Nestled at the foot of limestone cliffs that began formation 400 million years ago, Phong Nha is the gateway to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, home to a series of world record-breaking caves. Situated 40 kilometres northwest of the provincial capital of Dong Hoi and built along the Son River, the small village of Son Trach (also referred to as Phong Nha) is growing to meet the growing number of tourists flocking to explore these underground worlds
The craggy peaks and lush, jungle coated valleys of Phong Nha National Park conceal an extensive network of the world's most spectacular caves. Serenely glide through through underground rivers, marvel at ancient bulbous stalactites, try out a natural spa with a coating of cave mud or even adventure through caverns bigger than Manhattan in the world’s largest cave. But underground adventures aren’t all Phong Nha has to offer. Having only recently been put on the tourist trail, the local countryside and villages offer a picture perfect image of rural Vietnam. Swim in crystal blue waters, tube down a tropical river or get to know local life with a farm or village visit. The town and countryside are easily explored by bicycle or motorbike, and many hostels and guest houses offer free use of bicycles. Riding through the spectacular scenery of this stunning National Park is a truly unforgettable experience.
Many of the caves can only be seen on an official tour. Options range from day trips involving jungle hikes, a scenic picnic lunch and cave swimming and exploration, to two or even three-day adventurous expeditions that include the unique experience of camping deep within the wild jungle.
Oxalis (oxalis.com.vn) are Phong Nha’s leading cave tour company, providing unparalleled service, safety and experience - however their tours are a little more expensive and often fill up so need to be booked in advance. Most hostels also offer similar, cheaper tours that don’t need advance booking.
While many of the caves in the area can only be seen on a tour, there are three that are easy to visit independently. Phong Nha cave can be accessed from the town center while Dark Cave and Paradise Cave are a short and glorious motorbike ride away. If you’re not comfortable driving yourself, you can hire an Easy Rider to take you to the caves for approximately 300,000 VND a day.
Phong Nha Cave
Entry: 150,000 VND
Boat (shared between 12): 360,000 VND
The easiest cave to visit and first cave to be opened to the public in Phong Nha, this one has a lot of history. During the war with America it was used to shelter people and store supplies safe from American bombing, and was also used as a hospital. The scars of warfare can still be seen on the cave’s walls. It’s also a beautiful cave, and is well worth a visit, partly for the breezy journey up the river and into the cave in a traditional Dragon Boat. The Phong Nha Tourism centre, where the boats leave from, is in the center of town and is easy to walk to from almost any hostel.
This truly spectacular cave takes the title of largest dry cave in the world. The first 1km featuring stunning rock formations and vast caverns is accessible to anybody, on a tour or independently, and the boardwalk and lighting make it an easy stroll. If you want to explore the next 7km of the cave’s depths, you’ll need to take a tour, however this is one of the most incredible treks you can do in the area. Paradise cave is accessed by a short but steep walk through the surrounding jungle.
Hang Toi (Dark Cave)
This cave is all about activity and adventure. While the cave’s rock formations are less spectacular than those of Paradise Cave, it is still without lights so can feel like a more authentic exploration. After zip-lining over bright blue waters to the cave, you swim through the underground river and explore a short way with only a head torch to guide you. There’s a chance to get covered in mineral-rich mud, a natural way to nourish your skin, and you can kayak in the river after your visit.
Caves aren’t the only way to get back to nature in Phong Nha. With an abundance of clean, clear rivers there’s a lot of fun to be had here on or in the water.
Botanic Gardens Waterfall
In the National Park and on route to Paradise Cave (making a combination of the two an ideal day-trip), the botanic gardens offer a short hike through the jungle to a refreshing waterfall and plunge pool. While it’s not the most dramatic waterfall you’re likely to see in Vietnam, it’s a very pleasant place for a cooling dip, and there are some fantastic view points over the jungle-clad valleys.
Sông Son River:
If you don’t want to shell out the entry fee for Dark Cave, but still want to swim in its dreamily blue waters, there’s a spot in Xóm Chày village where you can easily access the river and go for a dip for free. Head into the village towards the motorbike bridge, where you can park your bikes and follow a well-trodden path down to the water.
Bomb Crater Bar:
Set on the riverside between two large bomb craters, scars of the American war, this little bar makes a mean gin and tonic. Its surrounded by lush vegetation, with hammocks to relax in and tubes to take if you fancy finishing your drink in the water.
The rural, relatively untouched nature of Phong Nha makes it an ideal place to get to grips with where your food comes from and discover traditional farming practices.
The Duck Stop:
Rated as the number one thing to do in Phong Nha on TripAdvisor, this duck farm is a surprising ton of fun. The warm and welcoming owners will show you how their traditional Vietnamese farm works, give you a go riding a water buffalo in a traditional conical hat, and, of course, let you feed, play with and even throw their ducks. It’s a hilarious experience, and also ideal for getting that perfectly cliche Vietnam snap for Instagram.
The Pub With Cold Beer:
True to its name, this is a great place to stop off for an ice-cold drink. It’s also, however, an interesting location for lunch, epitomizing free-range farm to table dining. When you order your chicken, you’ll be given the option of heading out back to chase the hens around with a large net on a stick. Once caught, you can take your unlucky bird to the chopping block and kill her yourself. Watch as the bird is prepped, plucked and gutted before hitting the BBQ. It doesn’t get fresher, or tastier, than this.
Sharing by Amber Lushkya