Caves of Vietnam: Beyond Wonderous, Masterpieces of Nature

Vietnam is one of the best places in the world for exploring caves. Its ancient geology has created some of the most spectacular natural wonders you won’t want to miss. This is true, especially for inside the karst mountains in the north.

There are many tales associated with caves that come from the rich cultural heritage of folklore and myth in Vietnam. Consequently, many names for caves in Vietnam originate from supernatural occurrences or figures in folklore.

Interesting Facts About the Caves of Vietnam

Facts About the Caves of Vietnam
[ by SimonAlpha from Pixabay ]

1. The word ‘cave’ in Vietnamese can be divided into two meanings. ‘Hang’ is used to refer to a large space inside a mountain or underground. ‘Động’ usually refers to a large cave, similar to the word ‘cavern’. However, these two tend to be interchangeable without a clear distinction by Vietnamese.

2. The first civilization in Vietnam was formed around the early second millennium BC, quite late compared to the rest of the world. However, archeologists have found traces of prehistoric human life in the caves of Vietnam.

3. The names of caves in Vietnam tend to be derived from local love stories or adaptations of religious lore. Depending on the cave’s appeal, it can be named after fairies or mythical creatures like phoenixes and dragons.

Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park Hosts the Largest Caves in Vietnam

Largest Caves in Vietnam
[ by Quang Hong from Unsplash ]

Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park (Vườn quốc gia Phong Nha – Kẻ Bàng) is a World Heritage Site known for its sublime caves. It has the oldest kart formation housing over 300 caves in Asia dating back 400 million years.

The more popular caves have a separate entrance fee for each and some are accessible only via an agency. For more detailed information, check out our article on ‘Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park’.

Phong Nha Cave

Phong Nha Cave
[ by person-with-No Name from Flickr ]

Phong Nha is the longest wet cave in Vietnam (động Phong Nha) at 44.5 km. Although visitors are only allowed up to the 1.5 km mark, there’s still plenty to see here.

A tour to Phong Nha Cave includes a 40-minute boat ride along Son River (sông Son). After entering the cave, the boat will slow down so you can observe the splendid karst formations.

Tien Son Cave

Tien Son Cave
[ image from Facebook ]

Tien Son Cave (động Tiên Sơn) is the dry counterpart of the same system but not connected to Phong Nha Cave. It’s 980m in length and situated about 200 m higher or 400 steps up from Phong Nha Cave.

Son Doong Cave

Son Doong Tour
[ by Daniel Burka from Unsplash ]

Son Doong Cave (hang Sơn Đoòng) is a lost underground world only discovered recently and opened to tourism in 2013. It’s the world’s largest cave system to date with a unique ecosystem forming clouds.

Son Doong Cave is part of a high-end eco-tourist model and there tends to be a waiting list. Due to the pandemic, it has been easier for people in Vietnam to nab a spot.  A more readily available alternative is Swallow Cave. Both these caves are managed by Oxalis Adventure Tours.

Hang En or Swallow Cave

Hang En Swallow Cave
[ by Dai Bigben from Facebook ]

Swallow Cave, or Hang Én in Vietnamese, is the world’s third-largest cave with a river and its own ecosystem. A tour here takes two days and it’s a favorite for avid photographers. It includes one day of hiking and another day of camping. It’s one of the best options for enjoying trekking in Vietnam.

Paradise Cave

Paradise Cave
[ by dietmarlaschinski from Pixabay ]

Paradise Cave (động Thiên Đường) is a karst spectacle and the longest dry cave in the world. You’ll explore the cave on wooden platforms reaching viewpoints and the lighting really accentuates the experience. Don’t forget to snap a few shots for your Instagram archive. Normally, you can only explore the first kilometer. However, a tour with a local guide can lead you 7 km further.

Discover more about Paradise Cave

Dark Cave

Dark Cave
[ by Tuan Dinh from Facebook ]

Dark Cave (Hang Tối) has one of the longest wet cave tours filled with fun activities. First, you’ll zipline across a river to the entrance of the cave. Then, you’ll hike underground with headlamps for 300 meters and enjoy some natural mud baths. Afterward, you can wash off in the river before hopping on a kayak and making your way back.

Cave Hiking and Jungle Trekking Tours in Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park

Other Hiking and Cave Trekking Tours in Phong Nha
[ by Jungle Boss Tours from Facebook ]

Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park isn’t limited to cave hiking as you can combine it with jungle trekking. This is also the case for many national parks in Vietnam.

Long treks can include visiting a number of less-known but pretty caves plus camping inside or in the jungle. Jungle Boss Tours is a trusted agency with some exclusive caves as well.

Discover more about Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park

Halong Bay is an Offshore Treasure Trove of  Caves in Vietnam

Caves in Halong Bay
[ by Katy Ng. from Tripadago ]

Halong Bay (vịnh Hạ Long) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with around 1 600 limestone islands and islets. It’s one of the top attractions in Vietnam with karst caves, panoramic mountain tops, and emerald waters.

Cruise tours found online via Tripadvisor or Viator can take you on a leisurely trip while sightseeing grottos. However, there are shops with a good reputation for renting kayaks, boats, canoes, and yachts for your own adventure.

Sung Sot Cave

Sung Sot Cave
[ by Katy Ng. from Tripadago ]

Sung Sot Cave (hang Sửng Sốt) is a natural opera house of stalactites and stalagmites with added colorful lighting. While wind erosion smoothed out the cave walls, water turbulence shaped the scallops on the ceiling. The exit of the cave opens to a nice sea view.

Sung Sot Cave got the name from ‘La Grotte des Surprise’ when discovered by the French in 1901. It was voted one of the 7 Best Caves of Vietnam by CNN, along with others on our list.

Other Caves in Ha Long Bay

Other Caves in Ha Long Bay
[ by Katy Ng. from Tripadago ]

As mentioned above, there are caves where you can row your boat to. Dau Go Cave (hang Đầu Gỗ) and a different Paradise Cave (hang Thiên Cung) are on the same island. Thien Canh Son Cave (hang Thiên Cảnh Sơn) is a smaller and less crowded alternative for Sung Sot Cave.

Discover the Best Things to do in Halong Bay

The Caves on Cat Ba Island

Caves on Cat Ba Island
[ by Thanh Sơn HP from Facebook ]

Cat Ba (Cát Bà) Island and its archipelago are known as a more untouched alternative to the busy Halong Bay. It’s also a nice middle ground for good deals on Halong Bay tours.

Some caves on Cat Ba Island were military hide-outs during the American War and now turned tourist attractions. They include Trung Trang Cave in Cat Ba National Park and Hospital Cave (hang Quân Y).

Discover more about Cat Ba Island

Mua Cave is Atop a Mountain in Trang An Landscape Complex

Mua Cave and Tam Coc–Bich Dong
[ by Tam DV from Unsplash ]

Mua Cave (Hang Múa) is on top of Mua Mountain inside Tam Coc – Bich Dong Tourist Area (Khu du lịch Tam Cốc – Bích Động). It’s 486 steps up and the hike progressively reveals a magnificent view of the karst mountains and paddy fields around.

The grand staircase has its ledge carved in the shapes of dragons and birds. There are also resting spots along the hike and a pavilion up top beside the Mua Cave. There’s Hang Múa Ecolodge for staying and a nice lotus pond at the bottom of the mountain.

This area is part of the vast Trang An Landscape Complex, otherwise known as Halong Bay on land. Also in this complex is the Trang An Grottoes with a number of tranquil boat rides to scenic karst caves. On each boat ride, you’ll go through some designated caves and temples of past Vietnamese dynasties.

Discover more about Trang An Landscape Complex

Marble Mountain in Danang is a Showcase of Pagoda Caves in Vietnam

Entrance Guardian at Huyen Khong Cave
Entrance Guardian at Huyen Khong Cave

Marble Mountain or Ngu Hanh Son (Ngũ Hành Sơn) in Danang is a ground for tranquil traditional temple caves. Marble Mountain consists of five hilltops and most attractions are on Thuy Son or Water Mountain. There are two tickets for separate cave experiences.

One ticket is the Am Phu Cave (động Âm Phủ) or Hell Cave with its entrance at the mountain’s bottom. It’s a very interesting two-level depiction of heaven and hell according to Mahayana Buddhism.

By taking the stairs up, you can rejoice with the heavenly realms of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. On the contrary, the stairs down take you through all the torments in the depths of hell.

The other ticket includes the elevator and allows you to go up the mountain to five caves and four pagodas. Huyen Khong Cave (động Huyền Không) is the largest one here with guardians at its staircase. Approaching the entrance, you’ll see an amazing seated Buddha sculpted high up in the wall.

Discover more about the Marble Mountain

Perfume Pagoda and a Boat Ride to Guan Yin Cave

Huong Tich Cave in festival
The steps down Huong Tich Cave during Perfume Pagoda Festival
[ image from Facebook ]

Perfume Pagoda (Chùa Hương) is commonly known as one of the largest Buddhist gathering sites in Vietnam. It’s part of the National Heritage Site Huong Son Complex (Hương Sơn) in an outer suburb of Hanoi.

The complex boasts a mix of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism with a number of caves, temples, and pagodas. Pilgrims like to get around the complex by boat in the turquoise river. The main boat route connects pretty much all the highlights including the famed Perfume Pagoda.

Perfume Pagoda is located inside Huong Tich Cave (động Hương Tích) in the center of the complex. It’s believed that the Bodhisattva Guan Yin was staying in this cave while helping the unfortunate with her miracles.

Discover more about the Perfume Pagoda

Ha Giang Highlands of North Vietnam Have Their Caves Too

Caves in Ha Giang
[ by Ha Giang Road Trip from Facebook ]

The mountainous highlands of Ha Giang form a vast karst plateau with a number of caves waiting to be explored. Lung Khuy Cave (động Lùng Khuý) has the best karst formation in the area and it’s accessible to the public. Hell Cave (hang Địa Ngục) is one of the ten deepest caves in Vietnam and it requires professional certification.

Discover the best things to do in Ha Giang

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