For centuries they existed as little more than myth. An ancient city, lost to the jungles of Cambodia. A mystical cave known only to a single Vietnamese man. They were the stuff of rumours and wild speculation… Until now.
For a while nobody really knew anything. All of the clues about the city – the only real evidence that it existed at all – came from a few scattered engravings in the area around Angkor Wat. It had been abandoned, for reasons unknown, at some point in the distant past and over time the jungle swallowed it whole. Perfectly camouflaged, it was lost. Now, teams of excavators can finally say that they’ve found the real Mahendraparvata, “The Mountain of Indra” on top of the Phnom Kulen plateau, 49 km north of Siem Reap.
Using LIDAR technology (hi-tech laser mapping) scientists were able to peel back centuries of thick vegetation and what they’ve found is truly incredible: the skeletal infrastructure of a massive, forgotten tropical city. There are remnants of ancient dams. The walls of temples. A whole palace and the sophisticated pathways walked by the people of the Khmer empire, well over a thousand years ago.
Finding proof of the region’s first large grid city rewrites Asian history.
The revelation closes more than a century of painstaking archaeological mapping but opens yet another door of intrigue for curious travellers to Cambodia. And the excitement doesn’t stop there. Across the border in neighbouring Vietnam, another new find has added a fresh layer of wonder to one of the decades’ most awesome discoveries.
It began back in 1991. Ho Khnah was out foraging in the jungles of Phong Nha-Ke National park when he decided to walk a little further than normal. He crossed a small river and then looking up through the trees he noticed a large gash splitting open the limestone cliffs. As he crept closer he could feel the cool rush of wind on his face and hear the sound of raging water from somewhere deep in the pitch black darkness. But without the time, tools, or interest to investigate, he turned back and went home. And after a while he actually forgot where it was altogether.
That was the year when Khnah somehow rediscovered the cave entrance. This time he took notes on how to get back and when he did he brought along two British cave researchers with him. The first exploration of Vietnam’s Hang Son Doong, the ‘Mountain River Cave’ would rock the world. The details are staggering: There’s a chamber so wide that a 747 jet can fly through it. There’s a 3 million-year-old underground river. There are Stalagmites over 80 meters long.
In certain parts, the cave ceiling is so high that clouds form near the top.
But that’s old news.
What is new is that researchers have found an underwater tunnel connecting Son Doong to another cave called Hang Thung which adds another 1.6 million cubic meters in volume to it. As one of the cavers put it, the tunnel discovery is “like someone found a lump on top of Mount Everest, making it another 1,000 meters higher.” Kind of a big deal. Especially for a cave system that can already house a full city block of 40-story buildings inside – with room to spare.
Such is the unfolding excitement of Southeast Asia – a dream destination for any traveller. Rich in history, art, culture, delicious cuisine and incredible wonders (both man-made and nature-made) there’s never been a better time to explore this part of the world.
Keen to see some other ancient temples and jungle caves for yourself? We’ve got you covered. Check out the amazing Southeast Asian TripADeal packages on offer right now, including a 2 for 1 trip to Vietnam and to Cambodia. Who knows what you and a friend might find next!
Preah Khan temple at Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Entrance to Son Doong Cave in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Vietnam