Doong, or “mountain river cave,” in a remote part of central Vietnam. Hidden in rugged Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park near the border with Laos, the cave is part of a network of 150 or so caves, many still not surveyed, in the Annamite Mountains. During the first expedition, the team explored two and a half miles of Hang Son Doong before a 200-foot wall of muddy calcite stopped them. They named it the Great Wall of Vietnam. Above it they could make out an open space and traces of light, but they had no idea what lay on the other side. A year later, they have returned—seven hard-core British cavers, a few scientists, and a crew of porters—to climb the wall, if they can, measure the passage, and push on, if possible, all the way to the end of the cave.

“The trail disappears before me into a difficult pile of breakdown—building-size blocks of stone that have fallen from the ceiling and crashed onto the cave floor. I crane my head back, but the immensity of the cave douses my headlamp’s tiny light, as if I were staring up into a starless night sky. I’ve been told I’m inside a space large enough to park a 747, but I have no way to know; the darkness is like a sleeping bag pulled over my head.

“When we first got to the collapsed doline, that skylight up there, I was with another caver and we both had four-year-old sons, so we were experts on dinosaurs, and the whole scene reminded us of something right out of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The Lost World,” he says. “When my partner went exploring forward into the sunlight, I told him to ‘watch out for dinosaurs,’ and the name stuck.”

Conservation of Phong Nha

Ke Bang National Park

There are a number of issues that affect the integrity of Phong Nha

Ke Bang National Park. These include the fact that a part of the major watershed is not contained within the boundaries of the property and that a road crosses the property. While former problems with poaching posed a threat to the values contained within the site these are now considered to be under effective control. However, continued management actions and monitoring is required to ensure poaching does not become an issue in the future. [Source: UNESCO]

The park is situated within an area of high population density and as such a number of activities, such as cultivation, tourism, transport and fisheries also impact on the integrity of the property. However, these activities are currently under strict control and management. As a result, the natural landscape, geologic and geomorphic values, and key features such as primitive forest, caves, rivers and streams within the inscribed area are all intact.

Originally designated as a Nature Reserve in 1986,Phong Nha

Ke Bang National Park was established in 2001 and is managed by a Management Board. The management board is responsible for protection of forest resources and biodiversity and was established in 1994. Cave conservation and the provision of a tourism service are the responsibility of the Cultural and Ecological Tourist center under the Management Board.

A management plan was prepared in 2010 providing for rigorous conservation programmes, and a revised master plan is under preparation. A visitor management plan has also been prepared along with a provincial action plan to control hunting and trade in wildlife, which was implemented from 2005. Additionally, the Management Board has set up ten ranger stations and a mobile patrol unit to prevent poaching within the property. The rugged nature of the country, difficulty of control, and low income of many local families and relative shortage of resources for control purposes means that wildlife poaching and illegal timber gathering are difficult to eliminate and this challenging issue will require further efforts into the future if it is not to continually impact the property.

The Ho Chi Minh highway, constructed outside and to the north of the park. It provides important and valuable benefit to the National Park in terms of opening up views of and access to the Ke Bang forest area. The highway also greatly enhances year-round traffic flow from the North and South of the country as a whole, constructed with a high level of environmental responsibility the road linking the highway and route 20, which crosses the property, is small and has little impact on its natural values. Other road construction in the area requires careful planning and construction as impacts from construction processes as well as indirect impacts on the property may threaten the values of the site.

Impacts of increased development pressure and tourism numbers also require further consideration, planning and management. In the long-term, management of the property focuses on ensuring the integrity of the geological and geomorphologic values, as well as the property’s environment; strengthening the legislative provisions; carefully monitoring the socio-economic activities within the national park; designing suitable eco-tours; increasing the usage of technology in heritage management; undertaking research to gain a better understanding of the property’s values; improving the staff capacity and enhancing community awareness and involvement.

Phong Nha

Ke Bang National Park Caves

Phong Nha-Ke Bang area is noted for its cave and grotto systems as it is composed of 300 caves and grottos, divided into three main systems: Phong Nha Grottos, Vom Caves, and Ruc Mon Caves. Besides the grotto and cave systems, Phong Nha has the longest underground rivers, the largest caverns and passageways, the widest and prettiest sand banks, and the most astonishing rock formations in the world.

The Phong Nha Grotto itself which lends its name to the whole system is probably the most beautiful of all, containing many fascinating rock formations, enchanting visitors with evocative names such as Lion, Fairy Caves, Royal Court and Buddha. The Phong Nha grotto system is 40 kilometers long in total, rising from south of Ke Bang Limestone Mountain. The main entrances are Khe Ry and En Grottoes situated at a height of 300 meters above sea level. The grottoes of this tree-branch system run in the direction of northeast-southwest.

The system of Vom caves is over 30 kilometers long, rising from Ruc Ca Roong Cave located at a height of 360 meters above sea level and ending with Vom Cave. The system runs south and north. Ruc Ca Roong River sometimes hides in mountains, sometimes appears in narrow and deep valleys, and flows into the Chay River at the entrance of Vom Cave.The system of Ruc Mon caves that lies in the district of Minh Hoa is also a large cave. However, the information about this system is not abundant because few surveys have been conducted in this area so far.

Next to the Phong Nha Grotto is Tien Son Cave also known as Dry Grotto or Upper Phong Nha, a famous beautiful cave in Phong Nha – Ke Bang area where features spectacular stalactites and stalagmites. In addition, the Thien Duong Cave remains untouched, with a very splendid beauty, longer and larger than Phong Nha or Tien Son Grottos. Especially, Son Dong Cave is one of the most newly-found caves in the national park that found by a British expedition in April 2009. It is regarded as the largest cave in the world. The biggest chamber of Son Dong is over five kilometers in length, 200 meters high and 150 meters wide.

Vu Quang Nature Reserve

Vu Quang Nature Reserve (near the Laos border 270 kilometers south- southwest of Hanoi) is a beautiful mountainous area of dense, unmapped tropical rain forest with wild birds, cattle-like gaurs, forest pigs, sambar deer, gibbons, tigers, leopards, elephants and deer. In 1993, the first large mammal discovered in over 50 years was found here. The new species, the Vu Quang ox, was classified as a kind of wild cattle even though it has backward-pointing antlers similar to horns of a goat.

How could a species live here undiscovered for so long. "Part of the explanation," wrote Eugene Linden in Time magazine, "lies in the region's steep, ragged terrain and exceptionally wet, sweltering weather conditions...Incessant rains during the rainy season and dripping fogs during the dry season nature a slick algae that adds a treacherous coating to rocks and other surfaces...The presence of what maybe be ancient species is evidence that Vu Qunag and its environs have been ecologically stable for millions of years.

Established in 1986, and later enlarged from 40,000 acres to 150,000 acres, the park is named after 19th century Vietnamese who revolted against the French. There has been some logging in the park, but mostly it remains covered by virgin rain forest. Vu Quang is connected with the 900,000 acre Nakai Nam Theun National Biodiversity Conservation Area in Laos. There are plans to create 750,000 acres of reserves in the surrounding mountain forest in Vietnam.

New Animal Species Found in Vu Quang Reserve

In the early 1990s scientists discovered two large mammals—the saola, a deer-like animal with long swept back horns, and the giant muntjac, another deer-like mammal—that were new to science, a feat many though was next to impossible. Scientists also found a new species of squirrel and rabbit as well as several new fish and birds and a tortoise with a bright yellow shell. The Vietnamese wart pig, last seen in the wild by Westerners 100 years ago, was seen in the wild in 1995 in Laos. AFP reported: “Biologists have been stunned to find that Vietnam, shut off for decades by war and politics, has rainforests far more species-diverse than previously known. A one-horned rhinoceros thought extinct in mainland Asia was rediscovered and biologists found three new deer species, 63 vertebrates and 45 unknown fish, says the recently-published 'Vietnam: A Natural History'. Yet scientists are racing against time to catalogue the new animals before they are gone.”

John Balzar wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “In 1992, Western scientists cataloged the "discovery" of the planet's largest new mammal in more than half a century, a forest-dwelling ox named the saola. Not merely a new species, it represented an entirely unrecorded genus of life. As of the June publication of "Vietnam: A Natural History," scientists still had not sighted another free-ranging saola in the wild, although villagers sometimes kill an animal for meat. “Since then, researchers in Vietnam have identified three new species of deer and a striking striped rabbit — 63 new terrestrial vertebrates and 45 fish. An animal once thought extinct on the Asian mainland, the lesser one-horned rhinoceros, was rediscovered. A wild pig, a monkey, a pheasant and at least two other varieties of birds have been re-sighted almost a century after they were identified and then vanished from scientists' view. [Source: John Balzar, Los Angeles Times, July 16, 2006]

“The era of grand biological discovery pretty much ended long ago across most of the globe. Not so for Vietnam, which continues its struggle to emerge from the darkness of war.This natural history, compiled by three scientists from the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at New York's American Museum of Natural History, is the latest chapter in the postwar development of one of the world's most remarkable, and mysteriously rich, landscapes.

“A comprehensive and knowingly illustrated scientific work that hints of more discoveries to come, the volume is engagingly readable. It deserves attention from those with a curiosity for contemporary biological exotica, as well as the increasing legions of tourists bound for the socialist republic, not just on account of rare and odd things that inhabit the east coast of Indochina but also because of the staggering variety of everyday flora and fauna. A nation about 20 percent smaller California with more than twice as many residents, Vietnam now faces a paradox of a more familiar kind. Even as new animals and plants are discovered, they are being jeopardized by roads, an expanding population, over-harvesting and pollution. Perhaps tourism, an important pillar of the government's economic growth plan, will forestall some of the damage — if visitors and residents alike truly comprehend the bounty before them.”

Saving the Vu Quang Reserve

Vu Quang Reserve has been described as "a dense, high-quality forest" filled with wild birds, cattle-like gaurs, forest pigs, sambar deer, gibbon, tigers, leopards, elephants and deer. How could it yield so many new species. "Part of the explanation," wrote Eugene Linden in Time magazine, "lies in the region's steep, ragged terrain and exceptionally wet, sweltering weather conditions...Incessant rains during the rainy season and dripping fogs during the dry season nurture a slick algae that adds a treacherous coating to rocks and other surfaces...The presence of what may be ancient species is evidence that Vu Qunag and its environs have been ecologically stable for millions of years."

Despite widespread hunting, Vu Quang remains incredible biologically diverse. "If mankind wants to preserve biodiversity," one conservationist told Time, "it makes sense to start in places like Vu Qunag, which have proved able to sustain biodiversity for along time." Vu Quang is also the home of a strange new species of fish, the quang khem, which resembles a carp. The yellow terrapin, once found in Vu Quang, is now extremely rare.

The park was named after a 19th century Vietnamese who revolted against the French. Established in 1986, it was later enlarged from 40,000 acres to 150,000 acres. There has been some logging, but most of the park embraces virgin rain forest. Vu Quang is connected with the 900,000 acre Nakai Nam Theun National Biodiversity Conservation Area in Laos. There areplans to also include 750,000 acres of reserves in the surrounding mountain forest in Vietnam.

Hunting presents the greatest threat to wildlife in VU Quang. Many of the tribesmen that live in area where the saola is found use guns and snares for hunting. A WWF official told Time, "Hunting only supplements the diets of local villagers, and it imposes little hardship to ask them to put it aside if that is necessary to protect unique natural treasures."

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

Last updated August 2020

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