Travel to Quang Binh in the day that the Central was still sunny, the first feeling of us was hot – sunlight is so redundant in Dong Hoi. We were supposed to start the trip from Dong Hoi to Phong Nha – Ke Bang at 7 am but then the departure time was earlier because everyone concerned about hot weather.
Quang Binh attracts people with the beautiful caves of the world heritage Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park, of course, no one should skip to visit Phong Nha cave, Tien Son cave, Paradise cave… This time, our destination was Chay river and Toi cave (Dark Cave) in Bo Trach, Quang Binh, also located in this natural heritage.
As the one who raised the idea to go to Chay River and Dark cave but I had never came here before, just heard that it’s a pretty cool new destination for discoverers. I was so excited and also a little bit nervous about whether the place suitable for our group, with people of many different ages, or not.
It’s worth the trip! The blue sky, the turquoise water, imposing mountains attracted everyone at the first sight. Chay River – Dark Cave Ecological Zone is well managed with good order, enthusiastic staff, fun atmosphere … making us satisfied.
Local people said, like other rivers in the Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park, Chay River originates from inside the cave. Chay River is formed by two branches. The first one is from inside the majestic Truong Son range, the flow appears in Nuoc Mooc stream (about 3km from Dark Cave); the second one originates from Dark Cave. Two lines blend together to create a large water line length of about 10km, the deepest is in Phong Nha – Ke Bang, the average depth is from5 to 7m, but the deepest point is about 20m.
According to local people, the Chay River is fascinating at any time of the year, though the beauty may be different at some point depending on each person feeling. From about February to August, the weather is sunny, Chay River water is always blue. And from September to October, it starts rainy, the water is muddy. From December to January, it’s cold.
Coming to Chay River, you must visit Dark Cave to fully feel all the interesting things here. Dak Cave is one of the unique caves in natural populations of the world heritage national park of Phong Nha – Ke Bang, discovered and first published in 1990 by the British Royal Caving Association. The length of the cave was about 5,5km in the first time measuring. In the most recent visit by the Phong Nha – Ke Bang Tourism Centre conducting in 4/2015 (that was the first time a survey to the caves conducting by a Vietnamese team), it is nearly 6km, the average height of 70 – 90 meters, width of 25 – 35m.
Mr. Tran Tai, a staff of Phong Nha – Ke Bang Tourim Centre, who attended in the survey trip, assessed that Dark cave is a beautiful grotto with outstanding natural and biological values, the deeper part of the cave is more difficult as well as danger to go but it’s also more unique and beautiful. There are two entrances to Dark Cave, one is located in Tro Mong ranger station, right next to Chay River; the other is located in the heart of the Sinh Ton valley – also known as the Nuoc Lan cave – at that point, the water disappears.
Only 5km of Chay River and 500m of cave for visitors to explore is enough for a day trip with many activities like sightseeing, adventurous games. There are many foreign tourists coming here. Seeing them exciting, we also felt very cheerful.
After a few minutes learning about the terrain characteristics to choose the suitable game and activities on Chay river and Dark cave, two people, who are over 50 in the group, were not less brave than four young people of 14-20 years old. They wore life jackets and protective gear, and went to the observation station to enjoy 400m ziplining to the front door the Dark Cave. The guiding staff kept reminding guests about safety and health condition – whoever with heart problem should consider carefully before trying this sport. We were really nervous and thrilled but it was amazing to see from above the blue Chay River bending itself along green mountain, woods and rocks fields along the riverbank.
Dark cave was so pristine. Only a thick dark without a light bulb to lead the way – that even made people feel more excited and curious. The flashlights mounted on helmet of each one were the means to light up the way. Going inside about hundred meters into the cave, our legs embedded mud. Dark cave’s mud gave people an extremely strange and interesting feeling. We enjoyed mud bath in many places, but nowhere is more interesting than in the Dark Cave, and perhaps in the world, a mud bath in the cave is only available in Quang Binh only. Mud is really cool and no smell, making people feel like they are flying in a weightless environment because standing in the mud without sinking down, we were kept hovering, and our legs did not touch the ground. Who wants to go deeper into the cave can walk out of the mud and together enjoy cool spring water.
After delighting over an hour in the Dark cave, the exit gate offers a different fun. Everyone grabbed their kayak for a rowing race to the middle of the Chay River, site of many games on the bustling river. A few young people continued to enjoy strong feeling: swinging in the air and then drop down to the river. Crossing the rope bridge across the river is an interesting game here, foreigners and young Vietnamese wanted to try but it was not easy to pass. Everybody bet if someone overcoming every type of rope bridges: large and small, horizontal, vertical challenging is awarded $ 100. During the whole afternoon, no one took the prize.
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Chay River and Dark Cave took away a lot of energy of us. At noon our group of nine people ate a lot of food including sticky rice, noodles, rice balls, rice paper, boiled chicken, roasted pork, fried egg, vegetables, and yet indulging on the river till 5 o’clock in the afternoon, we were all felt hungry.
Phong Nha – Ke Bang Tourism Centre sells tickets to enjoy activities in Chay River – Dark Cave with insurance. Visitors are equipped with life jackets, the device to swing (zipline) from the observatory to the Dark, cave exploring (zipline is not for children under 1.4m tall), kayaking, zipline over the river, playing games on the river. On cool days, after cave exploring, guests will be served warm fire and offered a free glass of wine.