Hue

Phong Nha Cave in Ke Bang National Park: Adventure Heartland Vietnam

Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park (Vietnamese spelling: Vườn quốc gia Phong Nha – Ke Bang) was declared a World Heritage Site in 2003. Its karst formations date back almost 400 million years making it the oldest geological karst area in Asia.

There are over 300 caves and grottos in the park as well as underground rivers. It’s home to the spectacular Paradise Cave, Phong Nha Cave, and adventurers’ delights such as Dark Cave, the world-famous Son Doong Cave, Hang En Cave, and more. 

Which Phong Nha Cave is Best to Visit 

The best cave for you in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park depends on a number of factors. For convenience, you could divide them up into caves for sightseeing and caves for adventuring. 

Paradise Cave and Phong Nha Cave are the best choices for a ‘hands off smartphones on’ experience. There’s nothing too strenuous about visiting either of these two caves. Having said that much, there are adventure experiences in both these caves if you wish to take things a little further. 

For the cave adventure experience, the easiest option for a day tour is Dark Cave. It’s located in the neighborhood of Paradise and Phong Nha caves. For the ultimate caving adventure there’s the two-day experience of Hang En cave, and then the premier 4 day experience of Hang Son Doong.

There are many other smaller caves or cave systems you can explore in Ke Bang. You can get more information on them once at the park or from local tourist shops. Also, if you join a tour, you may stop off at some lesser-known caves along the way. 

View all locations mentioned

Phong Nha Cave 

Visit Phong Nha Cave
[ image from Facebook ]

Phong Nha Cave (động Phong Nha) is the longest established cave in the sense that ancient Cham writings have been discovered there. 

It was also one of the first caves in the park to open up to popular tourism back in 1997. The way there is a 40-minute ride along the Son River to a rather nondescript opening along the bank. Its underground river is 19 km long and the longest such river in the world. 

The tour takes you about 1.5 km by boat through the cave. There are also dry sections where you can alight and see some of the most interesting cave formations out of all the caves. There are also broad and beautiful sandy beaches. 

Phong Nha Cave was recorded as the longest wet cave in Vietnam reaching up to 44.5 km. About 400 steps above Phong Nha Cave is the smaller Tien Son Cave (động Tiên Sơn) where an ancient Cham temple altar survives. 

  • Adult: 150 000 VND
  • Child under 1.3m: 25 000 VND
  • Tien Son Cave: 80 000 VND

Paradise Cave in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park 

Walkway into Paradise Cave
[ by Dirk Tussing from Flickr ]

Paradise Cave (động Thiên Đường), only discovered in 2005, is the longest dry cave in the world and of the most spectacular to visit. Only 1 km of its spectacular cavernous interior is open to popular tourism.

The journey through the cave is along well constructed wooden platforms with key viewing points and very tastefully done lighting. Some sections are as high as 100 m and others 150 m wide.

There are longer tours for Paradise going a further 7 km more. For the longer tour, you have to book through an agency. When available, there is only one tour per day with a maximum of 15 people.

  • Adult: 250 000 VND 
  • Child under 1.3m: 125 000 VND

Discover more about Paradise Cave

Dark Cave in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

Dark Cave
[ by Tuan Dinh from Facebook ]

Dark Cave, known as Hang Tối in Vietnamese, is the best fun cave adventure you can easily have in Phong Nha. It’s also one of the longest full on wet cave tours you can do. 

Dark Cave was discovered in 1990. In 2014, a 400-meter zipline was built taking you across the river down to the entrance of the cave to start your tour. With just headlamps, you go through 300 m of underground fun, wet areas, and unique mud baths where you just float on top under natural buoyancy.

After the underground mud baths, you go to an underground river to clean off. There’s a kayak ride back where you can enjoy more of the Chay River (sông Chày) or relax by the Dark Cave Restaurant. 

Ticket prices vary depending on what you include. The full ticket including the Zipline and Mud Baths is 450 000 VND for adults and 150 000 for kids. 

Son Doong Cave 

Son Doong Cave
[ by Nguyen Tan Tin from Flickr ]

In recent years a lot has been discovered and revealed in print and documentaries about Son Doong Cave. It’s the story of an incredible underground world discovered, lost to the world, and then rediscovered again by a local man. 

The cave opened up to tourism in 2013 and is still heavily restricted and under internationally scientific investigation. Not only is Son Doong the largest cave system ever discovered, but it also has its own cloud forming ecosystem .

Son Doong Cave Tour and Price

Son Doong Cave is part of a high-end tourist model based on environmental preservation. For this model in Vietnam, there is usually only one tour company licensed to conduct tours and handle visitors. 

For the case of Son Doong Cave, as well as Hang En cave, the designated tour company is Oxalis Adventure Tours. Son Doong cave has a yearly quota of only 1 000 people in groups of 10. Tours do not run between mid-September to mid-November.

There is usually a competitive waiting list, however, during this extended pandemic period, 2021 offers some unique opportunities to people already residing in Vietnam. 

If you’re on the ball you may be able to snap up some open spots for the 2021 tours. Furthermore, the price of the tour has also decreased slightly. Ordinarily, you have to budget at least $3 000 once you’re inside the country.  

Because the current situation is also in flux, your best bet for updated information is to contact Oxalis Adventure Tours directly or check their website. 

If this opportunity passes you by, don’t be too miffed about it. Hang En cave is also a great adventure experience. It’s also a lot cheaper and much easier to find a couple of spots to go with a friend or two. 

Hang En Swallow Cave 

Hang En Swallow Cave
[ by Dai Bigben from Facebook ]

If you can’t get a place for a Hang Son Doong adventure, or if it’s too costly for you, then Hang Én, or Swallow Cave, is the best alternative. It’s the third-largest cave system in the world with its own ecosystem and river.

It takes a day to hike there and you camp inside the enormous cave. There’s a lot of fun packed into this two-day-itinerary, and it’s also a recommended tour for photographers.

  • Bookings are only through Oxalis Adventure Tours

Oxalis Adventure Tours

Oxalis Adventure Tours
[ image from oxalisadventure.com ]

Oxalis Adventure Tours is a highly professional organization that was founded in 2011. It is entrusted with exclusive access to Son Doong Cave, Hang En or Swallow Cave, and other caving adventure tours in Phong Nha Ke Bang. 

Their team comprises 95% local people as well as international experts and advisors including from the British Cave Research Association (BCRA). Their tours have minimal environmental impact using composting toilets at campsites. No waste or permanent structures are left behind. 

All tours are on hiatus between mid-September to mid-November to avoid the dangers of the wet season and to allow the environment to recover. You can read more about their policies on the environment, safety, and hygiene. 

All tours listed on their website have detailed information on what to expect as well as all equipment provided, and what you have to bring along for yourself. Long treks have porter teams.

Other Hiking and Cave Trekking Tours in Phong Nha 

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

If you’re staying in Phong Nha, then there are quite a number of exciting jungle trekking and other caving tours you can do. There are short and long hikes through the jungle to caves and also lake areas. 

Elephant Cave, the Ha Ma Da Valley (thung lũng Ha Ma Đa) and Crystal Lake, Tiger Cave system (hang Hổ), as well as Tra Ang (Trạ Ang) River and Cave are all popular routes for adventure seekers. Longer trekking trips, also to these areas, can also include a night or more camping out in caves or in the jungle. 

Pygmy Cave, Elephant Cave, and Tiger Cave treks are exclusively through Jungle Boss Tours (the same as Unseen Vietnam Tours). Together with Oxalis Adventure Tours, they offer some of the most exciting trekking and caving adventures in Phong Nha. 

Other Attractions in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park 

Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park isn’t just about caving. There are many other things you can do there along with visiting caves of course.

Phong Nha Botanical Garden 

Phong Nha Botanical Garden is not a curated garden, but a preserved and protected area where you can view the natural bounty as it is. There are about 400 species of flora covering 40 acres.

There are some hikes you can go here such as the 3 km or 40 min hike to Gio Waterfall (thác Gió). You can hike 1.5 hrs to Vang Anh Lake (hồ Vàng Anh), where you can swim, and there’s a cave to visit as well. A longer guided hike lasts for about 3 hrs.

Mooc Springs 

Mooc Springs
[ image by Tuyết Minh from Facebook ]

Mooc Springs (suối Moọc) is a popular area where you can swim or relax around the crystal clear waters of Mooc stream. There are shaded bamboo platforms, a zipline, floating devices, and rubber dinghies you can rent as well as life jackets. There’s a safety play area for small kids too.

The basic adult entrance fee is 80 000 VND (above 1.3 m) which goes to a quieter bathing area of Ghenh Chum. The full price for the area mentioned above is 180 000 VND for those above 1.3 m and 100 000 for kids below 1.3 m and it includes Ghenh Chum and Ghenh Mooc.

There’s also the nice Mooc Spring Eco-Trail along wooden platforms through the jungle. You may see gibbons, colorful birds, and various species of butterflies. In addition, there are also bamboo bridges to walk across the Chay River, and an orchid garden too.

Son and Chay Rivers

The Son and Chay Rivers are the two rivers that have helped shape this area. Along the Son River you will find Dark Cave, but there are also river tours you can do and kayaking is another option. The Son River branches off into the mouth of Phong Nha cave as an underground river and emerges 20 km further south.

How to Get to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park 

The main tourist hub of Hue is a popular gateway to Phong Nha. From Hue, the only way there is via road covering some 160 km. Hue has a domestic airport with flights connecting to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh international airports. 

Alternatively, if you’re in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, you can take a domestic flight directly to Dong Hoi airport. It’s the largest center near Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. From there it’s about an hour’s drive or 45 km to the national park main office.

From Dong Hoi, Hue, Da Nang, or Hoi An you can always rent a private car for a day trip. However, the best way there is to actually find a good tour. If you take a one day return tour from Hoi An or Da Nang, you’re basically limited to choosing one main cave. 

There is also the option of public transportation. You can take the train from Danang to Dong Hoi which includes views along the Hai Van Pass, and from Dong Hoi a bus to Phong Nha town. You can also get a travel bus from Hoi An, Da Nang, or Hue to Dong Hoi and Phong Nha. 

Take a Tour to Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park

Unwind Along Hai Van Pass to Lang Co Beach
[ by JumperDomi321 from Pixabay ]

Phong Nha is well worth at least a one-night stay over, or two for a more relaxing and fun time. From Hoi An or Danang you can often find scenic tours that take you along the Hai Van Pass with a stopover at Lang Co Beach, followed by lunch and some sightseeing in Hue before reaching Phong Nha by the evening. 

Other tours may skip the Hai Van Pass and explore a few locations in Danang instead. If you’re flying into Hue, or traveling directly from Hue, a good option is to do a tour of the Vinh Moc Tunnels and DMZ on your way to Phong Nha.

Hotels and Places to Stay in Phong Nha 

There are hotels or small homestays in Phong Nha town or you can base yourself in the larger hub of Dong Hoi city. You can easily find a place through typical portholes such as booking.com or Airbnb, otherwise a tour agent can always organize something for you.

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