I have to start this post out by giving a HUGE thank you to my friend, Kylie, for suggesting we hit up Phong Nha on our month-long journey through Vietnam. In her words, “It would be sacrilege not to go.” So with a few days to spare, we rearranged our plans and took her word on it. Now Phong Nha is at the very top of my favourite destinations around the world. I also want to thank her for answering my incessant questions about the area, as well. Phong Nha is still relatively new to the SE Asia travel circuit, and therefore there’s as much info on it as other destinations!
An Australian guy named Ben really put this place on the map in 2010 after opening up his Farmstay, encouraging travelers to stop by and explore. Now what’s so special about Phong Nha? Aside from the fact that it’s home to some of the world’s largest caves, it has the most stunning, uninterrupted scenery, more cows than cars and the friendliest locals. I’m not sure about you, but it’s been a long time since I’ve visited a town and the locals came running out to their yards to wave hello. Phong Nha is still a semi-underground destination, but with more publicity around tours opening to explore the world’s largest cave, Hang Son Doong, this place is going to boom.
It’s not a late night party spot by any means, so if that’s what you’re looking for, I suggest not taking the time to come out. You want to be up and at ‘em every morning ready to explore, and most bars and restaurants are closed by 10 pm. From biking around the villages to ziplining through caves, Phong Nha has everything you could want for a natural born explorer!
How Long Should You Stay: 3-4 days should be sufficient. We did everything we wanted to do in three days, but of course, you can always find more to do here!
How Much Should You Budget: You should budget between $200-400 AUD for four to five days, depending on what you do, where you stay and how much you eat! We stayed in a nicer accommodation, which was around $40 AUD a night. Also, the caves and activities aren’t cheap, so it’ll definitely put a damper on your wallet, but it’s SO worth it.
How To Get There: You can either get there by bus or by train, stopping at Dong Hoi. From Dong Hoi, you can get a taxi for $25-30 to where you are staying in Phong Nha. Or, there is a public bus that can take you into Phong Nha, but that service stops at 5 pm.
Where We Stayed:
Phong Nha Farmstay: This place is everything and more. Located about 10 kms outside the main village, you get some amazing views and sunsets, great chats with like-minded travelers and top notch service. You’ll also get free bicycles and breakfast, and each night they have something on – movies, live music, etc. A standard double room was $40 AUD per night. Read the full review here.
What To Do:
Wild Boar Eco Lodge & The Pub With The Cold Beer: Take a bike ride through the community and hop aboard a tin boat to the Wild Boar Eco Lodge. You’ll ride down the river through the Bong Lai Valley. You’ll be sitting in a hammock at the end of civilization, eating a true farm to table meal and helping a young man and his family start their homestay business. After a tasty meal, you’ll stop at the “Pub With Cold Beer” for some true-as-advertised cold beer. The boat ride, lunch and beer cost $45 total.
Phong Nha Cave & Tien Son Cave: From the Farmstay, you can bike to the Phong Nha boat station in town, and hop on a boat for a 5 km ride down the river to the Phong Nha & Tien Son Caves. Boats cost 350,000 VND flat, so the more people you get together the cheaper it will be. Once you arrive, you climb up steep stairs for about 20 minutes and reach the Tien Son Cave, which is a dry cave. Then you come back down, head inside the Phong Nha Cave and jump on a row boat that will row you through the Phong Nha Cave, which is 8.6 kms long. You’ll see the first kilometer, then hop off the boat and walk back through the cave. Phong Nha Cave is $10 AUD entrance fee and Tien Son Cave is $5 entrance fee.
Motorbike Around the National Park: If you want to be adventurous, you can rent a motorbike from Than’s Motorbikev Rentals, right next to Easy Tiger Hostel. The National Park loop is 65 km long. You can stop at the Dark Cave, Paradise Cave, Eight Ladies Cave, Botanical Gardens and many natural lagoons. Motorbike rental for the day is $10 AUD, with $4 AUD for gas. Than’s is the best because they have free breakdown service, which was needed for one of our bikes!
Also a little tip, if you head down the highway past the intersection that leads to the Eight ladies Cave, over the bridge, you’ll get some of the best views in the area. Head towards Khe San on the highway for about 15 kms, and then turn around. It’s a really great view that not many people see!
Dark Cave: This was my favorite part of the trip. For $20 AUD, you get to zipline 400 meters down into the mouth of the cave. It’s the longest zipline in Vietnam by the way! Then you swim into the cave, into the darkness for about 10 minutes. You climb up onto the beachi nthe cave, and head down into a little dark hole, where you trek through mud in the dark for another 10 minutes. You’re about knee deep for most of it, until you reach a part that you’re waist deep, and then finally you just float in the mud. You get a mud bath in the cave, and float in the darkness. Afterwards, you get out the same way you got in, kayak outside the cave, then do a shorter zipline to cool off. It was a truly unique experience! All in all takes about 2 hours.
Paradise Cave: For $16, you climb up a steep mountain for 20-30 minutes before you reach the gorge of the cave. They have well lit stairs and walkways and you explore the cave for an hour or so. It honestly seems never ending, and is stunning the entire way through. We had a great time here. This takes about 2 hours to fully explore as well.
Throughout all of the parks and caves, there will be many areas to buy lunch, snacks, and drinks, even beer if you’re extra thirsty! So don’t worry about bringing too much.
Also, there are many tours you can go on that will give you much more information than we had. I recommend taking the Phong Nha Farmstay National Park Tour. With that said, you can easily do it yourself for a tad cheaper if you’re up for the adventure.
Where To Eat/Drink:
We mainly ate at the Farmstay for breakfast and dinner. It’s really reasonably priced and had excellent food! Meals were around $2-8 AUD.
We had a few beers at the Easy Tiger Hostel before heading back out to the Farmstay. It seemed like a great vibe and had lots of specials on as well, if you’re looking for a party scene.
Are you visiting Vietnam soon? What are you most excited about?