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Ultimate Guide to Phong Nha – Vietnam’s Hidden Gem

Phong Nha is a paradise for adventurers and those who enjoy traveling off the beaten path. Located in North Central Vietnam, the area is home to the world’s largest caves and Asia’s oldest karst mountains.

The vast network of caves is located in the UNESCO-accredited Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. This incredible area was relatively under the radar until the discovery of Hang Son Doong cave by a local man in 1991. Since then, more than 300 caves have been explored, but incredibly, still only 25% of the national park has been cataloged.

Although Phong Nha is slowly attracting more travelers, it has kept its welcoming and charming atmosphere, and you will feel like you have the wilderness all to yourself.

During the Vietnam War, the Phong Nha area served as a major staging point and training ground for the Viet Cong soldiers. The North Vietnamese Army used Phong Nha’s caves to store supplies, weapons before transiting south through the Ho Chi Minh trail. Once discovered by the Americans, the area was massively bombed.

Things to do

Abandoned Jungle Trek & cave experience

The best way to challenge yourself is an adventurous trek that takes you to the most remote caves in the jungle. There are many options to choose from – one-day trekking to multiple days including camping. There are only four licensed tour companies in Phong Nha (Oxalis Adventure Tours, Phong Nha Discovery, Jungle Boss, Moc Nam Adventure).

Joining a tour is mandatory if you want to go trekking in the national park. Note that solo trekking is not allowed in the national park and local rangers are strongly enforcing this rule.

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We did the amazing Abandoned Valley Trek – a 12km jungle trek on the Ho Chi Minh Trail where you see and explore the back of Dark Cave and swim in the unspoiled and pristine E Cave. We The tour was booked with Phong Nha Discovery through our accommodation.

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Dark Cave

Dark Cave is one of the most popular cave tours for adrenaline lovers. Zipline over a turquoise river to access the dark cave entrance, walk in the dark with only a head torch on before taking a mud bath inside the cave.

You then kayak back and you can test yourself at the hanging obstacle course. Most people do an organized tour including all the activities, but you can visit Dark Cave by yourself and pay only for the entrance and some activities.

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Paradise Cave

Dubbed the Underground Palace, Paradise Cave has breathtaking limestone formations stretching for 31km along beautiful and spectacular stalagmites and stalactites. Stroll on the 1km wooden trail to discover the cave’s natural beauty. Expect many tourists as this is the most popular cave in Phong Nha. You can visit Paradise Cave by yourself, or you can book a tour to do a 7km trek inside Paradise Cave that includes kayaking on the underground river.

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Hang Son Doong Cave

World’s largest natural cave has its own ecosystem, an underground river, and giant stalactites (80m). The very challenging 6 days expedition to visit the cave is only run by Oxalis Adventure – a very professional local tour company. The tour costs $3000. Booking is required at least one year in advance.

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Duck Stop

The most fun and interactive activity in Phong Nha is at the duck farm in Bong Lai Valley. The owners show you, in a fun way, how to feed and lead the ducks at the farm. Expect to receive many duck massages and take great photos with the ducks!

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Pub with cold beer

Run by local farmers that grow everything on the menu – from the vegetables to the peanuts to the chickens running around. If you order a chicken, they give you the option to kill, clean, and cook it yourself! This real farm-to-table experience is optional, of course! The road to the pub is very bumpy and can be flooded.

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Monkey Bridge Farm

The Monkey Bridge Farm in Phong Nha is a fun place set up in the scenic countryside. Named after the traditional Monkey Bridge, which is made from bamboo or wood and requires a monkey-like method of crossing, the farm offers many activities such as the Crazy Swing, the Rubber Tree Experience, and the Monkey Bridge crossing. However, as of January 2024, the Monkey Bridge is currently broken and not accessible.

Prices very from 50,000 and 190,000 VND ($2 to $8 USD) depending on the chosen activities.

How to Travel to Phong Nha

Bus: The best option to get to Phong Nha by bus

  • From Hanoi – 11 hours – 450K
  • From Ninh Binh / Tam Coc – 9hours – 400K
  • From Hue – 4hours – 280K

Train: The closest train station is Dong Hoi located 50km from Phong Nha. You need to arrange a private transfer with your hostel or take a bus to Phong Nha. The train is slightly cheaper than buses, but the traveling conditions are not as good.

Flight: The closest airport is Dong Hoi located one hour away from Phong Nha. Same as the train, you need a transfer to Phong Nha.

If you head to Hue next, don’t miss the historical dematerialized zone (DMZ) that was a dividing line between the North and South traced at the 17th parallel north, about 100 kilometers north of the city of Hue. During the Vietnam War, this region was the scene of fierce and bloody battles.

Where to eat

  • Phong Nha Family Restaurant
  • Lanterns restaurant
  • Three house cafe and restaurant
  • Bamboo chopstick
  • Market – local dish 50K
  • Bong Lai Swing Nature Farm
  • Pub with cold beer
  • Moi Moi Restaurant
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Where to stay

We recommend staying at the Phong Nha Tuan Garden House. Facilities are good, there is a charming family that run it who will go above and beyond to help you during your stay. The owner Hung even picked us up at 4am when we arrived in Phong Nha.

They offer a great family dinner where you can meet many travelers and have the most adorable puppy who loves to be stroked!

If you want a relaxing stay with an amazing view of the countryside, stay at the famous Phong Nha Farmstay just outside town.

getting around Phong Nha

Phong Nha is a small town but you will need transport to visit most attractions.
You can either rent a scooter or book different tours to visit the caves, or go trekking!

Best time to visit

Phong Nha has mainly outdoor activities, so you’ll have to consider the weather. The best period is during the dry season from April to August. Some cave tours are canceled in September, October, and November due to heavy rains and flooding.

How long to spend in Phong Nha

Spend at least 2 full days if you want to do a long jungle trek that includes some caves and visit the fun sights around Phong Nha like the Duck Stop.

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