Boats cruise along the river next to Phong Nha town. Photo by Christian Berg
Caves in Phong Nha range from the tame to the tremendous. For conservation reasons, local authorities restrict access to the larger caves. Some tour companies have exclusive rights to take travellers inside certain caves, while others are open to all. Son Doong looms large as one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, but don’t let that overshadow the allure of Phong Nha’s other treasures.
TIP: It's worth noting that many of Phong Nha’s caves are inaccessible during rainy season (from October to December.) Try to visit at other times of the year if you can.
Son Doong is the world’s largest cave, with stalagmites that compete in height with London’s Big Ben. An expedition to Son Doong takes four days with camping spots set up on scenic parts of the trail. This is the most challenging and costly expedition in the area, and often booked out months in advance.
The Tu Lan cave system lets you wade, swim, climb and crawl through a seemingly never-ending network of tunnels. If you enjoy floating down underground rivers and burrowing through tight passageways, this is the cave system for you. Tours of Tu Lan range from one-day moderate trips to full-on, four-day expeditions.
TIP: Parts of the 2017 blockbuster Kong: Skull Island were filmed in and around the Tu Lan cave system. Watch the movie for a taste of the scenery that awaits.
Famous for their striking stalagmites and picturesque rock pools, Hang Va and Nuoc Nut are ideal for a two-day tour. The trip is short but challenging, as you’ll need to navigate razor-sharp rocks and clamber over karst passes to access the caves. Hang Va is undoubtedly the highlight, especially from January to March when the rock pools are at their fullest.
Exploring Pygmy Cave, the world’s fourth largest, involves a challenging three-day expedition complete with abseiling and climbing. En route you’ll swim underground rivers in Tiger Cave and wade through jade-coloured ponds in Over Cave. If you haven’t the time or budget for Son Doong, Pygmy Cave provides a great alternative at a fraction of the price. For tours of Pygmy Cave, visit the Jungle Boss website.
A moderate, full-day trek through the national park brings you to Hang En, the world’s third largest cave. Expeditions in Hang En include an overnight stay out in the jungle or at the cave entrance, beneath thousands of darting swallows.
TIP: For expeditions to Son Doong, Hang En, Tu Lan, Hang Va and Nuoc Nut, you’ll need to book tours directly with Oxalis. Try to contact them in advance to avoid disappointment.
Phong Nha Cave and Paradise Cave are the most popular attractions in the national park. Both of these are enjoyable, straightforward half-day tours, easily booked via your hotel. The entry to Phong Nha Cave features a journey along the river, while in Paradise Cave, a series of wooden walkways lets you explore safely. If you’re travelling with kids, both of these caves will allow them to join the fun.
My Phong Nha from Vietnam Tourism Board on Vimeo.
For an alternative way to see Phong Nha Cave, try a kayaking tour away from the crowds. Hang Toi, just a few kilometres away, also presents a fun selection of activities, including kayaking, swimming and zip lining. Planning your own kayak adventure? Oxalis and Victory Road Villas rent kayaks for independent trips along Phong Nha’s picturesque river.
The scenery in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is like nowhere else in Vietnam. If caving doesn’t appeal, hiking is a rewarding way to encounter Phong Nha’s lush landscape. Organised hiking tours are the best way to explore, as local experts will take you along hidden trails unknown to other travellers. If you love wildlife, consider a night tour, or pay a visit to animal rescue centres on a two-day hiking eco-tour. Jungle Boss is one of the top hiking tour outfits in the area.
TIP: Don’t be scared to get your feet wet! The best hiking and cycling routes pass through rivers and streams -- bring appropriate footwear.
Go deeper into the countryside as you navigate narrow lanes, crisscross rice paddies, and traverse streams. Many hotels provide free bicycle rentals for riding around town. To see more of the countryside, head towards the Ho Chi Minh Highway to Bong Lai Valley. This picturesque area is home to farms, viewpoints and swimming holes. It’s a 15-kilometre loop through peaceful pastoral scenery.
If you’re an avid cyclist, try taking on the paved roads of the national park -- just be sure to have a proper mountain bike, map and plenty of water. For a more engaging experience, book a cycling tour with local guides who can show you unmapped paths and introduce you to farmers and villagers. Feeling leisurely? A motorbike tour will let you take in the scenery without breaking a sweat.
TIP: Phong Nha Adventure Cycling is geared up for quality bicycle tours with good mountain bikes and expert guides. Hai’s Eco Tour also offers motorbike trips with licensed local drivers.
Phong Nha is a fantastic place to soak up the beauty of Vietnam’s countryside. The best option for nature lovers is booking a boutique homestay, farmstay or villa in the rice fields — just outside of the town. Here you’ll be immersed in rural life and wake up to beautiful views each morning. Phong Nha town also has a handful of accommodation options to choose from, including easy-going hostels and humble riverside guest houses.
Most homestays and guest houses offer their own menus for guests, which is handy after a day of outdoor adventure. In Phong Nha town you’ll find small, family-run restaurants cooking Vietnamese and Western dishes. Head to Coffee Station for a tropical smoothie bowl or locally grown coffee, savour a sundowner at Momma D’s Rooftop, or try the barbecue menu at Chao Restaurant.
TIP: For a real farm-to-table culinary experience, take a bumpy ride or scenic boat trip to The Pub with Cold Beer – a Phong Nha attraction in itself.
Flying is the most comfortable way to reach Phong Nha. There are daily domestic flights to Dong Hoi Airport from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and several weekly flights from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Dong Hoi can be reached by train on the main Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh City railway line. Nearby destinations are Hue and Danang (Hoi An) to the south and Ninh Binh to the north. Check the train schedule on the Vietnam Railway website or book your train tickets online in advance.
Overnight sleeper buses (VND 300,000) leave from Hanoi to Phong Nha daily. Travel time is about 9 hours one way. There are also several open buses to Phong Nha each day from nearby cities such as Hue (VND 150,000) and Danang (VND 200,000). You can usually buy bus tickets at your accommodation or from travel agents the day before departure.
Bus from Dong Hoi to Phong Nha - Local buses run from Dong Hoi to Phong Nha for as little as VND 35,000 a seat. The ride is between 45 to 90 minutes, and buses run hourly (except noon) from 5am to 5pm. Note that the bus terminals are a few kilometres from the train station and airport. If you need to you can get there via taxi or motorbike taxi.
Taxi from Dong Hoi to Phong Nha - You can save time by taking a taxi directly to Phong Nha (VND 400,000) from the airport or train station in Dong Hoi. If you’re travelling on a budget, look for people to share a taxi with when you arrive.