This post was last updated on February 20th, 2020 at 01:40 pm
There is a special ‘calm before the storm’ feeling in Phong Nha-Ke Bang, one of the most beautiful national parks in Vietnam. It is a place that appears more and more often on the radar of nature-loving backpackers, but has not yet been completely overwhelmed by tourists and expensive hotels. That’s pretty strange when you consider all the unique things that can be seen here.
In Phong Nha you will find a beautiful green jungle interspersed with steep chalkstone rocks that you may recognize from the movie King Kong. It is a kind of Ha Long Bay, but then on land. Rent a scooter here and you will be truly happy!
In addition, you will find a number of beautiful caves in this park – the most beautiful you will ever see, and the largest cave in the world; Son Doong.
Makes sense that you don’t want to skip this beautiful place. Below you can read our tips to fully enjoy yourself here.
The Spectacular Caves of Phong Nha-Ke Bang
One of the many reasons to visit the park is because the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park contains the oldest karst mountains in Asia. During your trip through Vietnam, you will visit a lot of caves and there is a good chance that you will become a little bit “crazy”. Just like after visiting 20 different temples you can sometimes become a bit of a “temple madman” 😉 If you want to visit beautiful caves, go to the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Here, you will find the most spectacular caves in Southeast Asia.
TIP – It is very busy on the weekends. Therefore, visit the cave (if possible) during weekdays.
This National Park is an Old-Timer
Experts assume that the park is around 400 million years old, older than the karst mountains in China. The park contains hundreds of caves of unreal dimensions and spectacular underground rivers that you really don’t want to miss in your journey through Vietnam!
With its immense terraced caves, shimmering crystals and towering stalagmites, this is a true work of art of Mother Nature.
Largest Cave in The World in Phong Nha; Son Doong
The caves haven’t been visited much yet because they have only recently been discovered. Professional explorations only began in 1990 under the leadership of the British Cave Research Association and Hanoi University.
The first cave they explored was the Phong Nha Cave, then the Paradise Cave. The largest cave in the world, Son Doong, was only discovered in 2009!
TIP – Book the Phong Nha Caves & Boat Trip. An unforgettable experience (250,000 Dong, about $10.75, p.p.)!
Not only is the world underground here, but life above ground in the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is also fairy-tale like. The park consists mainly of tropical rain forests of which more than 90% falls under the category primeval (old-growth) forests.
Something you won’t find anywhere else in Asia. Fortunately for us, tourists have been allowed to visit the caves since 2011.
Best Things to Do in Phong Nha
The main reason to come here is to visit the caves. Besides visiting the largest cave in the world, the Son Doong (see above) there are plenty of other sights in Phong Nha. Below we will list everything you can do in the area.
1. Visit the Phong Nha Cave
There is only one way to get to Phong Nha cave and that is by boat. There can be a maximum of 14 people on a boat. The boats depart five kilometers upstream to the entrance of the cave. The trip takes around 30 minutes.
The spectacular boat trip through the Phong Nha Cave is a pleasant, though touristy, experience.
During the boat trip, you will sail along limestone rocks, immense stalactites, and stalagmites that are illuminated by colored spots. The engine is then switched off and the boats are silently piddled through the cave.
The boat finally arrives at an underground beach where you can walk around. It is truly an impressive journey!
In addition to the Phong Nha-Ke Bang cave, you can also discover the Tien Son Cave and the Thien Duong Cave, also called “Paradise Cave”. Read more below!
2. Visit the Hang En Cave
Hang En Cave is the world’s third largest cave. The 2 or 3 day trip is an unforgettable experience, where you also spend the night in the cave by an underground lake.
3. Take a Trip to the Tu Lan Cave
The Tu Lan cave trip starts with a walk and a dive (with headlights and life jackets) through two spectacular river caves before you turn up in an idyllic valley. It is a very cool trip that you can do in 2 or 3 days.
The Tu Lan Cave is where some scenes in the popular movie Kong: Skull Island were filmed. The scenery is very beautiful and if you’re a regular moviegoer you should definitely take a look here!
4. Enjoy the Breathtaking Paradise Cave
Surrounded by forested karst mountains, this remarkable cave system extends over 31 kilometers, although most people only visit the first kilometer. The cave is breathtaking, with wooden stairs descending into a cathedral-like space with colossal stalagmites and glittering stalactites.
Without exaggeration, it is perhaps the most beautiful cave that you will see in your entire life.
5. Walk Through the Botanical Gardens
On route to the Paradise Cave you will find the Botanical gardens where you can take some relaxing walks. The name is a bit misleading, but in this case, that’s a good thing.
Instead of a dull garden with some bushes here and there, this is a thick jungle with a dense forest, rivers and wild animals. The highlight is a nice waterfall that you can climb as part of your walk.
6. Venture Into Hang Toi (Dark cave)
Dark Cave is much less impressive in terms of scenery than the Paradise Cave, but luckily this cave is all about having fun. You start your journey to the cave for by zip-lining across the lake with beautiful blue water. Then you can grab a kayak or swim to the cave.
In the cave you climb to a large mud bath, where the mud is so thick that you can literally float in it. A very strange and funny feeling.
Then you can go kayaking on the lake and there are plenty of other activities to entertain yourself. For example, there’s a zip line from which you can drop yourself into the lake at the halfway point.
7. An Excursion to Hang Va
You can explore Hang Va in a two-day excursion, where you first go through an underground river. Tours spend the night in a jungle camp at the entrance of Hang Va, at the height of the cave, a spectacular stalagmite field that is partially underwater.
8. Walk the Eco Trail
The best way to explore the park is with an organized tour. Phong Nha Farmstay is a well-known organization. However, another fun tour is the Nuoc Mooc Eco-Trail.
This is a wooden footpath that runs through the woods for more than a kilometer. It is a beautiful place to walk and swim. You do not actually enter the park but you will walk in the beautiful surroundings of the park.
TIP – The trail costs 80,000 Dong (US $3.45) p.p. (Children can enter for free).
9. Visit the Hin Namno Reserve
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park also borders the Hin Namno Reserve in Laos. This park is a paradise for animal lovers. More than 100 species of mammals live in this protected area, including monkeys, elephants, tigers, and the saola, a rare Asian antelope.
Not everything in the park can be visited and up to a few years ago, access to the park was very limited. Fortunately, parts of the park are now gradually being opened to the public, making it possible to visit the Paradise Cave, the turquoise river, the eco-trail Nuoc Mooc and, recently, the largest cave in the world; the Son Doong.
Other Activities in Phong Nha
The caves in Phong Nha range from moderate to huge. For conservation reasons, local authorities restrict access to the larger caves. Some tour operators have exclusive rights to take travelers to certain caves, while others are open to everyone. One of the best things to do in Phong Nha is camping in a cave. However, there is more to do here besides visiting all the caves. Here are some other fun actitivites to do in Phong Nha.
For an alternative way to see the Phong Nha Cave, you can take a kayak trip away from the crowds. Hang Toi (Dark Cave), just a few kilometers away, also presents a fun selection of activities including kayaking, swimming, and zip lining.
The scenery at the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is unlike anywhere else in Vietnam. If caving is not your thing, walking is a rewarding way to discover the lush scenery of Phong Nha. Organized walking tours are the best way to explore the region because local experts take you along hidden paths unknown to other travelers.
If you like wildlife, you have to go for a night tour!
Bicycle and Scooter Tours
Go deeper into the countryside while navigating through narrow alleys, criss-crossing rice fields and streams. You can rent bikes yourself in the city and plan your own route along the paved roads of the national park with a local map. For a more engaging experience, book a bike tour.
Only local guides can show you hidden paths and show you the local life of farmers and villagers. With a motorbike tour you can enjoy the landscape without sweating.
Phong Nha Nightlife
If you’re looking for a party in Phong Nha you should visit the backpackers area. Here, you will find some of the best places that Phong Nha has to offer in the late hours:
- Jungle Bar: The bar of the Easy Tiger hostel is the liveliest place in Son Trach, with cheap beer, pool tables and live music a few nights a week.
- East Hill: This bar is located on a hill and is a relaxing place to watch the sunset and have a beer.
- Bomb Crater Bar: A small bar on the river between Phong Nha and Bong Lai.
- Andy Bar & Disco: Opens at 11 p.m. when the Easy Tiger closes. Enjoy music with a beer. Free shuttle service from the Easy Tiger hostel.
History of Phong Nha
Although the caves have only recently been discovered, they have played a major role with the local population for some time. It was the Cham population and later the Vietnamese themselves who worshiped spirits here in periods of drought.
The Europeans who started exploring the caves were, fortunately, not afraid of what they might find, and managed to discover the caves. The Phong Nha cave was used as a hiding place during the wars and the impacts of the American rockets are still visible. In 1990 a British expedition was allowed to re-explore the region.
Phong Nha Accommodation
Options to spend the night near the national park are few. The closest village is Son Trach, the largest city in the area is Dong Hoi. We have selected some great places for an overnight stay near the national park below. Of course, there is more choice but these are our favorites.
Phong Nha Lake House Resort is located on the shores of the Dong Suon Lake in a beautiful setting.
The Mountain View Hotel offers great accommodation near Phong Nha-Ke Bang. The owners are also very friendly!
The Thien Phu Hostel is also located in Son Trach. They offer basic rooms with free Wi-Fi and a restaurant. This is a cheaper option than the hotels and still a very great place to stay.
TIP – There is only one ATM in Son Trach. So bring enough cash with you!
Best Time to Visit Phong Nha
The region around Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park has a tropical climate with a rainy season and a dry season. In the dry season, the temperatures can rise above 40°C (104°F). From June to September it can become unbearably hot here. The best time to visit Phong Nha is from March to April. These months will have pleasant temperatures and are the best time to visit the caves and the park.
December to February can be considerably colder. Flooding normally occurs from mid-September to mid-November each year and is periodic and non-continuous. Make sure you check the weather forecast from before you travel to Phong Nha. Severe flooding will hinder the availability of tours.
How to Get to Phong Nha
Getting to Phong Nha is pretty easy. You can get there by bus, train or even with the airplane. Take a look below to find out the best way for you to travel there.
To Phong Nha by Bus
The local bus between Dong Hoi and Son Trang costs 45,000 Dong. There is also a minivan (200,000 Dong) between Da Nang and a Phong Nha Farmstay that stops in Dong Ha and Hue. If you are coming from other cities like Hanoi you can take a night bus (which can take up to 10 hours).
To Phong Nha by Train
Don Hoi houses the train station near Phong Nha. You can buy physical tickets there or you can take a look online.
Local buses (35,000d, 90 minutes) commute between the Dong Hoi and Son Trach bus station and depart regularly from 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
You can find taxi’s at the station which charge around 400,000 to 500,000 VND (US $17- $21.50) to get to Phong Nha. Don’t forget to negotiate, because they will try to charge you more.
If you want to buy tickets to Phong Nha online, take a look at 12GoAsia.
To Phong Nha by Airplane
A slightly more expensive way to travel to Phong Nha is to take the plane to Dong Hoi and then travel by bus or taxi to Phong Nha.
Dong Hoi Airport is a 15-minute taxi ride from the bus station where you can take the local bus. This is an additional 15-minute journey in the opposite direction, making the total journey even longer. It is easier to take a taxi from the airport directly to Phong Nha. Expect to pay around 500,000 VND (US $21.50) from the airport to Phong Nha.