The complete guide to Phong Nha- Ke Bang National Park

The complete guide to Phong Nha- Ke Bang National Park

Dripping in history and millions of years of nature’s carving, this is a channel of deep, incredible caves in the depths of the famous Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, where explorers come for the adrenaline rush. Stalactites hanging from the cave’s roof that are sometimes so unique make you wonder what a beauty it is.

Such big caves that can fit a colossal skyscraper between its floor and top, the national park is one of the stellar ones where your adventure will know no bounds.

Currency

The Vietnamese Dong is accepted in and out of the Phong Nha. For the record, 1 USD counts as 23,335 VND, bargain much. Also, bring enough cash with you when you travel to Phong Nha as most of the homestays and eateries accept only cash, and though there are two ATMs in Phong Nha, both of them charge a fee for withdrawal.

Best time to visit

The national park is a beautiful, adventurous ride at all times except in the rainy seasons that span from October to December. During heavy rains, the caves (which are the USP of the Phong Nha- Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park) are not allowed for recreational tourism, citing security reasons, of course. Avoid traveling during these months.

Beautiful mist covering the nearby mountains in Phong Nha.

How to get to Phong Nha

Situated right at the heart of Vietnam, the national park is not connected to air or rail travel; as such, the nearest connectivity town to reach here is Dong Hoi.

Flights to Dong Hoi

Pretty much every major city in Vietnam has flights to DongHoi operating on a regular basis. If booked well in advance, sometimes they come out to be cheaper than other options.

The train ride to Dong Hoi

Hop on a train from HCMC, Hanoi, Hoi An or any other town, and ride till Dong Hoi. Train rides are super-scenic and very affordable plus comfortable, so this is a good option.

The scenic train ride from Hoi An to Dong Hoi

On the road

Whether you are riding on dirt-bike south to north of the country (which is a real dream of an adventure) or choosing for a local bus, it’s very much up to you. We can say that the roads are fine, and the buses have luxury options for you to choose from. The scenery again would make you miss a heartbeat!

Sleeper buses in Vietnam.

Dong Hoi to Phong Nha

Things would get interesting once you get down at Dong Hoi, either you can take a private taxi for about 4,00,000 or 5,00,000 dongs or a better option is the bus, which is way cheaper (at least 8-9 times more economical). We paid 40,000 Dong per person for a one-hour bus ride from Dong Hoi to Phong Nha center. There is no real connectivity once you are here in Phong Nha. If you have booked a place, either you can ask your host to pick you up (which they would do happily), or you take up a rusty bicycle that you’ll have to stretch on jungle paths (go with the first choice). There is a third option too, you walk! It’s a great option until you have an active network on your phone!

Caves to explore around Phong Nha

Before you go, here’s a heads up:

For one, the jungles of Central Vietnam are vast and dense, and many of them are still unexplored. The world’s largest cave is a recent discovery too. If you choose to travel alone, do not roam into unknown crevices and mountains, you might lose network and the way back.
Two, to have a better experience at it, most famous and recognized caves have guided tours offered by two major tour companies operated locally. Oxalis Adventure and Jungle Boss and few others are the people you need to touch base with if you want to do everything from sleeping inside a camp under the cave or swim through cave rivers. On a good day, you can see a natural waterfall and do a full-fledged rock climbing session (all that, inside a real, beautiful cave).

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Bluest of streams on Son Trach loop in Phong Nha

Hang Son Doong

If you want to take some serious challenge with your physical and mental strengths involved, the biggest cave in this world is this one! A private jungle, river system, fauna so vivid, you can’t just go and walk into this natural wonder. Quoted as a paradise for cave explorers, you need equipment, loads of courage, and resources to take this experience in your good books.

You would hear your heart thumping when you step on the shallow waters on the cave grounds, watch in awe when sunlight crawls into the pitch black and glows like magic.

Phong Nha Cave

The most common and fairly justified too, the Phong Nha Cave is a fork mountain sitting atop a river. To get into the cave, you need to get on a boat that rides you through the entrance, about 1 KM into the cave. From there on, it’s a couple of stairs, artificial woodblocks, and a little bit of on-foot exploration at that. Once thought to be the largest cave in the world, it continues to roll a lot of eyes solely because of the unique experience of driving through a river into the gorgeous cave.

Phong Nha Cave.

Paradise Cave

A replica of the world beyond Earth, there is a solid reason for this cave to carry its name. Magnificently lit from the inside, when the lights bounce back through the limestone formations, the otherwise dark cave glows like magic.
Bridges of wood to cross the steeps and gaps, along with stairs to take you around this gigantic cave, make the entire adventure of this experience jump through the roof.

The humongous Paradise cave and this is just one tiny part of it.

Solo travelers aren’t allowed to go beyond a safe distance of 1 KM inside the cave, but if you want to explore deeper (there’s a beautiful ecosystem, an underground river, and so much more in there), you can book guided tours.

Tu Lan Cave

Very original, very rustic, and a bomb of adventure, going to the Tun Lan cave begins with a local hike to the jungle, with flashlights on the helmets and life jackets on, you’d go nuts at this marvel of a cave in all preparedness. It’s a wet cave connected in its channels with rivers and waterfalls, but one can still choose to camp near the entrance.
For fans of the box office, it’s interesting that your favorite Kong: Skull Island (2017 film) was shot near the cave and the jungles that surround this place, so if you want a glimpse of what you’d sign up for, the chances are that you’ve already seen this place on a big screen near you.

The smiling locals we met during our week long stay in Phong Nha.

Hang Toi Cave

If you are fearless and can walk through the dark (real dark) without breaking into a sweat, Hang Toi is your kind of adventure. Over the pitch-black pathways, you can zipline above the muddy floors of the cave. It’s a real blood rush experience, and the risk-taker in you would go crazy after doing this one.
One extra take you can choose in this choice is to drip yourself into a mudbath, pretty much exclusive to this cave, and the oozing mud is a total relaxation therapy (this one’s only possible when you’re exploring things on your own).

Pygmy Cave

A masterpiece of nature, this cave is a one on one encounter with the wonders of time and Earth. The limestone stalagmite and stalactites make up for outstanding formations that any day will make you rub your eyes to believe it. The underground camping experience is one thing, but don’t forget to bring along a mosquito repellent cream (if you want to sleep all night).

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The beautiful sunset in Phong Nha by the banks of Song Con.

Phong Nha beyond its humongous caves

The jungle trails

The Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park is a treat for hikers and trekkers with its out of the random box trails and jungle roads. Bringing you the fantastic vibes of exploring a wild jungle, trekking into the natural trails offers two things the most: first, the incredible versions of landscapes and second, the hardcore adventure of a day in the wilderness.

Riding the river

Remember when we said the connectivity in the national park is close to zero? Yeah, we didn’t count the rivers in. As it so happens, most caves here are connected to the mainland through boats kayaking in the river. The super pristine and untouched rivers cross through the jungle, and it’s a lovely experience riding the super silent river with trees roofing you above and forest floor painted in nothing but green.

River crossing for Son Trach Loop.

Biking through paddy fields

This one is an excellent option if you manage to find good condition bikes or are riding a motorcycle already. Left and right there are paddy fields and only one single lane road that goes to meet the horizon straight, occasional cloud cover and mountains on either end at a distance. It’s like a fanatic ride that will make it into your polaroid very quickly and will stay on your living room walls for the longest time.

The Son Trach loop has everything you want to see in this national park, it crosses the river, goes through amazing aesthetical landscapes, and is just the right thing to do, to place it simply!

Places to stay in Phong Nha

Nguyen Shack-Phong Nha Eco Resort

If there was a better adjective for blending in, in all right sanity should it be awarded to this place. A river facing property that sits in between dense trees, the basic structure is based on wood, and it very much stands up to the name ‘shack’!

The family room in Nguyen Shack-Phong Nha Eco Resort.

Some of their rooms have private balconies, and they even occasionally organize yoga sessions.

The lovely terrace overlooking a lake and a small island.

Phong Nha Rice Field homestay

Humble, rustic, and happy! This homestay is one of those few places where you’ll feel a calm and homely vibe the moment you enter. Now be it their impeccable location in between a deserted, serene rice field or a pleasant summer day with their ducks in the small duck farm, maybe fishing together in the local river, it all counts in.

Our room at Phong Nha Rice Field homestay.

One extra to this place is that you’ll be having tasty, mouth-watering dishes almost every day. The open outer lawn is unwinding and chill at its best, where you can enjoy a sunset coffee and chat with friends and strangers staying along. Here we met our youngest host ever. Hang, our host’s daughter, is the only English speaking member in the family and the contact person for the homestay.

Hang, our lovely host at Phong Nha Rice Field homestay.

Little Rock Homestay

Choose from sleeping under the stars or rock the hammock when you laze in the twilight. This homestay is one place bombed with natural beauty, trees, flowers, and a river by its backyard, and they even have a deck where you can sunbathe on a regular day. One of the rare places where you can raise a toast with your friends by a river cottage and share food over stories and laughter is an excellent, budget-friendly option.

Every morning we have this lady collecting weed from riverbed in front of Little rock homestay.

Central Backpacker Hostel Phong Nha

Super lively, super social; this hostel is located against a huge rock in the backdrop. What’s more? Their swimming pool situated in the garden center is the right recreation for the summer days. But wait before you go and hang out in their community space. Indoor gaming and a huge dinner space is another plus that they clearly are using to the best extent. It’s a fantastic choice for socializing, the vibe kind of builds around it.

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Lucky Homestay

Good architecture and a major pool in the middle, Lucky Homestay offers lovely views of outdoor, boasts of its open spaces, and is overall an excellent choice for a lazed out vacay in the wilderness. Mountains are very closeby, the rooms are spacious and clean, and a superb panorama awaits you at the terrace.

The lush green paddy fields surrounding the Phong Nha town.

Best places to eat in Phong Nha

Fresh springs rolls and pumpkin soup is a must try at Veggie Box, Phong Nha.

Veggie Box Phong Nha

And like a modern-day cafe, the veggie box in Phong Nha has a lazed out vibe where you can sit around with a friend and enjoy some jokes over hot and crispy spring rolls and a bowl of pumpkin soup. Either sit out in the green with a very fresh setup or dine in their closed quarters lit up like its ablaze. Delicious food, hygienic and good setup. Notably, the staff is super welcoming and would happily guide you through their vegan menu.

Veggie Box, Phong Nha.
Everything tastes better with Soy sauce.
Jai enjoying the Vegan burger and Sushi at Veggie Box, Phong Nha.

Phong Nha Vegan

More like a humble food joint, this little restaurant is very much in line with your house kitchen. A simple Vietnamese family, running errands, cooking together, serving with loads of love, and a smile at the face. The place offers vegan food, and you’d leave the plates clean before you stand up from your dining. A homely flavor is what rules the good food here.

Phong Nha Coffee Station

There’s never having enough coffee when in Vietnam, and so this coffee house that we’ve already been to in Hoi An and Hanoi is where we went once again. Frappes, mocktails, and pancakes loaded up with dollops of cream and syrup, oh, don’t even get me started how enticing are the sweet aromas coming straight out of their kitchens. The outdoor setting is superb, with trees and plantations surrounding all furniture and a pebbled floor.

Paradise Pizza

One of the simple places where people get drawn to through recommendations. Cheese pizzas so crisp and yummy, you’d not mind their basic interiors or anything else. Just hop onto the table and indulge in a piping hot Margaretta or choose from the multiple variants that they offer. Maybe grab a chilled beer to go with it? It’s a perfect day!

Phong Nha Bamboo Cafe

If you love a great ambiance, the bamboo cafe is one place for you. Lit up with multicolored, gorgeous traditional lamps, the overall charm of the place is that it feels amazingly inclusive and fun when you are enjoying a delicious Vietnamese meal here. It’s loved and frequented by most travelers who come here.

Travel Tips for Phong Nha

  • Your phone network will stay with you most times, especially if you’re only biking around the park, but if the plan is to hike in the jungle or go out to explore a cave, do not rely on online maps or anything of the sort that needs an active internet connection.
  • The two ATMs around here are Sacombank and Agribank, and these do accept foreign cards but charge a fee for it. We used MB Bank in Vietnam, which is free for currency withdrawal. Nevertheless, it’s more preferred to carry cash (like we did for our six days here).
  • Motorbikes rentals go up till 100000-120000 VND per day, ensuring the condition to be fine is important, and don’t forget to request for good helmets. There is no debate that this is the best place for biking in all of Vietnam, but a lot of these bikes are in poor shape, ruining the whole experience.

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