When we booked our 6 week South East Asia adventure we didn’t book much before we left. But we did spend hours searching through travel blogs and Lonely Planet books. And I’m glad we did, because we stumbled on a little known gem, Phong Nha-Ke Bang.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is one of the most spectacular wilderness sites in South East Asia and one of the 2 largest limestone regions in the world. It is destined to become one of Vietnam’s major tourist attractions, with its vast network of underground caves and passages can be found, along with awesome jungle scenery and fascinating rock formations. This beautiful and little explored region contains the world’s longest river cave, Hang Ke Ry and the world’s largest cave, Hang Son Doong which was only discovered in 2009.
We arrived in Phong Nha at our farmstay after a 4 hour train ride to Dong Hoi from Hoi An and then a half hour van ride. To our surprise we found a beautiful old French Colonial building with a perfectly timed sunset over the rice patties and we knew we were exactly where we were meant to be.
We set out the next morning on the National Park Discovery Tour to the Ladies Cave (Hang Tam Co) & War Martyr Memorial, the incredible Paradise Cave (Thien Duong) the longest dry cave in the world, before a BBQ lunch and the Dark Cave where you have to zip-line over the river to the cave, get to have a mud bath inside and then kayak and swim back. Which was incredible, until Tom and I realized after a few rums at lunch that we couldn’t paddle our kayak in synchronization and we started floating the wrong way down the river (Also, all the awesome footage Tom captured while kayaking my bikini bottoms were falling down *Facepalm*.
The Paradise cave was the highlight of the tour though. We decided to stay an extra night to do a full day 7km trek into the cave. We explored the spectacular cave formations in the darkness with just the light of our head torches. The cave is 100m wide and 150m high in sections. We swam through a section of the cave (you can take a boat if you can’t swim) before seeing more of this underground wonder and emerge in to the light of the Doline chamber where we enjoyed lunch and were lucky enough be awed by the sunbeams that penetrate the cave roof on a sunny day. It was absolutely magical. I was worried that it was going to be physically demanding it wasn’t too bad. Definitely worth the sweat!
Phong Nha National Park is inland from Dong Hoi in central Vietnam. We caught a 4 hour train from Da Nang to Dong Hoi. The trains in Vietnam run north and south between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City a number of times a day. Dong Hoi is also has a small domestic airport. You can get cheap airfares if you book in advance.
We stayed at the Phong Nha Farmstay. Can’t recommend high enough. Give the awesome staff at Phong Nha Farmstay your travel info and they will pick you up. There is a 2 night minimum, but trust me, you’ll be happy you stayed. We extended and ended up staying 3 nights and we didn’t want to leave. They have an onsite restaurant and its delicious. They also put a projector up for movie night and occasionally have live music by the bar or pool. If you’re on a bit more of a budget I believe there is also a hostel in the main part of ‘town’.
Other Phong Nha Activities
- Hire a bike and head out to the “Pub with Cold Beer” for the freshest chicken lunch, the best peanut sauce in the world (probably) and as the name suggests, cold beer! Relax in a hammock with a view over the countryside and interact with this local family. Bike Hire is free at the Farmstay.
- Learn about the history of the American War and visit the memorial sites that the locals hold sacred.
- Observe traditional farming activities including ploughing with buffalo and rice harvesting, when seasonally available.
- Explore Phong Nha Cave by boat from the boat station in Phong Nha.
- See the spectacular jungle scenery & fascinating limestone formations of the karst mountains.
- Take a walk in the jungle of the Botanic Gardens and swim in the waterfall
- Observe the varied wild life – you may even come across a troop of rare Black Langur monkeys
- Explore and understand life in rural Vietnam.