Looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure that combines natural beauty and cultural immersion?
Look no further than Phong Nha - Ke Bang in Vietnam. Nestled in the central part of the country, Phong Nha is a hidden gem that boasts stunning landscapes of limestone karsts, underground rivers, and sprawling caves, including the world's largest cave system - Son Doong Cave!
Whether you're a thrill-seeker looking to explore uncharted territory or simply seeking some peace and tranquility, this ultimate guide to visiting Phong Nha will help you make the most of your journey. Find the top things to do, where to stay, best time to visit, and many of our top tips you won't want to miss!
Overview of Phong Nha
Phong Nha - Ke Bang is a national park in Vietnam's Quang Binh Province. It is a land of magnificent caves and an adventurer's dream. Phong Nha is definitely a must-see on any Vietnam itinerary.
There are many activities you can do, such as exploring the caves, cycling around the valley, and strolling through Phong Nha's lush green paddies. But beyond its awe-inspiring natural wonders, Phong Nha also offers visitors a glimpse into rural Vietnamese life and history through its quaint villages and traditional cuisine.
How to Get to Phong Nha
Dong Hoi Airport is the closest airport to Phong Nha's main town. It's a 50-minute drive, and there are numerous taxis waiting outside the airport with varying prices.You can expect to pay around 25 USD.
Tip: You can arrange a pick-up with Oxalis if you book your cave tour with them. This is ideal if you have a large group because they will pick you up in a van.
If you’re coming from Ninh Binh, you can take the train from Ninh Binh Rail Station to Dong Hoi Rail Station. The ride takes about 8 hours and the ticket costs around 18 USD for a sleeper bed.
Tip: There are many trains departing from Ninh Binh. However, you should try to take the overnight train to save money on lodging.
From Dong Hoi Rail Station, you can take the B4 bus across to Ben Xe Nam Ly bus station. It is around 15 minutes' walk from the rail station, or you can take a short 5 minute taxi for less than 2 USD.
Take the bus to Phong Nha from the bus station, which takes about 1.5 hours and costs 2 USD. For added convenience, you can take a taxi which will take about an hour, and you'll pay at least 18 USD.
There are daily buses heading to Phong Nha - Ke Bang National Park. Depending on where you’re leaving from, taking a bus can be the cheapest option to reach the main town in Phong Nha.
If you’re coming from Ninh Binh, the drive takes approximately 7 to 7.5 hours depending on traffic. A bus ticket should cost around 13 USD. The bus will also drop you off on Phong Nha's main street, where the majority of the accommodations are located.
Tip: Book a room the night before your arrival as the night bus arrives in town early in the morning around 3 to 5am.
Some accommodations may allow you to check in before the usual check-in time, while others do not. Having a guaranteed room upon arrival will allow you to get a few extra hours of sleep so you can enjoy a full day of exploring.
Where to Stay in Phong Nha
The majority of the accommodations are located on Phong Nha's main street. If you want to be close to most of the restaurants and eateries, you should stay near the cave ticket office. If you want somewhere more local and quiet, choose a place to stay near the river around this area.
Find all accommodations in Phong Nha here.
Things to Do in Phong Nha
Many experiences await you in this adventurer's paradise in Vietnam. If you simply want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the larger cities, then you can also just relax in this small town.
1. Go Cave Hopping
The caves are the main reason to visit Phong Nha. So, go on as many Phong Nha cave tours as you can do and afford! Some of the smaller caves are easily accessible without taking a tour. If you have limited time, we recommend getting on a tour so you can combine the caves to visit.
Here are the most popular cave tours you can book in Phong Nha:
For your reference, we’ve listed down the most popular caves to visit in Phong Nha.
Phong Nha Cave and Tien Son Cave are open to visitors daily from 7:30am to 4pm. A ticket to Phong Nha cave costs 7 USD, while it costs 4 USD to visit Tien Son. Besides the entrance fee, you will also need to hire a boat to access these caves, which can be shared between up to 12 passengers. You can combine a boat fee for Phong Nha and Tien Son cave for 18 USD.
Paradise Cave and Dark Cave are located farther from the main town, and you will need to rent a motorbike or arrange a car to reach them. They are also open daily from 7:30am to 4:00pm. A ticket to Paradise Cave costs 12 USD, while a ticket to Dark Cave costs 20 USD. There is also a waterpark included in the Dark Cave ticket, which you can enjoy after exploring the cave.
The bigger cave systems in Phong Nha are Son Doong Cave, which is the biggest cave in the world, and the Tu Lan Cave System. Because of its complexity and size, you can explore each cave on multiple days. However, you will need to book a tour, and the only company that operates in these caves is Oxalis Adventure.
We recommend booking your Oxalis tour in advance because they sell out quickly. The Tu Lan Cave System can be explored on a full-day to 4-night tour, with prices starting at 70 USD. While, the Son Doong Cave tour costs 3000 USD for four nights.
For more information, check out Oxalis tours and updated prices on their website.
2. Visit the Duck Stop
If you’re not exploring caves, this charming little farm should be on your list. It is a local family farm that offers great hospitality and farm-to-table food. As the name suggests, you also get an opportunity to tend to hundreds of ducks on the farm! The Duck Stop costs 7 USD per person.
3. Cycle Around Bong Lai Valley
Discover the valley as you go around the farms and small villages and get a glimpse of how the locals live. This is a great activity if you want to take a break from exploring caves.
4. Visit Bomb Crater Bar
Relax and unwind at the Bomb Crater Bar. The bar is best visited near sunset because it is located next to a river and has an amazing view. They also serve delicious food and cold beer.
5. Have Coffee at Tree House Cafe
In the morning, stop by Tree House Cafe for a cup of fresh coffee to kick off your day of exploring. They have a lovely patio where you can sit. Breakfast is limited, but they also offer a variety of pizzas for dinner. On our visit, we didn't get to try their pizzas, but we did try their egg and bread for breakfast, which was filling but nothing out of the ordinary. However, the coffee was great, and the prices were reasonable.
6. Dine at Len Con Peak
Len Con Peak has an unbeatable atmosphere due to its location between a mountain and a rice field. Not only are the breathtaking views worth visiting this restaurant for, but so is the excellent food, which is also reasonably priced. We recommend ordering their steamed river fish and grilled chicken.
7. Explore the Botanical Garden
We didn't get to visit the Phong Nha Botanical Garden, but we've heard great things about it. It is also one of the most popular activities in the area. So, if you have time, go to the Botanical Garden and admire the lush tropical forest landscape, Gio waterfall, and Vang Anh Lake. The Botanical Garden is more of a moderate hike than a garden itself. So, wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk on some slippery and rocky paths.
The Phong Nha Botanical Garden is open from 7am to 5:30pm. The entrance fee for adults is around 2 USD and 1 USD for children.
When to Visit Phong Nha
The best time to visit Phong Nha is during the dry season from January to August. Avoid visiting during the rainy season in the months of September to December. Most tours don’t operate during these months because the caves get flooded. So before you go, make sure to check the weather, as some light rain may also cause cave closures.
How to Get Around Phong Nha
You can walk through Phong Nha's main town and discover the rows of restaurants and eateries. Most accommodations have bicycles for rent that you can use to discover the beauty of the countryside. It is ideal for short distances and if you are not comfortable driving a motorcycle.
Otherwise, renting a motorbike is the best way to explore the surrounding area of Phong Nha. The majority of the roads are paved, making them an excellent way to reach further caves.
Top Tips for Visiting Phong Nha
- Before traveling to Phong Nha, check the weather forecast. Avoid going during the rainy season as the caves will be inaccessible.
- Remember to bring sunscreen and mosquito repellent!
- If you want to visit Phong Nha Cave, arrive early to avoid the crowds.
- If you're taking the bus and arriving early in the morning, reserve your room the night before.
- There are a few ATM machines in the town. Two are located on the road opposite the cave ticket office.
- Plan your cave expeditions ahead of time, especially if you want to explore the larger cave systems like Son Doong and Tu Lan. Only Oxalis has the right to explore these caves, and they fill up quickly.
Now you are ready to explore the adventure paradise of Vietnam.
We hope that this guide will assist you in making the most of your visit to Phong Nha. If you haven't been thinking about visiting, let this be your motivation. It's a lovely place with plenty of natural beauty to make the trip worthwhile. It's also a great place to unwind and take in the scenery.
Let us know if you have any questions in the comments section below!
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