Exploring world of wonders in Vietnam’s Dong Van Karst Plateau
The road leading to Dong Van Karst Plateau in Ha Giang Province.
Dong Van has been acknowledged as an official member of the Global Geoparks Network (GGN), managed by the UNESCO’s Ecological and Earth Sciences Division, since 2010 thanks to its contribution to conserving the planet’s geological heritage and its support for sustainable research and development.
Eighty percent of the 2,346-square-kilometer geopark is limestone, the fossils of ancient inhabitants of Earth from 400-600 million years ago. The geopark has an average elevation of between 1,400 and 1,600 meters above sea level, according to the park’s GGN profile.
According to Dr. Vu Cao Minh, a professor of geotechnical engineering at the Hanoi University of Science and the former vice-president of the Institute of Geological Sciences, the karst plateau is much more than a spectacular tourist attraction.
Dong Van Karst Plateau in Ha Giang Province. Photo courtesy of Vietnam's Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism
In 2009, Dr. Minh led a group of his students on an excursion into the heart of the Dong Van Karst Plateau, which envelops most of the area around Meo Vac, Dong Van, Yen Minh and Quan Ba Districts in Ha Giang, the northernmost province of Vietnam that borders China.
“Dong Van Karst Plateau is an invaluable living resource and a textbook for any geology or geotechnical engineering student,” Dr. Minh said at the time. “It’s like an outdoor laboratory of geodynamics.”
Eight years later, the professor has just finished a research paper that aims to define the outstanding values of the land mass, and experiment with specific heritage elements for the promotion of geotourism there, a project he worked on with his colleagues between 2014 and 2016.
The area of special interest to the scientists is a ten-hectare area inside Dong Van, where evidence of multiple sea-dwelling species that lived 300 million years ago has been found, giving the area the name, ‘Lung Pu Land Ocean.’
“If we imagine ourselves standing here 300 million years ago, we would see in front of us a vast ocean home to various creatures and giant limestone columns in the shape of sails on the surface,” Dr. Minh said.
According to Dr. Minh, the area boasts the widest variety of fossils on the karst plateau and has the potential to be developed into a geotourism site showcasing Paleozoic fossils from the Permian and Carboniferous geologic periods.
“The fossils, combined with the natural limestone ‘forests,’ satisfy the requirements for science-based tourism,” Dr. Minh and the co-authors said in their research paper published in December.
Rock formations at Dong Van Karst Plateau in Ha Giang Province. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Dong Van Karst Plateau in Ha Giang Province. Photo: Tuoi Tre
(Youth) newspaper reporters followed the group of scientists to Dong Van earlier this year who returned to collect the final pieces of evidence for their announcement.
Trekking along narrow trails and climbing across dangerous rock formations, the group eventually arrived at the edge of a limestone forest in Ma Li Peng, a popular tourist attraction overlooking the Nho Que River, resembling a string of silk from above.
Entering deeper into the ‘forest,’ large columns of rock that tower up to fifteen meters high begin coming into view.
“This rock forest has the highest rock columns in Vietnam, and is among the highest in the world,” Dr. Minh said. “Their shapes are also intriguing, as their surfaces are covered with vein-like lines and dotted with brightly-colored patches. Some columns overlap one another, while others are shaped like animals.”
The beauty of these rock columns is in the eye of the beholder: some look at a column and see a mother holding hands with her daughter, while others may see it as the head of a lion.
From where these unique rock formations are found, one may catch sight of a small village of the ethnic Hmong people, who live more than 1,000 meters above sea level in the mountains of northern Vietnam.
In the commune of Khau Vai in Meo Vac District, rocks take the form of wild flowers, creating a magnificent ‘garden’ of rocks as far as the eye can see.
Rock formations in this area have been affected by the process of cavitation over hundreds of millions of years, carving through the columns to create intertwining shapes that resemble blooming flowers.
The 'rock garden' at Khau Vai Commune in Meo Vac District, Ha Giang Province. Photo: Ha Loc
At Thanh Ma Tung Village in Sa Phin Commune, the pyramid-shaped rocks rise up to 1,500 meters toward the mountains.
The site has long been popular with local travelers thanks to its breathtaking views, and rumors that the structures serve as ‘antennae’ that attract the energy of the universe, making standing next to them beneficial for one’s health.
“Living museums should be opened at multiple sites in Dong Van so that not only scientists but also residents and travelers can understand their value beyond their natural beauty,” said Assoc. Prof. Dr. Pham Van Luc, former president of the Vietnam Museum of Nature.
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