Thinking of a trip to the beautiful Phong Nha national park? Known for its Karst scenery, the area is nature’s paradise. Read my guide to Phong Nha to help you plan!
It was almost 7 in the morning and our train from Da Nang was about to reach Dong Hoi station. I was half asleep when an announcement was made for my station. I quickly grabbed my bag and got down. The hotel I booked was near the Dong Hoi railway station. My friend turned on the map and we started walking towards our destination.
There are plenty of hotels and hostels near the Dong Hoi railway station, a great location if someone is planning to take a day trip to Phong Nha Ke Bang.
And if you are unable to find any place to stay then don’t worry the cafes near the station even let you have a bath at their place! (Don’t ask how do I know that – my brother did that).
At around 9 we came out on the street in search of breakfast and a scooter. Dong Hoi is a small station so it is difficult to even converse with the local people but luckily we met Ly, who runs a cafe and a hostel.
She was extremely helpful and surprisingly knew English really well. We had our food, even rented a gearless bike from Ly and headed towards Phong Nha Ke Bang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are two popular caves that we decided to explore, Paradise cave and Phong Nha cave. The distance from Dong Hoi to Phong Nha Ke Bang is 60 km and Paradise was another 20km ahead of Phong Nha.
Without further ado, here’s a list of top things to do in Phong Na:
Paradise Cave | Guide to Phong Nha
This cave was recently discovered in 2005 by a local man and opened to the public in 2011. Considered as the most beautiful cave in Phong Nha, it is the longest dry cave in Asia with a length of 31 km. Although only 1 km is open for the tourists.
It took me 1.5 hours to drive from Dong Hoi to Paradise Cave parking. The view was spectacular and roads are good to drive on. If someone doesn’t mind operating a motorbike then this is the best way to explore the caves.
After parking our bike we headed towards the entrance. The ticket counter is on the way and is a 15-20 mins walk till the foot of the cave. From here one can walk through the paved path for 1 km else hop on an electric buggy.
I am narrating my experience to help you guide to Phong Na, hope you are able to follow it so far.
And it is not over yet, there were a 700 m uphill path through the stairs from the base so be prepared for the little climb. Once you reach the top there is a rest stop and a snack center too.
As I entered the mouth of the cave it led to a series of zigzag wooden staircases. The area is usually filled up with people trying to take pictures at the entrance.
As soon as I entered, I was in for a great surprise. I was awestruck by the stunning stalactites and stalagmites. It was magical, looking at those beautiful limestone formations. The wooden pavement built above the cave floor took me to the dead end. The beauty was beyond description that any guide to Phong Na gave.
The entire way looks magical. I managed to shoot off a few stills while walking around looking at the formations. The Paradise Cave was unlike anything I have ever seen before in my life.
Phong Nha Cave
We set our map again and headed towards our next destination of the day. The route from paradise to Phong Nha Ke Bang tourism center is extremely picturesque. We navigated through narrow lanes along the karst mountains.
Phong Nha is the first cave in the region to get opened for tourists. It is one of the most popular caves in Phong Nha Nation Park among the tourists and is accessible by the dragon boat from the tourism centre.
Interestingly, it was used as a hospital and a place to hide from bombs during the Vietnam War. Probably there were many items left from war in the cave but with every passing year, they have washed away with the flood. We got our ticket for the cave and boat from the centre.
The boat can be shared among 12 people so we wait for several minutes to join a group. It took us 30 min to reach the mouth of the cave. After a long motorbike ride, it was a great way to relax and enjoy the view of the stunning natural karst mountains and local river life.
We were then rowed through the cave. Its cave system features underground passageways and river caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites.
It took 2.5 hours to explore these two caves individually. By late evening we were back in our hotel. While it is recommended to spend a few days in Phong Nha we were a bit short on time but successfully had the best experience.
We had our train at midnight, so after having a scrumptious dinner at Ly’s cafe we went head towards the station for our next destination.
Total Cost | Guide to Phong Nha
Motorbike rent for 24 hours – 100,000 VND
Petrol – 60,000 VND
Parking for both caves – 10,000 VND
Electric Golf Buggy fee – 100,000 VND for 2 way ride
The Paradise Cave (Vietnam) entrance fee – 250,000 VND
The Phong Nha Cave entrance fee – 150,000 VND
Boat ride in Phong Nha Cave – 360/12 = 30,000 VND
How to get to Phong Nha
The nearest airport and railway station is in Dong Hoi. There are daily flights from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh to Dong Hoi. Dong Hoi can be reached by train on the main Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh City railway line. We boarded our overnight train from Da nang to Phong Na. The tickets are easily available and the trains are comfortable to travel.
There are several buses from Hanoi to Phong Nha as well which takes 9 hours to reach.
From Dong Hoi there are several ways to reach Phong Nha Ke Bang
- Rent a motorbike – This is the best way to reach Phong Nha. Enjoy the scenic way and is the most pocket-friendly option as well.
- Local Bus – The local bus number “B4” to Phong Nha takes 90 minutes to reach there and costs 50,000 VND. It departs every 1 hour and the last bus from Phong Nha to Dong Hoi is at 5:00 pm. However, you need to hire a motorbike to go to paradise or other caves.
- Taxi – A private taxi costs around 500,000 VND. If you are looking for comfort then this is the most convenient among all
- The caves are open till 5 in the evening so plan your day accordingly.
- There is a lot of walking in paradise cave and climbing too, preferably wear comfortable shoes.
- Better download the offline map for navigation. The network is not too reliable in all areas.
Hope you found my travel guide to Phong Na interesting and helpful, as usual, let me know your questions or experiences in the comments below.