PHONG NHA KE BANG: THE ADVENTUROUS GATEWAY TO WORLD’S LARGEST CAVE

by Long Vu
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Underground caves and jungle luxury- A new world to discover and experience

Dive deep into the wilderness of the world’s largest cave system and discover a new underground world, left untouched for centuries. Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park is a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site that houses:

  • Longest river cave in the world
  • Largest cave in the world
  • Longest dry cave in the world

A secret hideaway to experience ultimate adventure in tranquility, this wonderful site in Vietnam is the Asia’s biggest and oldest karst limestone landscape. According to the geologists and speleologists, the formation of this limestone region occurred around 400 million years ago.  More of limestones, but not entirely as this landscape also presents a complex interbedding of sandstone and shales. Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park is stretching over central Vietnam in Quang Binh Province. This expanse of Vietnam is popularly known as the Cave Kingdom of Vietnam. The extensive rainforest covering this karst sanctuary is rich in biodiversity with some of the rare species like elephants, tigers, and black bears.

Over 300 caves and grottoes adorn Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, opening the doorway to experience a lot of adventurous activities for both amateurs and experts. Sketch your way through the easiest steps of Paradise Cave to the largest and most adventurous one of Hang Son Doong Cave with a lot more to explore in between. Let’s travel to Vietnam and discover the amazing world of caves.

1. Phong Nha Ke Bang tour- Places to explore

1.1 Paradise Cave

Stretching over 31km to win over the crown from Phong Nha Cave of being the world’s longest dry cave, Paradise Cave is a heaven for speleologists and adventure seekers. It is a part of Vom Cave network. However, only the first kilometer is open for the tourists. Don’t be disheartened, there’s a never-ending horizon to this Phong Nha Ke Bang tour. This cave rises up to 200m from sea level and the chambers inside vary from 72m to 150m. Hold your breath to witness the artistic flair of nature as you step inside. The vaulted interiors resemble the spectacular architecture of cathedrals. Electric lights lighten up the interior chambers within 1km stretch for the visitors. Gaze and admire each of the natural curves and textures. The magnificent formations of gleaming stalagmites and stalactites are highly intricate and precise to make you relate to man-made art.

Paradise Cave was first discovered by a local but was soon became the most highlighted research topic for British Cave Association. Until 2010, only scientists and researchers used to explore this region. Savor the unmatched beauty of this limestone cave that will make you gaze at its formation for hours. Owing to its easy accessibility, Paradise Cave is the most popular one in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park among tourists and hence remains crowded in prime hours. So if you want to escape the jostling crowd inside the limestone heaven and want to cherish the natural architecture all by yourself, plan for an early morning trip to Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. Generally, group tours start in early afternoon.

 

Paradise Cave in Phong Nha Ke Bang Vietnam

Activities at Paradise Cave

Within your 1km walk of exploration of Paradise Cave or Thieng Duong Cave, you will be following an undulating way, descending deep down to the narrow stretch leading towards the center. The wooden footbridge with handrail allows the visitors to explore the cave safely and perfectly. However, it is better to opt for electric buggies that take you through the chambers of the first 1km without bothering you to mind your steps carefully.

If you have a super adventurous spree, you can get the ticket for 7km Paradise Cave Underground Trek while getting the entrance ticket for Paradise Cave. This combined Phong Nha Ke Bang tour to Paradise Cave will allow you to dive deep into the underground rivers and swim all through this natural wonder. You will also be able to enjoy a scrumptious lunch inside the cave where the cave enjoys its last sunray.

The entrance to the longest dry cave of Phong Nha Ke Bang tour costs 250,000 VND/pax for adults and 125,000 VND/pax for children. The combined tour with 7km Paradise Cave Underground Trek costs 2,650,000 VND/pax. This package does not include the electric buggies and you need to pay a small amount of 20,000 VND for the buggy tour.

1.2 Hang En

Enjoying the right side of the winner podium, Hang En Cave is the world’s third largest cave after Hang Son Doong in Vietnam and Deer Cave in Malaysia. This monstrous rocky structure is just 3kms away from Hang Son Doong Cave and will take you a little closer to the world’s largest cave. Exploring Hang En Cave is not so easy and initiates the flavors of ultimate adventures and wild and tough treks which you will be encountering in full swing if you opt for Hang Son Doong Cave expedition.

Hang En Cave presents a chorus of 35 meandering rivers and your guide will be escorting you through all these waterways to move deeper and further into the mystical dark where sunrays never enter. However, before entering through the broad arch of the cave, your expedition to Hang En Cave starts from jungle trek, discovering some of the rarest flora and fauna on your way. The deep jungle clad way takes you through the minority village of Ban Doong which is a home to Vietnam’s most ethnic tribal community.

Hang En Cave has three entrances, among which the southeast and southwest entrances at the foot of the mountain remain under the meandering flow of Rao Thuong River. Embellished with primitive cobblestones, the way leads to three aquamarine lakes, reflecting the beams of sunrays entering from a ceiling slit. The alluvial beds of the mesh of the flowing streams separate the three lakes. Complementing the surrounding natural artifacts, the stalactites hanging down from the ceiling with its impressive designs and structures add to your visual allure. Discover the sea fossils on the interior walls of the cave and vegetation growing inside the darkness of the cave without a bit of sunray.

Activities at Hang En

Explore the rainforests with a thick density of flora before you marvel at the gigantic mountain cave rising high from Rao Thuong River. Your headlights are the only source of light to make your way inside the cave visible. Generally, Hang En trek is an overnight tour, so be ready for camping in the darkest enclave of the cave on a beach along an aquamarine lake, tinkling your memories of luxury beach holidays. The view overhead is nothing but the rocky surface of the cave which seems like an aviary after sunset. Exploring Hang En Cave in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park Vietnam defies all adventurous expeditions you experienced so far.

An ancient shelter for ethnic tribals, Hang En Cave was officially explored in 1994 by the British team and so far only a handful of explorers have explored this cave. So nature still retains its dominance here and reveals its utter wilderness. Live each and every moment in this cave and cherish the memories forever.

1.3 Hang Toi

Beginning the tour on a zip-line may be misleading to consider it as a comfortable and luxury tour, but exploring Hang Toi Cave will take you to the extreme wilderness, completely to the other end of comfort. Zipline experience ends at the entrance of the cave and from there, get ready to experience life in the primitive era. Hang Toi, also known as Dark Cave has no artificial lighting set up in its interior and so mind your steps with your headlights only and the trailing footprints of the person ahead. Follow your steps barefooted through the dense muddy route leading towards a narrowing cavern. This 300m narrow passage inside the 6km long cave is the most struggling phase to cross over.

However, as it says, there is always a beautiful end to every dark phase. The same applies to Hang Toi cave as well. The narrow trench opens to a broad mud pool allowing you to relax and enjoy a mud bath in a natural pool, rich in minerals.  The next destination is an underground cave river with cold water. Struggle your way through pitch black darkness to reach the other end of the cave from where you can enjoy kayaking to make your way back.

Dark Cave tour is organized throughout the year, however, the monsoon and winter get relatively fewer tourists. The pricing system of this cave tour is a bit complex and has a lot of inclusions and exclusions. Minimum entrance fee of 80,000 VND allows accessibility to only first 150m whereas 270,000 VND allows complete access along with zip line service, mud bath, and kayak. The price is lower during seasonal dips. Hang Toi Cave tour can be organized personally or you can book through tour operators.

Dark Cave Vietnam

Activities at Hang Toi

Since the discovery in 1990, Hang Toi Cave has been recognized as a tourist attraction and a favorite choice for adventure travelers and cave explorers. The mud pool is the biggest attraction the Dark Cave in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam. Owing to the high buoyancy of the mud composition, this pool allows you to float like a cork. It is like the muddy Dead Sea where your feet can never touch the bed. The rich composition of the mud gives a dark chocolate color and so enjoy your mud bath or chocolate bath, as you like to name it, to the fullest.

Nature has designed this cave to pamper the humans exactly the way they want. Plunge into the cool water of the cave river to demud yourself once you are done with your mud bath. As you are towards the end of your cave tour and gets the glimpses of sun rays like for the first time in life, board your kayaks to make your way through the emerald waters of the Chay River or enjoy some more swimming till you are tired enough to have a sip of cold beer or refreshing drinks on your backpack, safely kept at the locker at the entrance. Flying fox is also a popular activity here on the Chay River, that you can enjoy. You can also include Phong Nha-Ke Bang Park tour with this Dark Cave tour to explore the rich abundances of flora and fauna in this tropical rainforest. Generally, this is a one-day cave tour but if you want to extend it with some other cave tours, you can easily customize it as per your choice.

1.4 Hang Tien

Hang Tien Cave is the largest cave of Tu Lan cave network in Phong Nha-Ke Bang cave kingdom. Hang Tien Cave tour is one of the longest day-tour in Vietnam tourism and requires almost 12 hours to complete the entire tour. Pull up your socks to explore this lost world where time has ceased to flow by with the rest of the world. Owing to its awe-inspiring interior formations of limestone structures and twirling configurations of rocks, Hang Tien has got its other name as Fairy Cave. Embellished with green ferns and rimstone pools, this enormous cave is relatively easier to explore and allows the casual travelers to savor the essence of cave expeditions.

This enormous cave stands almighty in the midst of the tropical jungle. So make your way through the verdant lush plantations till your breath holds to gaze at the natural creativities inside the cave. The magnificent rock formations and the brilliant limestone structures hanging down from the ceiling complemented by the verdant ferns gift you a world of its own. The entrance of the cave features an extensive cluster of rimstone pools. The entire cave exploration takes around 4 hours before you get the opportunity to plunge into the freshwater spring. The tour price is 2,000,000 VND and you will be provided with all trekking gears and safety gears by your tour operator. This cave exploration is always recommended to experience in a guided tour.

Hang Tien Vietnam

Activities at Hang Tien

The cave tour for the day starts with a long jungle trek followed by an exhilarating cave exploration. As you ascend and descend through the rough steps of the cave inside, your body gets tuned to the basics of rock climbing. An extensive work out through the forest and inside the cave will definitely leave you tired and there you will be greeted by the natural freshwater spring where you can swim and relax while enjoying the incredible view of the churning waterfall. Flying fox is a great option here to enjoy if your body and soul permit it after a day’s exhaustion.

Oxalis conducts this tour starting from one day tour to 3 Days 2 Nights tour with cost starting from 2,000,000 VND.

1.5 Hang Va

Hang Va is quite away from the Son Doong Cave physically but shares almost the same experiences, and sometimes even more spectacular insights of natural formations. Hang Va exploration needs rough trekking through dense jungles, steep rocks, and caves. The river crossing is an integral part of Phong Nha-Ke Bang tour and so it is unavoidable in most cave expeditions here. Generally, Hang Va expedition is an overnight tour including Hang Nuoc Nut exploration and jungle camping.

Hang Nuoc Nut

Discovered in 2012 and opened for the tourists in 2015, you will undoubtedly be one of the few early explorers of Hang Va. So pump up your adventurous spree and set off for this adventure tour in Vietnam. Hang Va is considered as an alternate choice for Son Doong Cave exploration for those enthusiast travelers with limited time and budget. The journey starts from jungle trekking along a different route where steps are not so easy. Hang Va tour is complemented with Hang Nuoc Nut as you need to pass the latter first before reaching the mighty Hang Va. The journey begins through forest trekking with steep slopes, rough boulders and dead trees and branches bowing down making you crawl underneath. The steep and rough terrain increases further till the mouth of Hang Nuoc Nut which is a huge cave in this area.

Nuoc Nut Cave expedition is a part of Hang Va tour where the way descends down to the entrance. The harness and ropes come handy in this route. Nuoc Nut Cave welcomes the explorers to its darkest world through shallow underground river. The interior formations of stalagmites and stalactites gleam as they reflect the lights from the headlamps. The natural architectural beauty continues to amaze you till you reach another underground river with deeper depth. Swimming is the only option to cross this cold water river and reach further near the end of the cave. There is a small pool with placid water towards the end of the cave that leads your way towards the entrance of Hang Va. This intermediate point between the exit of Hang Nuoc Nut and Hang Va is generally chosen as the overnight camping spot under the galaxy of twinkling stars.

Hang Va

Unlike most caves in this National Park, Hang Va greets its explorers with a rough entrance to make the explorers get tuned to a terrific adventurous tour ahead. The entrance is too steep and slippery. It is very important to mind the steps. However, the explorers remain secured with ropes and harness to avoid the circumstances of any misstep. As you descend down, Hang Va opens some narrow trenches in between the rocks through which you have to struggle your way. Your effort through the narrow passages does not get wasted as you feel refreshed and excited to get the sights of the crystal clear turquoise water of the underground river making its way through the terraced rock formations. The reflection of the swirling patterns of the rocks above creates a magical visual illusion.

Your miner helmets fitted with headlights are the only source of light inside the cave. The sound of the cascading river and the cacophony of the crickets and frogs seem to be melodious in this world that preserves the shreds of evidence of millions of years ago. Towards the end of the river, the splendid architecture of stalagmites and stalactites are complemented by millions of years old rimstone pools. To maintain its originality and natural luster, a metal bridge has been placed inside the cave to cross over the area without marking the footprints on this million-years-old natural formation. This leads towards the other end of the cave making your way to the world you know for years. As you move ahead, you will see the other side of Son Doong Cave at a distance.

The tour costs 8,000,000 VND inclusive of all the basic necessities like ropes, helmets etc. and guide provided by Oxalis. A group of only 8 explorers is allowed in each tour.

hang va cave tour vietnam

Activities at Hang Va

Hang Va tour is highly adventurous with a lot of activities to experience at every turn. Jungle trek is the first phase of experience in this tour, followed by cave exploration at Nuoc Nut. The underground river crossing is an exciting activity in this tour. Jungle camping and living amidst primeval nature with the sound of crickets and other insects all around is a one-of-its-kind luxury in this tour. The following day includes rock-climbing, discovering an unknown world inside a cave with stunning designs of stalactite and stalagmite.

1.6 Phong Nha Cave

Stretching out its gigantism amidst the Son River, Phong Nha Cave opens a wonderful mouth to penetrate inside it through the waterway. Being the longest river cave in the world, the cave extends up to 44.5 km. The interior of this cave is differentiated in three different zones because of significant temperature difference. Owing to this temperature difference, each of these chambers has become home for particular types of species. The first few meters of the cave is completely dark and your eyes need to get set to this darkness before you hit a magical world with nicely set artificial lights to highlight each of the distinct stalagmite and stalactite formations.

Boat Ride through Phong Nha Cave

A brightly colored dragon boat sails upstream the Son River for 30 minutes from the Phong Nha Tourism Centre to reach the mouth of Chay River from where the entrance of Phong Nha cave is sketched out. As the darkness of the cave engulfs the boat, the motor of the boat is turned off and only paddled across the underground river up to 1.5 km. That is the last point of access by boat ride inside the cave. This 1.5km boat ride through the eerie cavern of the cave makes you experience the way through some narrow grottoes opening up to huge channels having mystic rocky formations, sharp edges of stalactites hanging down from the ceiling.

The Court Cave is the first section where you can deboard your boat and roam around to gaze at the splendid rock formations and patterns. The Court Cave received this name because the interior formation reflects the beauty of a royal court with designs like elephants.

Phong Nha Cave exploration is relatively easy as compared to all others in this cave zone. This trip can be planned individually without the need of any tour operator. The entrance fee to Phong Nha Cave is 150,000 VND and boat charge is 360,000 VND which can be shared with up to 14 people on a single boat.

Phong Nha cave Vietnam

Activities at Phong Nha Cave

One of the first discovered caves of the Phong Nha cave system, Hang Phong Nha started welcoming its tourists from 1995 although it was discovered in 1899. It is a prime tourist destination in Vietnam and for the speleologists, it is a center of attraction for research and discovery. But beyond all these, this cave is of high importance among the Vietnamese as it served the nation by providing a secured shelter during American War. Phong Nha Cave was used as a hospital, weapon arsenal and bomb shelter. Henceforth, the area was subjected to a lot of bombardment by US troops and the tourists can experience what past was like in this cave.

As the journey starts with a boat trip through the Son River with huge limestone karsts rising from both sides, you can feel the charm of unprecedented nature all around. This awe-striking experience augments as you enter the creepy darkness of the cave sailing through the underground Chay River. Besides the natural art of majestic stalagmites and stalactites, this cave also preserves prehistoric inscriptions of ancient Cham civilization. The undecipherable scripts inscribed on the walls date back to thousands of years ago. A lot of fossils can also be found in this cave. Travelers can also discover some rare species, which are adapted solely to this environment like blind bats, blind spiders, blind fish, and red lizards.

Phong Nha cave exploration needs a boat ride only through a scenic backdrop. Only the last part of the trip needs a few walking steps to admire the beauty of rock formations and its natural patterns inside the lighted zone of the cave. So, this cave tour is ideal for tourists of all ages without any hassle.

1.7 Tien Son Cave

If Phong Nha Cave is a paradise on a river, Tien Son Cave is a paradise on heaven. Tien Song Cave is a part of Ke Bang National Park and stands 100m above Phong Nha Cave. According to speleologists, Tien Son Cave is older than Phong Nha Cave, dating back to almost 35 million years ago. With time, a lot of geographical tectonic changes happened, huge rocks fell from the top of the mountain and separated the Tien Son mountain with a cave on top and the Phong Nha cave at the bottom with a flowing river inside the cave. Tien Son is a dry cave with astounding formations of stalagmites and stalactites, highlighted with artificial lighting with enhanced efficiency that has minimum impact on natural cave system.

Tien Son Cave is 980 m long in total of which only 400m is accessible for tourists.  In 2000, Tien Son Cave was opened for the first time for tourists. This cave is often known as Fairy Cave owing to its gorgeous natural interior décor. The rock formations and structures create an impression of a castle with long pillars of white marble-like texture. Once you step inside this cave through a 10m deep abyss, you will sense the ecstasy of the place. The golden and silver veins running across the ceiling shimmers to reflect its opulence while the surrounding inner walls and pillar create a fairyland for you that you have always fantasized in your dreams.

Another unique feature of this cave is the resonance property of the rocks. If you knock on the rock, there is an echo from deep inside the cave. Sometimes the resonance of the sound seems like drum beats. An incredible creation of nature, Tien Son Cave is undoubtedly a must-visit cave for casual adventurers and travelers.

Activities at Tien Son Cave

To avoid unexpected accidents for tourists and to ensure minimum impact on the ecological set up of the cave, a guarded footbridge has been built all across the accessible areas of the cave. The cave ceiling varies from 25m to 35m. Exploring the cave by foot is the only way to discover the exquisite diversities of the cavern. It takes around an hour to complete the cave tour at Tien Son Cave. Phong Nha and Tien Son Caves make a perfect day trip in Vietnam for casual travelers.

The foothills of the Trung Son mountain are carpeted by a palette of shades of the sprawling rice, sugarcane fields, and maize fields. The mountain-fringed countryside offers a quaint view like a painted backdrop, washed by the meandering streams of Troc, Chay and Son River. This placid beauty is so blissful that you will love to spend hours gazing at it sitting on a rock.

1.8 Tu Lan Cave

Hiking through the jungle, swim across the river cave, the romance of a primeval beach escape and plunging into the darkness of a huge cave is a snapshot of Tu Lan Cave exploration. This is an exciting cave tour packed with full of adventures and experiences. Located 70km away from Phong Nha cave, Tu Lan cave is an extension of Phong Nha Ke Bang cave system. As per cave researchers, acidic rain and yearly floods washed away the calcites from the mountain for millions of years to leave behind the rocky cavern, which is now known as Tu Lan Cave. The impressive size of the cave greatly complements the concentration of stalagmite and stalactite formations hanging down from the ceilings, sometimes blocking the waterway as well. No artificial lighting is there inside the cave and sunlight restricts itself till the entrance.

Make your way through the mesmerizing landscape of the countryside before putting yourself into the life jackets to dive into the river cave with the headlights on. It is a truly enthralling experience to swim across two river caves, sometimes struggling through the restricted waterways due to stalagmite formations through complete darkness with just the headlights on.  The inside of Tu Lan river cave is pitch black, so your headlights are your only support for vision. It is a unique experience that can appease your cave adventurous lust even if you don’t explore the world’s largest cave, located in this region.

tu lan cave vietnam

Activities at Tu Lan Cave

Escape the civilization and step into a primitive world where nature is your only companion. Tu Lan Cave exploration needs a lot of adventurous spirits to enjoy nearly 12 km jungle trekking, hiking through rugged terrain, spotting the boars, wild dogs, and Asian tigers and finally swimming through the river caves in complete darkness. The fun and excitement do not end there as the camping experience on a secluded beach adjacent to a cascading waterfall is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Exploring the darkness sometimes become unpenetrable.

However, the romance of the fresh air with utter wilderness all around soothes the inner soul. At least once in a life, you will get this chance to live a life like primitive men enjoying the haven by the waterfall under the open sky. Generally, Tu Lan Cave can be explored in an overnight trip but many discerning travelers want to stay back and experience further in 3 days and 2 nights cave tour. Oxalis conducts this tour and tour cost starts from 1,800,000 VND for a day trip.

1.9 8 Lady Cave

Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park is one of the iconic witnesses of US War in Vietnam and played an important role for Vietnam People’s Army. On the way to the national park, lies a cave that pays homage to eight Vietnamese women as a victim of US War. Eight women took shelter in this cave in November 1972 when US Army started heavy bombardment in this area. Owing to the continuous bombing, a colossal rock rolled down to close the only mouth of the cave. Although the screams for help of the ladies can be heard from outside, nothing much could be done then and on the ninth day of the incident, all screams ceased forever as they were starved to death. In 1996, the remains of the 8 ladies were recovered from the cave for official burial.

As a tribute to those eight young ladies, the cave got its name as 8 Lady Cave. Few years, construction of the highway leading to the cave and neighboring Laos was completed. Tourists visit this cave to pay tribute to the victims, explore this memorial ground and seek blessings from the demise. It is strongly believed by the local communities that the souls safeguard this place and grant the wishes of the visitors visiting this Immortal Cave or 8 Lady Cave.

1.10 Nuoc Mooc Ecotrail

Cuddling near the foothills of Phong Nha Cave, Nuoc Mooc Ecotrail makes its way through the woods for 1 km to meet the confluence of two underground rivers and finally emptying into the Chay River. Hidden under the green canopy of the jungle with a mysterious course through boulders and caves of Truong Son mountain, Nuoc Mooc spring begins its course in some unknown underground river system. The emerald blue water splashes the boulders and nourishes the rich trove of flora on either bank creating a perfect natural getaway for travelers who want to escape the bustling civilization.

Nuoc Mooc Ecotrail beautifies itself with beautiful butterflies, dragonflies, and birds that altogether create a wonderland. The karst limestone backdrop with dense forest and turquoise waterway is like an oasis in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. Generally, on the way back from Phong Nha Cave system, travelers immerse into this wild luxury to savor the unprecedented romance of nature and its exquisiteness.

Phong Nha Vietnam

Activities at Nuoc Mooc Ecotrail

Sketch your way through the jungle-clad narrow way following the whispering of the flowing stream. The rocky avenue takes you to the bamboo bridge leading your way towards the center of Nuoc Mooc Ecotrail. Ornated by the creepers and thick vegetation, this pristine setting complements your walk over the winding walkway overlooking the high limestone pillars and small waterfall. Sunrays are playful with the silvery ripples. Climb up the suspended wooden bridge developed over the spring to enjoy the best scenery of the surrounding.

Once you reach the middle of Nuoc Mooc Ecotrail, you can’t resist yourself from getting drenched in the cool splashes of this mountain stream. Swim through the white bubbling foams of the stream, kayak as long as you want or simply make your room on the boulder to cherish the unparalleled beauty of untouched nature. Nuoc Mooc Ecotrail is a perfect retreat for visitors to enjoy a family picnic or day-out excursion in the midst of serene nature. Rope course activities for kids are available on the small lagoons.

1.11 Hang Son Doong

Last but the largest- Son Doong Cave, the ultimate wonder of Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. Cave exploration is never completed if you don’t submerge into the mystery of Hang Son Doong, the largest cave in the world. A local man, Ho Khanh discovered this mountain river cave recently in 2009. A beautiful story lies behind this discovery. Son Doong Cave is comparatively younger in this region. Researches state that its sediments are only 3 million years old. Phong Nha Ke Bang Cave system preserves the oldest karst sediments of nearly 450 million years old. Continuous limestone erosion by Rao Thuong River creating the huge tunnel below the Annamite Mountain leads to the formation of Son Doong Cave. The massive opening of this cave to the outer world formed due to giant dolines. The ambiance is surreal enough to make you feel curious about each element inside the cave.

The second attempt of exploration by the researchers in 2010 unveiled the entire passage of the cave which is over 5km long with the ceiling of up to 200m. The maximum width of the cave is 150m. A completely new world makes its appearance as you step into Son Doong Cave. An ecosystem of its own with flowing river, beach, dense forest and a superb concentration of iconic stalactites hanging down from the ceiling like UFOs and stalagmites rising high from the ground, this cave creates another world record as some of its stalagmites are up to 80m long. Misty clouds billow out with its own climatic changes and the walls dominated by ancient fossils narrate the story of centuries’ old history of this cave world. No sunlight after the mouth of the cave and yet vegetation grows deep inside the cave.

world largest cave son doong cave vietnam

Discovery of Son Doong Cave

Ho Khanh is a local Vietnamese who used to spend time in the jungles of Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park for his livelihood. In 1990, while on hunting, he stopped in front of a massive opening of a limestone cliff. His curious mind led him into the cave. The cloudy atmosphere inside and the sound of the flowing stream of somewhere inside intrigued his inner mind and left him mesmerized. He explored quite a distance inside the cave. As he returned to his village after a few days, he could not trace the way he traversed to reach the cave. Years passed and his discovery got faded in time.

In the meantime, Howard and Deb Limbert from British Cave Research Association were on research mission at Phong Nha Ke Bang. Ho Khanh told them about his journey to an unknown cave world casually while chatting with them and this intrigued the researchers to discover the cave again. They urged Ho Khanh to rediscover the cave. After many attempts, in 2008, Ho Khanh rediscovered it and noted the traversing way. The next year, a professional team of researchers headed by Ho Khanh explored the cave. They could not complete it because of a massive rock amidst the cave. During their second attempt, they completely explored the mystic world, which is today known as the Hang Son Doong, or Mountain River Cave and the world’s largest cave.

Ho Khanh Discoverer of Son Doong Cave

Ho Khanh and his wife Nghia

Facts to know before Son Doong Cave Tour

Son Doong is not a day-trip destination and is allowed for only fit and healthy people. Son Doong Cave exploration needs a lot of rough expeditions, away from the basic comforts of life. So if you are ready with all these, start planning for Son Doong Cave tour at least a year before. This cave tour comprises of only 10 tourists at a time. This helps in maintaining the cave ecosystem while ensuring the safety of the explorers. It is a 6 Days 5 Nights tour including two nights in local hotels. The main expedition takes 4 Days and 3 Nights.

The expedition starts from Ban Doong tribal village which houses a population of only 40 people. Reclaimed by dense forestation, the village prohibits the community from agricultural development. Life was quite tough for the ethnics there. Owing to the popularity of Son Doong Cave tour, this ethnic community is developing new opportunities for income. They take care to ensure the conservation of nature. Meeting the locals of Ban Doong Village is one of the highlights of this tour. It allows you to experience the lifestyle of an ethnic community that has remained untouched for centuries.

Trekking through the Hang Son Doong is of course not an easy expedition. It requires 6 months of prior training with hiking, rock climbing, and extensive walking with all your gears on. Oxalis team of 25 safety advisors, guides and porters will accompany you throughout the expedition. Ropes are the main gear of your trip. However, all the essential gears and safety tools are provided by the trip organizer. Considering all the essentials of this trip, starting from the level of adventure, safety measures, equipment and manpower, food and lodging, the trip budget is reasonable and is set at $3000/pax all inclusive.

Activities at Son Doong Cave

Trekking is the basic of Son Doong Cave tour. Jungle trek through Ban Doong village and dense forest end once you reach the enormous mouth of the cave. Struggle yourself through ropes and hooks to get into the world for which you were taking preparation for a year. Make your way to the deepest segment of the cave, swim through multiple river crossings, some of which are quite hectic and reach the Great Wall of Vietnam, the massive boundary that restricted the researchers to reach the other end during their first attempt. Climb up and down the boulder, set your camp by the oasis on a beach inside the cave and gaze at the wonderful formations of stalactites hanging down from the ceiling overhead.

The eerie passage dominated by high stalagmites and ancient fossils tells you the million years’ story. Admire the forest with dense vegetation that outsmarts the scientific theory of photosynthesis and grows without sunlight. Discover the cave pearls formed due to dipping water from the ceiling. Some of these cave pearls are in the size of baseballs. The misty clouds engulf the entire atmosphere to make the ambiance more magical and celestial.  The incredible wonders continue till you reach the other end of the cave. Cherish the sunlight for the first time as if you have experienced sunrays after ages. Very few have explored this other-worldly space. It has recently been opened for tourists in 2013 and you will be one of them.

2. Oxalis- Phong Nha Ke Bang Tour Operator

Oxalis is the only certified Phong Nha Ke Bang cave tour operator.  This adventure and cave tour agency holds an International Tour Operator’s Certificate issued by the National Tourism Bureau of Vietnam. The team and tour operations have been designed and developed carefully with the guidance and assistance of British Caving Research Association to ensure sustainable tourism development along with maintaining the forest biodiversity and cave ecological setup. Oxalis team is highly professional and experienced with members from different disciplines like of cave research, safety, tourism, and environment.

Oxalis takes care of all the cave and adventure tours in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. It also provides accommodation facilities. During all the tours, Oxalis team of professionals includes tour guides, safety advisors, porters, and cook to ensure your safety and convenience. Your safety and security is their main concern while assisting you to savor the deepest essence of adventure and cave expedition. Depending on the type and duration of the tour, you will be provided with all essential expedition gears by Oxalis.

3. How to reach Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park

Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park lies in Central Vietnam and is easily accessible from all parts of the country. Besides this UNESCO Heritage Site, Central Vietnam also bestows many other UNESCO Heritage Site

3.1 Hanoi to Phong Nha Ke Bang

You can easily plan your Phong Nha Ke Bang trip from the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi. There are a number of transport facilities in this route.

Bus from Hanoi to Phong Nha Ke Bang

There are a number of buses plying on this route but Camel Travel Bus is the most convenient and reliable one.  Every evening at 7.30 PM, the bus starts from 459 Tran Khat Chan St., Hanoi. It reaches Phong Nha by 5 AM next morning. The bus stops in front of Phong Nha Backpackers Hostel. The price of the bus ticket is 280,000 VND. You can easily book in person or by telephone. For the return trip on the same route, the bus starts at 9 PM from Phong Nha. It reaches Hanoi at 6 AM the next morning. You can buy the ticket for the return trip from Phong Nha Backpackers Hostel.

The air-conditioned bus is quite comfortable for an overnight journey with wi-fi facility. There is also a small toilet at the end of the bus with basic toilet facilities. There is a stop in Ninh Binh also in between the journey from Hanoi to Phong Nha.

Train from Hanoi to Phong Nha Ke Bang

A train journey is always enjoyable and comfortable. So you can easily opt for rail service while going from Hanoi to Phong Nha and vice versa. There are two trains on this route. However, the last destination Dong Hoi is a few kilometers away from Phong Nha. Trains leave Hanoi at 7.30 PM and 8.10 PM and arrive in Dong Hoi at 5.20 AM and 6 AM respectively. You can book your rail ticket as well as inquire about the train timings at Vietnam Railway Official Website.

If you have the same day Phong Nha tour on the day of arrival, an overnight bus trip is better. Trains often run beyond their schedule. So if you want to experience rail tour in Vietnam, plan your cave tour from the following day of arrival. You need to arrange for a private transfer from Dong Hoi to Phong Nha for an additional cost.

Flights from Hanoi to Phong Nha Ke Bang

The most convenient and fastest way of transfer from Hanoi to Phong Nha is undoubtedly a flight service. It which takes only 1 hour and 25 mins to reach Dong Hoi International Airpot from Hanoi. Dong Hoi is the nearest airport of Phong Nha cave region. You need to take a private transfer to reach Phong Nha from the airport. There are regular flights from Hanoi to Dong Hoi and vice versa.

The flight schedule from Hanoi to Dong Hoi is:

  • 8:05 AM – 9:30 AM: VN8591: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday
  • 7 AM – 8 AM: VN1593: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday
  • 11:10 AM – 12:05 PM: VJ429: Daily Departures

The flight schedule from Dong Hoi to Hanoi are:

  • 10 AM – 11:20 AM: VN8590: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday
  • 8:50 AM – 9:50 AM: VN1592: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday
  • 1:10 PM – 2:05 PM: VJ428: Daily Departures

3.2 Halong to Phong Nha Ke Bang

Hoang Long Bus Company is the only operator that offers a transport service directly from Halong to Dong Hoi from where cars and vans are available to reach Phong Nha. There is only one bus plying in this route. It leaves Halong at 7 PM from 02 Nguyen Van Cu, Ha Long and arrives at 287 Ly Thuong Kiet, Dong Hoi at 09:18 AM. The bus route makes its way through Hanoi.

3.3 Ninh Binh to Phong Nha Ke Bang

Bus from Ninh Binh to Phong Nha Ke Bang

Ninh Binh lies almost midway of Hanoi and Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. Hung Thanh Bus offers its transportation service in this route from Ninh Binh to Phong Nha on daily basis. The bus leaves Ninh Binh from Kinh Do Hotel, 18 Phan Dinh Phung, or The Long Hotel, Tam Coc-Bich Dong. It arrives Phong Nha around 5 AM. The last stop is in front of Gecko Hostel. For a return trip, you can board the bus from Phong Nha at 9PM and reach Ninh Binh at 4AM.

Train from Hanoi to Phong Nha Ke Bang

The train journey is always enjoyable and comfortable. So you can easily opt for rail service while going from Ninh Binh to Phong Nha and vice versa. There are two trains on this route. However, the last destination Dong Hoi is a few kilometers away from Phong Nha. Trains leave Ninh Binh at 9.47 PM and 10.25 PM and arrive in Dong Hoi at 5.20 AM and 6 AM respectively. You can easily book your rail ticket as well as inquire about the train timings at Vietnam Railway Official Website.

If you have the same day Phong Nha tour on the day of arrival, an overnight bus trip is better . Trains often run beyond their schedule. So if you want to experience rail tour in Vietnam, plan your cave tour from the following day of arrival. You need to arrange for a private transfer from Dong Hoi to Phong Nha for an additional cost.

3.4 Hue to Phong Nha Ke Bang

Hue is very close to Phong Nha Ke Bang and requires a few hours’ drive. You can easily opt for a private transfer you are not comfortable with public transport.

Bus from Hue to Phong Nha Ke Bang

There are a number of transport operators offering bus transport services in this route from Hue to Phong Nha Ke Bang. Tan Nhat, Hung Thanh Bus, and DMZ Bus are the three most recommended ones as they also offer sightseeing tours along with regular transfer. Tan Nhat Bus will depart Hue at 7 AM and reach Phong Nha at 11 AM. Hung Thanh Bus leaves Hue around 5 PM and reaches Phong Nha around 9.30 PM. DMZ Bus leaves Hue at 2 PM and arrives at Phong Nha at 6 PM. The ticket price is 150,000 VND for Hung Thanh Bus and DMZ Bus and 250,000 VND for Tan Nhat Bus.

For the return trip, you can avail the same buses as per the following schedule:

Hung Thanh Bus leaves Phong Nha around 5 PM and reaches Hue around 9.30 PM. Tan Nhat Bus departs Phong Nha at 4 PM and reaches Hue at 8 PM. DMZ Bus leaves Phong Nha at 6 AM and arrives at Hue at 10 AM.

 Train from Hue to Phong Nha Ke Bang

The train journey takes only 3 hours from Hue to Dong Hoi but the timing is quite inconvenient. The train reaches Dong Hoi at either 1 AM or 4.30 AM making it really difficult for you to either arrange a private transfer to Phong Nha or check-in to a nearby hotel at midnight or early dawn. However, you can book your rail ticket or check the train timings at Vietnam Railway Official Website.

3.5 Danang/ Hoi An to Phong Nha Ke Bang

Danang is the most highlighted city in Central Vietnam. It takes around 7 hours by bus or train to reach Phong Nha. Hoi An is away from Danang by a 45-minutes drive. Phong Nha Ke Bang tour is the most preferred day trip from Danang among adventure seekers.

Bus from Hoi An to Phong Nha Ke Bang

Hung Thanh Bus leaves for Phong Nha from Hoi An at 1 PM daily and arrives at its destination at 9 PM via Hue. It takes a stop in Hue and leaves the imperial city of Vietnam at 4.30 PM. In its return trip, it leaves Phong Nha at 4 AM or 7 AM. It again takes an hour break in Hue and finally reaches Hoi An at 1 PM or 5 PM.

Camel Travel Bus is another option for faster transfer in between Hoi An and Phong Nha with a break in Hue.

Train from Hoi An to Phong Nha Ke Bang

There is no railway station in Hoi An. So you need to travel to Danang to board the train for Dong Hoi. For complete details of train schedule and ticketing service, visit Vietnam Railway Official Website.

3.6 Ho Chi Minh City to Phong Nha Ke Bang

Fly from the commercial capital of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City to reach the cave capital of Vietnam, Phong Nha via Dong Hoi International Airport. The airport is located at a distance of 45-minutes drive from Phong Nha. Vietjet, Jetstar, and Vietnam Airlines provide flight service on this route from Saigon to Dong Hoi and vice versa.

3.7 International Flights

Dong Hoi International Airport in Quang Binh Province is located very close to Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. It is also the nearest airport of this UNESCO site. This international airport is well connected with Hanoi, Danang and Ho Chi Minh City. Flights are also connected to and from Chiang Mai International Airport in Thailand to ensure easy accessibility for international travelers.

4. Phong Nha Ke Bang Accommodations: Where to Stay

Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park is a paradise for adventure seekers and cave explorers. The entire region lies under the blanket of a mystical charm. Tourists come here to spend a day, a week and sometimes months. Gradually the unknown world of the cave system is unveiling its wonders. So the footfall in this UNESCO World Heritage Site is also escalating. There are a number of hotels and hostels in this region with all modern facilities and amenities. But the accommodations preserve a very close connection to nature to offer the undeniable romance of wild environment.

4.1 For casual travelers

Oxalis Home

Oxalis Home is cuddling on the bank of the Son River. It overlooks the heavenly beauty of the limestone mountains and sprawling paddy fields along the foothills. Oxalis Home is the perfect haven for casual travelers who look for luxury amidst nature and picturesque views. The room rates vary in between 1,200,000 VND to 1,500,000 VND and bookings can be easily made from Oxalis Home official website.

Phong Nha Farmstay

The design and development of Phong Nha Farmstay is an inspiration from the design of French colonial farm villas. The main focus is to meet the high-end accommodation needs of the travelers. However, Farmstay welcomes all kinds of guests with their warm hospitality. It is set in the countryside, bordered by mountain-fringed paddy fields. Farm Stay provides all upscale facilities like air-conditioned rooms, wi-fi, swimming pools with lounge area, outdoor movie hall. The room rates vary in between 910,000 VND to 1,950,000 VND and bookings can be easily made from Phong Nha Farmstay official website.

Chay Lap Farmstay

Chay Lap Farmstay is an idyllic retreat right in the heart of farming and grazing fields. It is nestling at the doorstep of Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. It is an ultimate romance of bucolic hospitality extended by the ethnic minorities. Chay Lap Farmstay offers accommodations in low-level houses with luxury rooms, deluxe cottage, and farm rooms. The accommodations provide all the upscale facilities and lifestyle amenities. Reservations can be made from Chay Lap Farmstay official website.

4.2 For adventure seekers

Ho Khanh’s Homestay

Meet the discoverer of the world’s largest cave and learn about his expedition and experience at Son Doong Cave. You can stay at his property, Ho Khanh’s Homestay and meet the legend. It is located on the Son River with the provision to enjoy a river bath. This homestay offers basic rooms with either garden view or river view. While staying here, don’t miss the aromatic coffee prepared by Khanh’s wife Nghia with some extra layer of chocolate. The garden view room rate is 1,000,000 VND and river view rate is 1,100,000 VND and bookings can be done at Ho Khanh’s Homestay official website.

Phong Nha River House

As the name suggests, Phong Nha River House stands right across the bank of the Son River. It is towards the southwest end of Phong Nha National Park. The owner of this homestay is Bom who is the chef of Son Doong Cave tour. The heartfelt hospitality and friendliness of Bom and his wife Huyen outsmart all language barriers and communication difficulties. This retreat offers wooden rooms with modern facilities. The river view room rate is 1,000,000 VND and the courtyard facing room rate is 900,000 VND. Bookings can be done at Phong Nha River House official website.

Phong Nha Mountain House

Phong Nha Mountain House is a new property at the foothills of limestone range. Ho An and his sister Ai run this homestay business. Wooden stilt houses with scenic beauties all around are perfect to enjoy your stay amidst nature. Delve into the rustic splendor and generous hospitality of the villagers while being at this homestay. The pocket-friendly room rates range from 800,000 VND to 1,000,000 VND. For bookings and inquiries, check the official website of Phong Nha Mountain House.

4.3 For backpackers

Easy Tiger Hostel

Easy Tiger Hostel is an ideal address for backpackers, looking for a biking or a day tour in Phong Nha. It is located in the center of the town for convenience and comfort. The hostel offers all lifestyle means and entertainment starting from the wi-fi enabled dormitories to pool, bar, music, and restaurant. The per night dormitory rate is 160,000 VND and reservations can be made at Easy Tiger Hostel official website.

Andy’s Backpacker Hostel

Andy’s Backpacker Hostel is centrally situated in the heart of the town, 34km away from Dong Hoi Airport. It features air-conditioned rooms with private bathrooms and all other basic amenities. Some of the rooms also offer a balcony. Bar facility is also available there and room rates start from 130,000 VND.

5. Phong Nha Ke Bang: Where to Eat

5.1 Restaurants in Phong Nha Ke Bang

D-Arts Zone

Eye-pleasing architecture and paintings wash the interior of D-Arts Zone while satiating your taste-buds. A wide range of salads and northern Vietnamese sausages are the specialties of this restaurant. However, barbecue duck is a must try dish here.

Wild Boar Eco-Farm

Satisfy your appetite while treating your eyesight with the tranquil beauty of the countryside at Wild Boar Eco-Farm. Easily accessible by boat or bike, this restaurant offers delicious roasted chicken and pork.

Moi Moi

Moi Moi is a perfect destination for a lazy day on a hammock or swimming in the pool. It provides these leisurely activities while filling your stomach with its special barbecued pork in bamboo. You can also try the barbecued chicken.

Mountain Goat Restaurant

Mountain Goat Restaurant is the ultimate stop for savoring the authentic preparations of a goat. It stands by the old church along the river with a picturesque view to admire while filling your appetite.  Grilled goat with lemongrass or spicy grilled chicken is the perfect choice to try with chilled beer.

Omar’s Namaste

Relish the flavors of Indo-Afghani cuisine in the mid of Phong Nha at Omar’s Namaste. Enjoy Afghani styled chicken prepared in Afghani style tandoor ovens. You can also gorge into a great selection of vegetarian cuisines.

5.2 Cafes in Phong Nha Ke Bang

Bamboo Café

Coffee, smoothies, tea or fresh fruit drinks, whatever you look for in your favorite beverages, Bamboo Café has it all. Besides its wide range of mocktails, it also offers a superb variety of vegetarian dishes.

Capture Vietnam

Enjoy the espresso coffee with light snacks or bakery at Capture Vietnam. This café is probably the most sophisticated eat out joint. It offers a wide range of intercontinental snacks, Vietnamese special beef jerky, and drinks.

5.3 Pubs in Phong Nha Ke Bang

Pub with Cold Beer

Chilled beer with roasted or grilled chicken in peanut sauce- what else do you need after a tiring cave tour? Pub with Cold Beer is a family-run business. You can enjoy delicious farm fresh food at this pub with ice cold beer.

6. Travel Tips to Phong Nha Ke Bang Expedition

Discovering an underground unknown world is never easy. So it is always good to follow some travel tips and certain safety guidelines to avoid unwanted accidents.

6.1 Safety Measures at Phong Nha Ke Bang

  • A guided tour is always safe and better
  • Follow the instructions of the well experienced and highly trained guides for your safety and security
  • Rough terrain, so be cautious at every step
  • Avoid eating anything that you are not sure of
  • Don’t be too desperate to test your adventurous spirit
  • Never sketch your own way in the forest without the guidance of the guide
  • Be aware of leeches, snakes and poisonous ivy trees
  • Drink enough water or other fluids to avoid dehydration due to excessive physical exhaustion

6.2 Guidelines to follow at Phong Nha Ke Bang

Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park is a UNESCO-protected Natural Heritage Site. It is a home to millions of years old species, rocks, and fossils. The ethnic people of this forest are the most unchanged community holding back the centuries-old traditions and lifestyle habits. While being on Phong Nha Ke Bang tour, follow the following guidelines. These basic rules help to maintain the ecological set up of this primeval natural set up.

  • Smoking prohibited inside the caves
  • Littering prohibited inside the caves
  • Don’t touch the ancient fossils
  • Not to destroy any of the natural resources and formations by any means
  • Don’t harm any wildlife animals or trees while on jungle trekking
  • Be a responsible traveler by extending your friendliness and assistance to ethnic villagers

6.3 Essentials to carry during Phong Nha Ke Bang tour

When you are in Phong Nha Ke Bang tour, you are miles away from the luxury of urban civilization. So prepare yourself carefully and stock up your backpack fully to experience the primeval lifestyle amidst bare nature. Oxalis will provide you with all the gears for cave expeditions. But you need to carry some essentials with you throughout the tour.

  • Comfortable trekking shoes or jungle boots
  • Long-sleeved shirts/t-shirts and long pants
  • Water-proof bag
  • If you use spectacles, get the most comfortable one that is compatible with humidity and fog
  • Stock up with all necessary medicines, painkillers, insect repellant and foot cream
  • Carry your own water bottle

7. About Luxury Travel Ltd.

luxury travel

Luxury Travel Vietnam is the first luxury tour operator in Vietnam and provides tailor-made luxury travel services to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand. For Phong Nha Ke Bang tour, Luxury Travel Vietnam works closely with Oxalis to offer customized cave tours. The company offers tailor-made itineraries as per the preference of the discerning travelers while ensuring utmost safety and security. If you are looking for one or many cave tours in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, get in touch with us here.

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