Hang En is the world’s 3rd largest cave, succeeded only by Deer Cave in Malaysia and Hang Son Doong, also located here in the Cave Kingdom of Vietnam, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. The route to Hang En winds first down a mountain covered in lush jungle, and then across 10 km of an expansive river valley. The mountainous jungle region that you first must conquer is steep and exhilarating. Vines curve around monstrous trees, the mud is slick underfoot, and leaves crunch left and right as nearly invisible critters scurry around the jungle floor. Dew sits delicately atop enormous fern leaves, and birds join with insects to provide a chorus of chirping and humming in the background.
As you descend into the river valley, karst mountains rise up all around and surround the valley as you criss cross the streams and rivers, making your way to Hang En.
Not long into the trek, a small village, Ban Doong, appears on the horizon. There are only about 32 members in the entire community, and they survive mostly off of farming. If you’re lucky, the resident owl, with haughty eyes and gorgeous golden feathers, will make an appearance. Puppies run about endlessly and the children will shyly wave and smile. The people of the village are as beautiful as the landscape surrounding them.
From there the trek continues, through more rivers, past even higher looming limestone mountains, and onward through the valley until at last you reach the deceivingly small entrance of this enormous cave. As you peer in through the entrance, it’s hard to imagine the enormity of the 3 million year old cave that lies behind it. The rocks themselves are between 400 and 450 millions years old, some of the oldest in Southeast Asia, with this particular cave being carved out of the limestone 3 million years ago, from the flow of the persistently strong Thuong River.
As you enter this wet cave, you trek at first through an area with quite low ceilings, the size of the entrance betraying the massive depths of the 2 km long cave. You wind through the cave, following the river, and then start climbing up rocks and scrambling over boulders, curious to see what sight will await you when you reach your destination. And when you hit your destination, overlooking turquoise pools of water, a sandy beach camp, and the massive walls of the main cavern of Hang En, you realize why this cave is advertised to have one of the biggest “wow” factors in all of Vietnam.
Hang En, meaning “swift cave”, is full of fledgling swifts and swift nests all up the sides of the walls of the cave. You can climb up to get a closer view of the birds’ nests, and also to see the wondrous display of all that the cave has to offer: the view of the misty jungle just outside, the river that loops around camp, the magnificently large cave walls, and a 140m wide entrance to the cave. Around twilight, the image of the resident flying foxes can be seen silhouetted against the dusky sky. As night continues to fall, thousands of stars can be seen on a cloudless night, and at times, the moon even graces the cave with its presence and shines moonbeams down into camp.
The trekking team sits around together, singing, telling stories, and eating their fill of the best food imaginable cooked over a campfire, to be washed down with the ever-popular Vietnamese rice wine. Laughter and music echoes throughout the cave until sleepiness from the day’s trek takes over, and everyone retreats to their tents.
In the morning, throughout the spring months, one can climb up to the top of the boulders next to camp and capture photographs and mental images of the most stunning sunbeams imaginable streaming into the opening of the cave. After that, the team moves on to explore even more of this wondrous place. There are rocks to scramble up, and boulders to conquer in order to reach the panorama of what’s actually the entrance of Hang En – at 140m wide it’s truly a view incomparable to many others in this world. Most people just sit and stare in awe at the sheer size of the cave and it’s entrance. Photographers compose shots with ease, thanks to the beauty that can be witnessed from every angle.
Hang En’s fame continues to increase as more and more explorers, cave enthusiasts, trekkers, and adventurers come from far and wide to see this stunning place, made famous by Oxalis Adventure Tours, National Geographic and many other well-known photographers from around the world.