The Elysium in the hill bed
Moc Chau is blessed with many destinations that visitors admire when they arrive and are loathed to part with when they have to leave. Surprisingly, tourists are familiar with names such as the pine forest in Ang Hamlet, Dai Yem Waterfall, Doi Cave, Pha Luong mountain peak, the Heart tea hill, Pa Phach and Na Ka Hamlets; however, “Ngu dong Ban On” is unfamiliar for many people. A tourist said that: “It is worth the effort to come here. If only I knew earlier, this destination would have been my first choice in Moc Chau”.
It is known that the complex was found in 2006. The historic flood at that time helped the local ethnic minority people discover a wonderful landscape that was created thousands of years ago. The caves are often located in deep in the mountain peaks; however, five Ban On Caves are in a hill bed on the path to the Heart Tea Hill and only about 5 kilometres from this destination. Therefore, after immersing themselves in the poetic beauty of the layered tea hills like gentle green waves, tourists will be surprised, disappointed and even shocked with the rugged path to the system of five Ban On Caves.
To go there, visitors have to park their vehicles at the foot of the hill and walk about 1 kilometre. The distance is probably not far but it is worth mentioning that the path is quite arduous and narrow, just enough for a motorbike to pass. The higher it goes, the steeper it becomes. There is absolutely no houses on the long road to the caves, except for a suspended hut on the hill where the locals rest when they come here to cultivate. The path gets more and more zigzagged as it gets higher with many rocky slopes. soil and vegetations shattering into the tourists’ faces. In return, they will feel ecstatic with the sweet scent of grapefruit flowers on the hillsides. And then, all tiredness due to the arduous journey will immediately disappear as visitors see the masterpieces of mother nature. Despite not being as imposing as Thien Duong Cave in Quang Binh Province, as large as Nguom Ngao Cave in Cao Bang and Thien Cung Cave in Quang Ninh, the complex of five Ban On Caves in Son La has its own attraction that brings a special passion for visitors.
Normally, there is only one direction to the caves; however, people can come to the five Ban On Caves in two ways. Accordingly, cave no.3 is on the right and cave no.4 is on the left. The three remaining caves are very beautiful but the paths there are too dangerous, so they are not exploited. The five caves represent the five elements of the nature: Kim (metal), Thuy (water), Moc (wood), Hoa (fire) and Tho (earth). Hong, the owner of a garage at the foot of the hill said that ancient people worshipped their ancestors in the caves, so there was an altar for Mother Au Co (the legendary mother of Vietnam). Visitors will be constantly surprised with mother nature’s interesting designs deep inside the cave complex. It can be said that each stalactite is a talented sculpture of nature that humans cannot recreate. For example, the stalactites created the shape of a pig’s head right at the mouth of the cave no.3 and then the terraced field in the heart of the cave. Visitors can also recognise a giant “phat thu” (Buddha hand-shaped fruit) from stalactites at the far side of the cave. The deeper explorers go, the more shapes of animals (such as dragons, lions and seals) they can see. More interestingly, after passing over many wet and slippery paths, visitors will be surprised by the shape of a turtle carrying a baby cradle pick-a-back.
Nguyen Van Tit, the manager of the caves, said that in the rainy season in July, when the water flows into the cave, the stalactites really resemble the image of a turtle carrying a baby cradle across the river. Another speciality of the cave no.3 is a “dan da” (lithophone) made from stalagmites like Thien Duong cave in Quang Binh Province. When a stone or stick knocks on it, melodious sounds will echo throughout the cave.
Cave no.4 of the complex of five Ban On Caves is also very attractive. When the electric lights are switched on, a giant stalactite fir appears imposingly. The images of two people standing side by side under the fir as well as the system of pillars and a blind made of stalactites deep inside are very impressive. Behind the blind, visitors can see countless shapes of creatures such as geckos, camels, toads, snails, two lions and fairy peaches. In fact, the stalactites in Ban On Caves are more spectacular than those in Doi Cave (also in Moc Chau town), but the terrain of Doi Cave is more convenient for visitors. If not in good health, visitors can hardly conquer this cave complex.
“The princess sleeps in the forest”
Despite their pristine and spectacular beauty, the complex of five Ban On Caves has not been exploited for tourism in line with its potential. On the long path to the caves, there is only an introductory sign and a walkway from the hill’s foot to the caves was opened by the locals. The electric system in the caves is very limited so it is very difficult for visitors to admire the sights.
In addition, the facilities for the caves are very rudimentary, simple wooden moldy ladders that make visitors worry when exploring them. Moreover, the caves are quite humid because they are located deep inside the wilderness.
According to manager Tit, Son La provincial authorities have set plans to invest in the five caves, including the construction of a glass bridge connecting them.
Le Do Luan, a representative from Moc Chau District People’s Committee said that Son La will focus on investing and promoting the five Ban On Caves in the near future. The complex can be considered a bright pearl of Moc Chau Town in particular and the province in general as the destination converges all elements to attract visitors, especially those who like experiencing adventurous feelings. In addition, Moc Chau Town is no more than 200 kilometres from Hanoi, so it takes only three or four hours for visitors to enjoy the pure and fresh atmosphere in the mountainous region. If the complex of Ban On Caves is invested in more methodically, Moc Chau will be always the first choice of many visitors.