Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is the place to be for anyone interested in caving in Vietnam. Home to over 300 caves including the largest in the world; this phenomenal jungle experience will not disappoint!
About the Area
Phong Nha National Park is located in the north-central coastal region of Vietnam. Picture over 2,000 square kilometers of mountains, limestone forests, lakes, rivers and caves with the famous karst formations. These unique formations are what this park was put into place to protect and what makes caving in Vietnam so special. Three hundred caves have been discovered throughout the area including the largest in the world, Son Doong Cave. The park itself is breathtaking! The valley is made up of farmland and pastures for cows and ox. The mountains are covered with luscious rain forests and turquoise rivers.
Many of the locals in the valley struggle financially due to the yearly flood. It`s so extreme that the water will rise about 10 meters above ground level for up to a week at a time. Because of this; most families have a separate floating home (a one room structure on top of water barrels) to live in during the flood. When the water is gone they are left with mud and debris from floor to ceiling in their main family home.
How to Get Here
The mountain village of Phong Nha is only accessible by bus or private car. A private car will cost 660,000 VND ($29.00 USD) from Dong Hoi. The mountain roads are rough and winding so Gravol is recommended. A sleeper bus is the cheapest method but be warned that it will not be the most pleasant experience. You can expect 10 hours of narrow, winding roads on a jam-packed double layer bus. There is usually a toilet but whether you want to use it or not is a different story. The sewage on our bus was sloshing all over the floor of the restroom and from what we`ve heard.. that`s not uncommon.
The Hang Thung Bus Company to Phong Nha
Departure cities: Hanoi, Ninh Binh, Hue
The DMZ Bus to Phong Nha
Departure city: Hue
The Tan Nhat Travel Company
This company offers single and multi-day tours to Phong Nha from Hue, Vietnam. If you would like to avoid the hassle of planning transportation and accommodation this is a good option. Find more information here: Tan Nhat Travel.
By Plane or Train:
The closest international airport and train station are in Dong Hoi. From here you can book a private transfer in a 4 passenger car for approximately 660,000 VND ($29.00 USD) each way. For a cheaper option; hop on the local bus which takes around 90 minutes. You can board the bus at Man Ly bus station or any bus stop on Trang Hung Dao street with a blue and white sign. This bus departs Dong Hoi at 5:30 am, 5:45 am, 7:10 am, and once an hour on the hour from 8 am to 5 pm.
Caving in Vietnam: What to Expect
The trails that make up Phong Nha National Park are somewhat maintained, but since the forest grows so fast it is always overgrown to some degree. Some of the trails have bridges and ladders to help you scale mountain ledges or climb up cave walls. You will literally be wading through rivers, swimming through caves, and sliding through mud holes; so quick dry clothing is a must.
Our food on the trek was outstanding! The chefs, guides and porters work very hard to make sure you are well fed and accommodate any dietary restrictions. Some meals were traditional Vietnamese dishes and some were closer to American cuisine. We stopped for at least two snack breaks per day in addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner. Filtered water is provided for drinking.
The camps are semi-permanent and consist of an eating/common area, a sleeping area and an outhouse. The tents are all covered by a large, heavy tarp and for added protection; a drainage trench has been dug. You will likely eat breakfast, dinner and enjoy a game or two in the common picnic table area. The outhouse is a bucket with a toilet seat on it filled with corn husk mulch to contain/absorb the smell.
Where to Book Your Adventure
There are many companies in the area that offer caving adventures. We booked our 3 day/ 2 night Tu Lan Caving excursion with Oxalis Adventure Tours and it was incredible! They’re one of the larger outfits in town and have been around for a very long time. Some of the guides that work for Oxalis are even responsible for discovering new caves within the park. The English speaking guides and the porters are all extremely knowledgeable and friendly.
What to Pack
While caving in Vietnam it is super important to dress for the weather. The climate in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is damp and cool for most of the year; so bring quick dry clothing that is comfortable and durable. A long sleeved shirt, hiking pants and socks that are lightweight and quick dry are the best options. These are necessary to protect yourself from insects, poisonous plants and sharp rocks when swimming. Other items to pack include waterproof sunscreen, bug spray, a lightweight wool sweater and warm socks for the chilly evenings.
If you are doing a multi-day tour, the company will provide you with a dry bag, a caving helmet, a life jacket, a water bottle and a waterproof head lamp. The porters will carry your overnight belongings each day. TIP: The “dry bags” aren’t completely waterproof so don`t pack them full of expensive electronics. Leave the camera and cell phone at the Oxalis office and bring a GoPro instead.