Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park is one of Vietnam’s still off the beaten path treasures, a stunning place to hide away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities and just enjoy nature. And oh, what spectacular things Mother Earth created in Phong Nha Vietnam!
Phong Nha – Ke Bang is where you will find the largest cave in the world, where you can explore the most beautiful caves you have ever seen, and enjoy a mud bath in the dark. Despite being a small village, there are so many amazing things do to in Phong Nha. Come here for a couple of days and you will stay for the entire week!
Where is Phong Nha and How to Get There?
Phong Nha is located in the central part of Vietnam, and it is easily accessible by bus from Hue or Ninh Binh. If you want to travel to Phong Nha from Ho Chi Minh City or from Hanoi by train, the nearest station is Dong Hoi, from where you will need to catch a taxi to town.
However, as most tourists will be hopping from destination to destination in Vietnam, either South to North or vice versa, the natural way to reach Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park is by bus. Your accommodation in Hue or Ninh Binh will be happy to book the bus ticket for you. I travelled to Phong Nha from Hue, and I paid 80,000 dongs (approx. £2.6) for a one-way bus ticket.
Do not go to Phong Nha on a tour from Hue – you spend most of the time on the road (it takes 4 hours each way) so you won’t get to see much. It’s better to base yourself in Phong Nha for a few days if you want to explore the area and see the caves at your own pace.
Where to Stay in Phong Nha
Green Valley Hotel
I ended up booking into the Green Valley Hotel whilst I was in Hue, after another traveller recommended it to me. They offer both shared accommodation and private rooms at very affordable prices. I believe I paid something like 5$ per night, with breakfast included. The rooms are very spacious, with large comfortable beds. Hot water was available all the time.
The owner couldn’t have been more helpful, he even guessed which bus I would be travelling on and was waiting for me at the station. Even though the hotel was just around the corner, he insisted on driving me there on his motorbike.
You can check the latest reviews on Tripadvisor.
Budget: One of the most popular hostels in town is Easy Tiger, located on the main road. It is a lively hostel, where guests from all over the village gather in the evening for a chat and a drink with other travellers. The hostel offers accommodation in 4-6 bed shared rooms, all with private bathrooms. You can check the latest reviews on Tripadvisor.
Mid-range: For an authentic farm stay, check out Chay Lap Farmstay, located in the charming rural area just outside Phong Nha National Park. The resort offers accommodation in spacious rooms, cottages and glamping pods, with breakfast included. It features a pool and herbal spa. You can check the latest reviews on Tripadvisor or book directly on Booking.com by clicking here.
Luxury: Victoria Road Villas offers luxurious accommodation near the river. The rooms are spacious and modernly decorated, with outdoor baths and monsoon showers, and terraces overlooking the mountains. The resort also features a large swimming pool and a restaurant with river views. You can check the latest reviews on Tripadvisor or book directly on Booking.com by clicking here.
Homestay: Sy’s Homestay is a privileged location with beautiful views of the mountains and rice fields. The rooms are rustic but homey, decorated with wood furniture, all with mountain views. The large outdoor pool is great to relax in after a long day exploring the caves. You can check the latest reviews on Tripadvisor or book directly on Booking.com by clicking here.
Highlights of the Best Things to Do in Phong Nha
- Explore the largest cave in the world
- Visit some of the most beautiful caves in the world
- Learn about the local wildlife
- Trek through the jungle
- Be the leader of a herd of ducks
Things to Do in Phong Nha in 2 Days:
Visit the Caves
There are many caves around Phong Nha that you can explore, either on your own or with part of a specialised tour. If you want to explore the largest cave in the world for example, you must join a professional tour, as the expedition takes four days. However, if you want to explore Paradise Cave or the Dark Cave, you can do so on your own by renting a motorbike and driving yourself there.
I visited the more popular caves with a guide, and I am happy I did because I learned how they were discovered and what makes them special. The tours are not expensive, and you can choose which caves you want to visit beforehand. Click here to see a similar tour with the one I took. I did the Phong Nha on my own, and a guided tour of the Eight Ladies, Paradise and Dark Cave.
So, which are the most popular and easy to visit caves in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park?
Eight Ladies Cave (Hang Tam Co)
The Eight Ladies Cave is a memorial dedicated to eight brave souls who died during the Vietnam war, when they were trapped inside a cave after a bomb collapsed the rocks above it, blocking the entrance. The volunteers were keeping the North to South famous “Highway 20” free from debris when the American bombs started to fall from the sky. They were 18-20 year old non-combative volunteers.
Four men and four women sought shelter from the fire inside the small cave on the side of the road. When one of the bombs hit the mountain, giant boulders collapsed and sealed the entrance to the cave. They survived for eight days inside the cave, during which which their comrades tried everything they could to free them. Unfortunately, the boulders, which weighed hundreds of tons, were impossible to move and the volunteers died.
The same year, a Buddhist temple was built next to the cave to honour the volunteers who lost their lives. The boulders were finally demolished during road works in 1996, and the remains of the eight volunteers were given a proper burial.
Today, the Eight Ladies Cave is a spiritual place to which many domestic travellers come to pay their respects. The site is free to visit but you need to wear modest clothing: over the knees trousers or skirts, and covered shoulders. Inside the cave there is a small shrine, but tourists are not allowed to get too close to it.
Paradise Cave (Thien Duong)
Paradise Cave used to be considered the largest cave in world, before Hang Son Doong was discovered. It was named Paradise Cave because of how beautiful it is, making it one of the most visited by tourists. Paradise Cave is quite a new discovery, being stumbled upon in 2005 by the same man who discovered Hang Son Doong, and opened to the public in 2010. It is 31 kilometres long, but only 1 kilometre is open to visitors.
Accessing Paradise Cave is not that straightforward, as it is 1.5 kilometres away from the road, with its opening high up the mountain. It takes around 20 minutes to walk to the point where you start climbing. However, for an extra 60,000 dongs (£2), you can jump on one of the golf carts on their regular trips there and back. As I was with a tour, the golf cart was included.
Whilst you can skip the first part of the path to the Paradise Cave, you can’t go around the climb through the jungle. There are two ways to go up, by stairs – which is steeper, or by a zig-zag path – which is a tiny bit less steep. I chose the stairs and it took around half an hour to reach the entrance to Paradise Cave. The opening to the cave is not that big and it does look intimidating at first sight, especially knowing that it goes down quite a bit on a wooden stair structure. However, after you pass over the first bit, the cave just opens up into an amazing hall with so many intricate rock formations.
Once you descent to the bottom of the cave, a wooden walkway leads you deeper and deeper, passing through stunning stalactite and stalagmite structures, some so close that you could touch. Don’t though, as there are many tiny creatures living inside the crevasses of the rocks, including a newly discovered species of scorpion.
If you go on a full day tour of the Paradise Cave, you can explore another 7 or so kilometres further from where boardwalk finishes. It is said that the deeper you go towards the cave’s heart, the stalactites become even more spectacular, shaped like chandeliers with a crystal-like structure.
The fee to access Paradise Cave is 250,000 dongs (£8) and the climb to it is worth every muscle ache that you will have afterwards.
Phong Nha Cave
Phong Nha is the easiest cave to visit by yourself. The boats leave from the Tourist Centre, so you don’t need any additional transport.
Phong Nha caves is located 3 kilometres up the Son River, accessible by dragon boat. You can also reach there by motorbike, but you would still need to hop on a boat afterwards to see it properly. When approaching the cave the boats use their engines, then once inside the skippers switch to rowing and open up the roof for a 360 degrees view. The boats go as far as one kilometre, slowly, giving the passengers plenty of time to observe the beautiful stalactites hanging from the ceiling. It is very quiet inside the cave, so quiet that you can hear clearly every drop of water dripping from the icicle-like formations into the river below.
The last 500 meters of the cave are passed through by foot. The landscape is fascinating, with spectacular stalactites and stalagmites. The lighting inside the cave is tasteful, highlighting the formations, not like in Ha Long Bay for example, where the cave looks like a kitschy colourful nightclub.
Phong Nha cave is actually over 7 kilometres long, with 14 grottos, an underground lake and 44.5 kilometres of passage, discovered so far. However, tourists are only allowed to access the first 1,500 meters of the cave.
The fee to enter Phong Nha cave is 150,000 dongs (around £5), with an additional 360,000 dongs (around £12) per boat. As a solo traveller I did not want to spend so much money on a boat on my own. When I arrived at the ticket office however, I noticed that there were quite a few other travellers looking to share a boat, so don’t worry that if like me, you are on your own. You won’t have to pay for a boat just for yourself, unless you want to of course. The boats sit up to 14 people, but after we had gathered everyone together, there were only 8 of us, which gave us plenty of room to be comfortable. I didn’t think 14 people on such a boat would have sat very comfortably.
The Dark Cave
The Dark Cave is also known as the fun cave, and it is usually the last one visited in a tour because of all the activities you can do here. Before you start your adventure at the Dark Cave, you will need to change into your bathing suit and leave all your belongings in a locker at the entrance. Cameras are not allowed, unless you can secure them very well to you (like a GoPro). However, after visiting the dark cave, I wouldn’t want to take my camera in there anyway. You are given a life vest and off you go for an adventure. Also, you can’t wear shoes inside the cave.
To reach the cave, you can either paddle to it in a kayak, or use the zipline over the river. The Dark Cave got its name from the darkness inside. There is no source of light inside, so you need a torch. The surfaces inside are either slippery or rocky, to walking barefoot is not exactly comfortable. As you advance through the cave, you will have to swim or walk through very narrow passages. The culminating point are the mud baths, where the guide gives you around 15 minutes to play around. I will not deny that it’s fun, especially when the surface below is not even and you can easily go neck deep in the mud within only a couple of steps.
The way back from the cave is by kayak, which is a little bit hard to steer because of the current. Once you reach the info centre, the guide gives you another half an hour or so to enjoy jumping in the water from the swings, or just to relax in a floating tube.
The ticket to the Dark Cave, which includes the zipline and the kayak, costs 450,000 (around £15). If you join a tour, the ticket is usually included.
Lunch at the Dark Cave
After so many activities, I recommend having lunch at the Dark Cave. Near the tourist centre at the Dark Cave there is a small restaurant that serves typical Vietnamese food, and overlooks the river. The dishes are very good and go really well with their Vietnamese rum. I bet you’ve never imagined that rum is made in Vietnam.
Stroll Around Phong Nha
Phong Nha is a quiet, less touristy village in Vietnam that is also worth exploring. Life here seems to go at a slow pace, and you can observe it by walking down the river in the evenings. You will see families going about their chores around the house, and children playing in the gardens or on the street. You will see their vegetables crops or rice fields along the river, and you will encounter men having a well-deserved beer after a hard day’s work in the hot sun.
It’s always nice to interact with the locals when you travel to a new place, and to get to learn a little about their lives and open up your mind to their culture.
Dinner at You and Me Restaurant
When you are in Phong Nha you must have lunch or dinner at the You and Me Restaurant. They specialise in traditional Vietnamese food and homemade sausages. Their Ultimate Bun Cha is a must. Priced at only 80,000 dongs (less than £3), the amount of food on the platter is massive. You get fried spring rolls, homemade grilled sausage, delicious tender roast pork slices and fried pork patties in the traditional sweet and sour bun cha sauce, noodles, aromatic herbs, fresh chillies and chopped garlic. The entire dish is an explosion of flavour. It was without a doubt the best bun cha I had in Vietnam.
Breakfast at the Tiệm Bánh Xumy Bakery
No matter how good the breakfast at the hotel you stay at is, it’s always worth exploring the local food scene as well. One of Phong Nha’s bakeries was just around the corner from my hotel and, after walking passed it a few times, I really wanted to try that green looking cake that kept winking at me from the window. So I did, and let me tell you, it was delicious. You can find the bakery on the main street in Phong Nha – click here for the exact location.
Explore the Botanical Gardens
If you have visited all the caves the previous day, then today is time to rent a motorbike and go off the beaten path in Phong Nha Ke Bank National Park. There are so many beautiful places to see and explore that are not included in any tours. Most of the tourists come to Phong Nha Vietnam on day trips, simply to visit two caves, and don’t go beyond the main touristic area.
Phong Nha National Park has a circular route that you can easily follow on your own, on a moped. Every hotel and hostel will have mopeds for rent, for around 200,000 – 250,000 dongs (£6-£8) for the day. It’s almost a sin not to go and explore.
The Phong Nha Botanical Gardens are not like any others you have seen before. Stretching on an area of over 400 hectares, the botanical garden is actually a natural tropical forest home to around 500 different plant species, culminating with a 30 meters high waterfall. Don’t forget your bathing suit, as there are plenty of opportunities to take a dip. Also, don’t let the name “botanical garden” fool you, it’s a proper hiking trek and you will need adequate shoes to explore it.
There are three routes that you can take around the botanical garden in Phong Nha, all of them including a visit to the waterfall. The shortest route takes around 40 minutes to complete, whilst the longest one takes about three hours.
The entrance fee for the botanical gardens is 40,000 dongs (a little over £1).
The Duck Stop
The Duck Stop is a bizarre but super fun experience that you must add to your Phong Nha itinerary. Imagine you are surrounded by hundreds of ducks, pretending to be their leader. But I won’t spoil the surprise for you. The farm is also the home of Donald Trump – the water buffalo.
The fee for the Duck Stop experience is 100,000 dongs (£3), which also includes a drink and a delicious ban xeo pancake. Whilst in the past the family relied on the selling duck meat to survive, now the farm is supported by tourists and the ducks can live a happy life, roaming free around the yard, whilst entertaining everyone.
Relaxed Lunch at the Pub with Cold Beer
Close to the Duck Stop you will find the Pub with Cold Beer, a no-frills restaurant, where you can eat a whole grilled chicken with peanut sauce and, of course, drink cold beer. The pub is famous for its farm-to-table experience, which means that everything you eat is grown in their back yard. This includes the chicken, which is… well… killed to order.
The view from the tables is pretty spectacular, above the river, overlooking the valley below. They also have hammocks to relax in whilst enjoying your cold beer. Click here for the location and beware if you plan on arriving here by motorbike – the last 3 kilometers are off road and hard to drive especially if it rained recently.
Go on an Eco-Tour
If you want to learn more about Phong Nha’s wildlife, I recommend going on one of Hai’s conservation tours. Hai is a young enthusiast man who opened up a wildlife rescue centre with the support of the Cologne Zoo in Germany, to confiscate animals from illegal activities, heal them and introduce them back to nature. When the support from Germany ended in 2013, leaving the wildlife centre struggling for funds, Hai created a tour for visitors to see their conservation efforts and learn more about the Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park’s eco system. The tours include trekking through the jungle to spot macaques in their natural environment, swimming in natural pools, enjoying a barbecue lunch and fielding secret routes the soldiers used to walk along during the war.
Another great way to explore the nature of Phong Nha Vietnam is by walking the Nuoc Mooc Eco Trail, easily reachable from the village by bicycle. The path is easier to walk along than the one in the botanical garden because it has surrounding bamboo floorboards. It crosses lagoons and rivers, in which you can cool down if you get too hot. There is a spot where you can even kayak! The fee to access the Nuoc Mooc Eco Trail is 80,000 dongs (just shy of £3).
Dinner at Phong Nha Bamboo Café
Back in Phong Nha, don’t miss the chance to eat at the Bamboo Café. This popular restaurant serves delicious food in a pretty location. It is very popular so if you are visiting Phong Nha in season, it is worth passing by earlier in the day to make a reservation for dinner. They serve both local and Western food. It is worth mentioning the dessert that made them famous all over the internet, the penis banana. Yes, it is exactly what you are imagining it to be, served with two different types of ice cream.
Adventurous Things to Do in Phong Nha – Cave Exploration in Phong Nha
Phong Nha is home to the largest cave in the world which is opened to explorers. However, a four-day expedition inside the Hang Son Doong cave costs $3000 and requires booking one year in advance. It is however a unique experience, with stalagmites as tall as 100 meters, underground rain forests, traverse underground and overground rivers, and camping inside the cave. Book it here.
Oxalis is the lead cave exploration company in Phong Nha, which run off the beaten path cave tours, providing all the needed equipment and professional experienced guides. The expeditions they run are challenging but very rewarding when it comes to the experience.
Tu Lan is a network of more than 20 both dry and wet caves connecting through sweeping rivers. It can be visited in two, three, or four day expeditions, but sleeping inside is not possible. Book it here.
Pygmy Cave is a two day very challenging expedition which you can do though Jungle Boss. It involves walking through an underground tropical jungle, descent 23 meters through rappelling and sleeping inside the cave. Book it here.
Hang Tien is a moderate challenge, which includes an entire day cave exploration and camping overnight at the cave’s entrance, or in the jungle. Book it here.
Hang Va is a two day experience among some of the most unusual cone-shaped stalagmites that rise from clear green water at a height of 2 meters. Sleeping in the cave is not possible, only in the jungle outside. Book it here.
Nuoc Nut is a challenging one-day experience which you can choose if you want to explore something different. The cave is lit by natural light, has an underground river and many rock pools. Book it here.
Other Great Things to do in Phong Nha
Relax by the Son River
There are many small cafes with lovely tables and chairs by the river, where you can buy a beer and relax with a view. Phong Nha is a quiet village and a perfect place to take in nature. I spent a lovely afternoon at Lucky Lucky, just enjoying the views whilst having a delicious roast pork bahn mi, before my bus arrived.
Kayak on the River
A few kilometres up the road you will find Chay Lap Water Sports Centre, from where you can rent kayaks, water bikes, stand up paddle boards or round boats. They also have a lovely riverside café where you can enjoy a refreshing lunch. You can even book a tour of the Phong Nha Cave by kayak.
Go on a Sunset Cruise
For another relaxing experience book a sunset cruise with Di Di Thoi Tours. This slow ride passes by local villages with children playing on the shore of the river, farmland with buffalo grazing, and beautiful mountain views. It includes a drink and finger food. The cost of the tour is 400,000 dongs (£13) and you can book it online one day before.
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