Tu Lan Cave System In Quang Binh Vietnam

Tu Lan Cave System is located in the primaeval forest and limestone mountains of Vietnam with an area of ​​more than 650 hectares in Tan Hoa Commune, Minh Hoa District, Quang Binh Province. The area covers 8 different valleys and mountain ranges connected by an underground river and cave system.

The Tu Lan Cave System comprises more than twenty caves and was first explored by the British - Vietnam Caving Expedition Team in 1992. It was surveyed more extensively in 2010 with several subsequent surveys. The system lies outside of the Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park.

Tu Lan is an independent cave system formed by the Rao Nan River, which originates from Thuong Hoa, Trung Hoa, Dan Hoa, Hoa Son and Tan Hoa Communes in Minh Hoa District. The entire system of limestone caves is gathered in the area of Tan Hoa commune, about 70 km northwest of Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park along the legendary Ho Chi Minh highway, next to the communal area of Tan Hoa, Minh Hoa District, Quang Binh Province.

Some of the caves in the area were discovered by local people of Tan Hoa many years ago, some other caves have traces of human habitation hundreds of years ago. In 2009, Dinh Hong Nham a local man discovered Tu Lan Cave and the small and large To Mo Caves whilst going in the jungle and fishing at the entrance of the caves. These caves were then widely reported and introduced by the domestic press.

Discovery and Exploration

In 2010, the cave exploration team from the UK led by Howard Limbert, along with National Geographic photographer Carsten Peter, conducted the second survey. The exploration team took some photos of Ken and Tu Lan Caves and introduced them to National Geographic magazine. In 2011, Carsten Peter received several major National Geographic awards for his photos taken inside Ken Cave.

From 1992 to 2022, the cave expert team has discovered and surveyed more than 25 caves large and small in this 650-hectare limestone mountain range.

The origins of the name Tu Lan

There are many stories and rumours related to the origin of the name and the history of the name Tu Lan. However, according to the elders of Tan Hoa village, the meaning behind the name Tu Lan Cave System comes from the Nguon language. “Lan” represents the Nan river that flows into Tu Lan Valley. After going underground, this branch of the river flows into the Tu Lan Cave, which looks from the outside like a tongue sticking out from the mouth of the cave. "Tu" may refer to the form of limestone mountain ranges encircling the valley, stretching far into the distance with magnificent parallel lines.

Most of the caves in this cave system are connected by the same river and this river disappears at the end of Tu Lan Cave therefore the meaning behind the name Tu Lan Cave System is based on this.

Significant caves in the Tu Lan System

There are many notable caves in the Tu Lan Cave System such as: Hung Ton Cave, Ken Cave, Kim Cave, Tu Lan Cave, Chuot Cave, Tien Cave, Uoi Cave, Ruc Cave, Secret Cave, Doi Cave, To Mo Cave. These caves are not only notable by their size but also by their unique features and cave formations.

Rat Cave

Recorded as the first cave discovered in the Tu Lan area in 1992. With a total length of more than 280 metres and an average height of 15 - 20 metres, Rat Cave is one of the most impressive dry caves in the Tu Lan Cave System. The widest passage, which can reach 30m, is quite flat with a big entrance, so the cave has been used as a filming set for many famous movies such as “The Immortal" and "The Legend of Quan Tien”.

Secret Cave

This was found by the porters by accident during a camp set-up trip and surveyed by cave experts in 2013. Although the cave is short, less than 200m, the passage is more than 15m wide in some sections, it is only nearly 10m high but contains very unique stalactites and many cave pearls.

Hung Ton Cave

The river entrance of the cave was first surveyed in 1992. In 2012, the dry entrance of Hung Ton cave was explored. At the same time, two skeletons of about 100 years old were also discovered in this cave. Due to the high passage along with a lot of seashells and snail shells found scattered on the floor of the cave, the cave experts believed that a group of ancient people used to live in this area and used Hung Ton Cave as a shelter. The cave has a total length of nearly 500 metres. To go through the cave, customers need to climb a 15-metre-high ladder with some interesting swimming activities.

Ken Cave

It was discovered and surveyed in 2010. It is the longest river cave in the Tu Lan Cave System with a total length of more than 3km. However, when the cave experts came to survey this area for the first time in 2010, the cave did not have any water flowing out of the entrance. When returning in 2011, the experts were surprised to see a 5-metre-high waterfall flowing out from inside the cave. Ken Cave has an impressive cave entrance, with a 30m wide passage. Ken Cave has also become more well-known thanks to Castern Peter's photo of the impressive column in the cave. The photo also brought Castern Peter many prestigious awards.

Tu Lan Cave

Discovered and surveyed at the same time as Ken Cave in 2010, Tu Lan Cave was the largest cave in the system at the time. The biggest passage of the cave is up to 35m wide with some massive columns giving the cave the feeling of a magnificent castle, furthermore stalactites at a height of 30m look like natural chandeliers.

Hang Kim

This cave entrance was discovered by chance by a Dutch tourist in 2012 and then surveyed and measured by the cave experts from the The British - Vietnam Cave Expedition Team in the same year. With a total length of more than 1.2 km, the river passage combined with a dry passage of up to 25m wide, Hang Kim is one of the caves that has the most interesting activities in the Tu Lan Cave System, including swimming in the underground river for about 450m, rock climbing and scrambling to explore the cave.

Hang Song Cave (Misty Mountain Cave)

This cave was discovered and surveyed in 2017 with a length of more than 600m. Located on top of a hill about 200m above To Mo Valley, Hang Song Cave is highly protected by the cave experts because of the unique cave formations. The terrain inside the cave is diverse. The width of the cave passage is from 5 - 20m and the height is from 15 - 30m, therefore to ensure safety and conservation, there are some sections in the cave marked by cave experts to ensure that people are only following the single path. Moreover, scientists are conducting more tests with samples of water dripping from the cave formations to understand more about climate change.

Dry Ken Cave

Located above Ken Cave, Dry Ken Cave was found in 2018. With a length of more than 700m, a height ranging from 15 - 20m, Dry Ken Cave has a series of unique cave formation structures as stalagmites, stalactites, coral towers,...

Hang Tien 1 Cave

This is the last cave in the Tu Lan Cave System. Hang Tien 1 was surveyed and mapped by experts from The British - Vietnam Cave Expedition Team in 1994, with a total length of more than 2km. The passage is up to 45m wide, with a very unique ceiling dome. The entrance of the cave is estimated to be up to 100m high. The multiple limestone layers are very thin, and the cave has several levels. To get to the second level of Hang Tien 1 Cave, you have to climb a 12-meter-high ladder with some safety equipment.

Hang Tien 2 Cave

This was discovered by a safety assistant and local people in 2015 then officially surveyed by cavers at the end of 2015. In 2016, the cave was fully explored.

After the survey, the cave experts knew that Hang Tien 2 Cave has a length of more than 2.5km and might be connected to Hang Tien 1 Cave by an underground river. Besides, by the time of the discovery of Hang Tien 2, Hang Tien Cave was the largest cave in the Tu Lan Cave System.

Most of the caves in the Tu Lan area were found by local people then explored and mapped by the cave experts. With a large limestone area there is still the potential to discover and explore many new caves.

Until now, the local people and cave experts keep on finding and discovering 1 or 2 new caves in the area every year. Cave experts have not been able to find the connection between Tu Lan Cave and Hang Tien Cave, where the water sinks deep underground at the end of Tu Lan Cave and emerges right next to Hang Tien campsite. The cave expert team continues to do some research and survey in the area to find this connection.

The special and unique features of Tu Lan Cave System

The caves in the Tu Lan System are divided into two types: wet caves (caves with an underground river) and dry caves. Wet caves normally also have dry passages where there are many distinctive cave formations next to the underground river and waterfalls inside the cave. Meanwhile, dry caves are located at higher elevations. Formed by rivers, these older caves have been raised following periods of uplift of the limestone mountains. Dry caves often have many beautiful and unique formations which build up as there is no active river flowing through the caves.

Waterfalls inside the caves: Each valley is connected by an underground river flowing through the cave. The height difference of the valleys is about 5 - 10m. There are many cascades of different sizes inside the caves. The exits of some river caves form a waterfall that pours into a large lake surrounded by an ancient jungle and limestone mountains.

Magnificent and unique cave formations: Most caves have numerous unique formations formed inside such as distinctive tower coral formations in Hang Song Oxalis (Misty Mountain Cave), Dry Ken; or gour pools terraces resembling the paddy fields in the North of Vietnam. Some cave entrances allow sunlight to shine in such as Kim Cave or Rat Cave. In particular, the photos taken by photographer Carsten Peter inside Ken Cave have won an award from National Geographic magazine.

Swimming in the cave system: There are many caves with underground rivers such as Hung Ton Cave, Kim Cave, Tu Lan Cave, Ken Cave. Swimming inside these caves provides a unique experience for guests, especially when the guide suggests turning off all the lights to try the feeling of complete darkness.

Primitive forest valleys: Tu Lan is formed from 8 valleys connected to each other, surrounded by chains of limestone mountain and primitive jungle. Most river caves end with a waterfall flowing into a jade-green lake with a sandy beach around. This is also where Oxalis sets up campsites for guests.

The geology and geography of the Tu Lan Cave System

In common with most caves around the world, the Tu Lan caves are formed in limestone. Limestone is a sedimentary rock formed under the seabed many millions of years ago. Tectonic plate activity has raised the limestone above the sea level to form mountains. Caves are formed at the bottom of the limestone, by rivers dissolving and eroding the limestone. Further uplift of the mountains results in caves being lifted up above the river level, so that water no longer flows through them. These are dry caves nowadays. Therefore the youngest caves are always the river caves, located at the bottom of the limestone mountains.

In some caves there are dry passages, formed when the river cuts down through the limestone so that the river passage may be a few metres below the dry passages.

So the Tu Lan Cave System comprises many wet and dry caves and different elevations throughout the area. The dry caves usually contain the largest and most unique calcite formations.

Tourism activities

The Tu Lan Cave System area was unknown to many people until adventure tours commenced in Tu Lan in 2011, organised by Oxalis, and officially operated from 2014. The main tourism activities are cave exploration and jungle trekking with small groups camping in the jungle. Tu Lan Cave tours from 1 day to 6 days include:

Tourism activities have created regular jobs for more than 120 Tan Hoa locals with an average income from 5 - 7 million VND/month. In addition, Oxalis has built a new Tu Lan Lodge serving customers joining Oxalis' exploration tours such as Hang Tien Cave Exploration (HT3), Wild Tu Lan Cave Explorer (TL3) and Tu Lan Cave Expedition (TL4). In addition, Oxalis also organises dinner at some local houses so that the guests will have further experiences on their trip. Tourism activities also indirectly create jobs and income for more than 100 local workers through homestay activities, dining at local homes, food supply and other supporting services.

The Tu Lan Cave area in Tan Hoa has 4 distinct seasons in a year: spring, summer, autumn and winter. Each season Tu Lan will offer its own unique beauty for guests to enjoy and gives you many reasons to visit the Tu Lan Cave System. In spring, fresh green shoots and vibrant scenery; in summer, the opportunity to swim and explore the caves and camping areas; in winter, the cool, fresh climate and clear weather. Adventure tours here operate on a fixed schedule from November to September each year.

Tan Hoa flood central

Tan Hoa is known as the centre of the Quang Binh floods. This is a mountainous village in Minh Hoa District, in which every year there are huge floods that used to fill the houses of the local people. The lives of the people used to depend on farming and natural resources in the Tu Lan forest, so their lives faced many difficulties. Since Oxalis began activities in 2011, many local people have participated in tourism activities so their lives have gradually improved. Through various activities, Oxalis has raised funds for the construction of 90 floating houses for local people. Additionally, Oxalis, along with other individuals and organisations, has funded the construction of more than 500 floating houses for all households in the flood zone. Nowadays, the people of Tan Hoa are living harmoniously with nature. On rainy days, people will move to their floating houses to stay and wait for the water to go down before returning to their normal lives.

Nguon people and tourism

Tan Hoa is a mountainous commune with approximately 3,000 people living in the area, mostly from the Nguon ethnic group. The people's lives are mainly based on agriculture, such as rice farming, corn, cassava and livestocks husbandry such as buffalo and cows. Even though the Nguon people have their own language, since they do not have a written language, they are not classified as a separate ethnic group. They are grouped with the majority Kinh ethnic group, one of the 54 ethnic groups living in Vietnam.

The lives of the people of Tan Hoa are very difficult and the commune has always been on the list of the poorest districts in Quang Binh for many years. The area is often hit by heavy floods during the rainy season (September and October).

Since 2011, when Oxalis developed and operated tourism activities at the Tu Lan Cave System, the lives of the people of Tan Hoa have gradually improved. Over 100 local people have been employed by Oxalis to work as safety assistants, chefs, porters, tour guides, operations staff and many other positions. Many people who previously engaged in illegal logging have now become tourism employees and are able to live a more stable life. Furthermore, they are also volunteering to be the guardians of the jungle.

Tan Hoa is also gradually becoming a tourism community. Locals are being supported and trained by Oxalis to be able to participate in activities such as homestays, hotel services and dining for visitors. In the future, Tan Hoa will become a tourist village and become a tourism center of northwest Quang Binh Province attracting domestic and international tourists to visit and experience its charms.

Hollywood Movie Productions

“Kong: Skull Island” (Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts)

The director of one of the first Hollywood blockbusters to be filmed in Vietnam – “Kong: Skull Island” chose Tu Lan Caves as the filming site for some important scenes. Logistically, it was quite difficult to set up the “Kong: Skull Island” filming set in this mountainous area, however that is one of the achievements to create epic scenes here.

In addition to other scenic spots in Vietnam, the Tu Lan Cave area in Quang Binh was the set used for the scene of the helicopter crash with the characters played by Samuel L Jackson and John Goodman in “Kong: Skull Island”, These two characters wait at the riverbank before King Kong appears. After becoming known as a Hollywood film location, Vietnamese and international fans searched for some information about the Tu Lan Cave System and made their way to Quang Binh to admire the rare beauty of this natural wonder.

Oxalis is proud to be directly involved in arranging logistics and support for the production. Many porters from Tan Hoa village and some of our tour guides were even hired by the film crew to support the film crew during the shooting period in the area.

The Immortal (Directed by Victor Vu)

Tu Lan Cave System is also the place where director Victor Vu chose to shoot 70% of the scenes of his movie The Immortal (2018). The caves that were used include Hung Ton Cave, Rat Cave, To Mo Cave and some other scenes of waterfalls, cornfields, Rao Nan riverbank, for the main scenes in the film.

This movie is considered a Vietnam blockbuster movie with an attractive plot and spectacular film background, exalting the beauty of Quang Binh caves as well as other landscapes of Vietnam. “The Immortal” is considered a mystery movie, more about horror than love. The film was released in 2018 and resonated with the domestic and international audiences with the scenes in Quang Binh and specifically the Tu Lan Cave System. The beautiful scenery of Tu Lan was brought to the big screen by director Victor Vu in a realistic and beautiful way.

The Legend of Quan Tien (Directed by Dinh Tuan Vu)

"The Legend of Quan Tien" (directed by Dinh Tuan Vu) was filmed in April 2019. This film was set in many places in Quang Binh, such as Tra Ang river, Victory Road Number 20 (Bo Trach District) and Tu Lan Cave (Minh Hoa District), Ba Ren farm and some hills on the Western Ho Chi Minh Road.

The movie is about a stopover of three young volunteer girls. In the middle of the haunting beauty of the rainforest and mysterious river with no sign of existing humans, a rest-stop is located in a mysterious cave called Quan Tien (Rat Cave). Responsible for the management by three young and beautiful volunteers, this place is likened to a fairyland for soldiers who are exhausted from endless driving journeys. The movie is adapted from a short story written by Xuan Thieu. The film received the Silver Lotus Award at the XXI Vietnam Film Festival.

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FAQs

  • How do I get to the Tu Lan Cave System?

    In oder to get to the Tu Lan Cave System, guests have to book an adventure tour by Oxalis - the only company that is authorized to operate tours in Tu Lan Cave System. On the morning of the departure day, an Oxalis guide will pick up guests from Chay Lap Farmstay to head to the home of Tu Lan Cave System (112 km from Dong Hoi, 70 km from Phong Nha).

  • What kind of wildlife can be found in the Tu Lan Cave System?

    Dozens of species of animals consider Tu Lan Cave System as their habitats or overnight shelters. Some common species found in caves include bats, shrews, monkeys and squirrels. While species such as monkeys, langur, bats, and shrews usually choose high, steep caves and cliff-side caves - places where they can avoid danger from humans and predators, other species such as bats, squirrels and jungle cats tend to choose wide and open caves near water sources. Tu Lan Cave System is also a favorite habitat for some species such as cricket, birds and Laotian Rock Rat.

  • Are there any accommodation options near Tu Lan Cave System?

    Until recently, there were no accommodation options near Tu Lan Cave System. But on November 15, 2022, Tu Lan Lodge officially launched and is now available for bookings. Nestled along the mountainside of Yen Tho village, Tan Hoa Commune, Minh Hoa District, Quang Binh Province, Tu Lan Lodge offers the perfect combination of luxury, modernity and harmony with nature. The entire campus is surrounded by breathtaking limestone mountains, with vast grassland landscapes stretching out. Tu Lan Lodge mainly serves guests participating in Oxalis Adventure tours such as "Tu Lan Cave Expedition", "Wild Tu Lan Cave Explorer" and "Hang Tien Cave Exploration". After a day of exploring caves, valleys and jungles, guests can retreat to Tu Lan Lodge for a restful night's sleep. The lodge also offers a traditional dinner with locals in Tan Hoa for a unique cultural experience. Before ending the tour, guests can also go bicycling to visit the beautiful countryside in Tan Hoa area.

  • What is the best time to visit the Tu Lan Cave System?

    There is no definitive answer to this question because for every season in the year, Tu Lan will offer its own unique beauty and distinctive experiences for you to savor. During the spring, you can expect to be greeted by fresh green shoots and vibrant scenery. With warmer temperatures and longer days in summer, you can spend your time swimming in the crystal-clear waters and exploring the caves. In the winter, the cool weather is perfect for hiking and exploring the caves. No matter when you decide to visit Tu Lan, you can be sure that you'll be treated to a unique and unforgettable adventure. So pack your bags, lace up your hiking boots and get ready to explore one of Vietnam's most beautiful natural wonders.

  • How do I book a tour of Tu Lan Cave System?

    To book a tour of the Tu Lan Cave System, you can visit the official website of Oxalis Adventure, browse the available tours, select the one that best suits your preferences and schedule, and follow the booking instructions. You can also contact our adventure consultant directly for further information or assistance in booking the tour.

  • What's outstanding about the Tu Lan Cave System?

    Tu Lan Cave System has tens of caves and each one is special. In one day, you might visit two, three or even four distinct caves. Summer is a great time to trek from cave to cave as you'll heat up outside in the summer sun and then cool down once you go underground. In addition, guests can experience the special feeling of swimming in an underground river inside the caves. This is one of the great experiences of caving tours in Tu Lan.

  • What is the weather like in the Tu Lan Cave System during the year?

    Tu Lan Cave System experiences four distinct seasons (spring, summer, autumn and winter) like many other northern provinces of Vietnam. Oxalis Adventure only offers Tu Lan tours from January to mid-September each year to protect the cave system. Weather conditions vary by season. From January to March, it's cold and rainy, but there are also warm sunny days. April and May are warmer with blooming wildflowers. From June to August, it's hot, but visitors can comfortably swim in the streams and underground lakes inside the caves. Each season has unique features for visitors to explore, making Tu Lan a great destination for a 6-day, 5-night trip.

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Whether you prefer long treks, camping in a cave, sleeping under the stars in the jungle, swimming underground in river caves, explore the huge dry caves or just taking an exploratory day trip, Oxalis Adventure Tours can provide the right amount of adventure just for you.

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