A little north of the 17th parallel we discovered Vietnam’s last paradise, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park: 885 square kilometres of unspoilt jungle, caves and underground rivers squeezed between the Laos border and South China Sea. This is the place you don’t want to miss while planning a trip to Vietnam.
This UNESCO-listed national park is home to some of Vietnam’s most spectacular sceneries. The stunning 400-million-year-old limestone karst landscape is littered with caves and underground rivers. The most famous is the Son Doong Cave, the largest in the world. Discovered in 2009, Son Doong can comfortably fit a New York City block within its expanse. The five-day expedition to visit this wonder of nature costs US$3000. But don’t panic, there are many other stunning caves that you can visit with a little less cash. But every year more caves are being discovered and opened to the public, so… if you want to visit Vietnam’s last paradise you should go now!
The easiest to visit is Phong Nha Cave only accessible by dragon boat from the little jetty in Phong Nha Town, Dark Cave (Hang Toi) involves different adventurous activities, while Paradise Cave is a huge dry cavern with mind-blowing stalactite and stalagmite formations. Other caves can be visited with daily or multi-day trekking trips.
We went on a Discovery National Park Tour with the Phong Nha Farmstay were we stayed for a few nights. The trip combined Paradise Cave, the adventurous Dark Cave and a visit to the Eight Ladies’ Cave where a temple honours the eight young locals who, in 1972, were trapped and entombed during an American bombing raid. The adventure in the Dark Cave was the highlight of the trip and involved a zip line, a muddy exploration, a cold swim and a short kayak trip. I won’t spoil too much but we had a lot of fun! The cave exploration ends with a mud bath so wear old swimwear, you will have to bin it by the end of the day!
Things to do around Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
Cycling through the rice paddy farms and rural villages around the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is like a time travel to the Vietnam of ten years ago. You can’t miss it. Muddy roads, water buffalos, children waving at the foreigners adventuring in the wild and remote countryside of the Province of Quang Binh. Travel tip: take a ride out to the Pub with Cold Beer in Bong Lai for THE freshest chicken lunch, a great peanut sauce and as the name suggests, cold beer! Relax in a hammock with a view over the countryside and interact with this local family.
How do I get to the Phong Nha-Ke Ban National Park
Phong Nha-Ke Ban’s fame is increasing day after day and getting there now pretty easy. Departing from Hanoi you can take a sleeper bus on a 10 hours ride. It is one of the cheapest solutions and we found it pretty comfortable too. The bus itinerary includes a stop in front of Easy Tiger Hostel, in the centre of Phong Nha town. Hotels also offer tourist shuttle services.
Another option is to take a train to nearby Dong Hoi and take a taxi or the hourly local bus to Phong Nha Town (45km). You can count on the fact that a lot of travellers in Phong Nha will be headed to the same destinations such as Dong Hoi train station or Hue. A group sharing a private taxi will be comfortable and economical. The closest airport is Dong Hoi Airport and there are several flights a day to Ho Chi Minh City and one flight a day to Hanoi.
Where to sleep in Phong Nha Town
While exploring the wild Phong Nha-Ke Ban National we stayed in the Phong Nha Farmstay a stylish French Colonial accomodation immersed in rice paddy fields just outside Phong Nha Town. We deeply loved this place! Its location gave us the opportunity to experience local village life, exlore the rice paddies, but also to chill out in a hammock admiring the scenery. Other things we loved about the Phong Nha Farmstay are the free bicycles with free map of the area, the outdoor night cinema and the pool of course. Also, don’t miss their tours!
We travelled Vietnam from north to south in two weeks exploring Hanoi’s roads, taking cooking classes in Hoi An, zip-lining in the caves of Phong Nha-Ke Ban National Park and floating on the Mekong Rivers.
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