Complete Guide to Visiting Phong Nha Caves in Vietnam

By on Published: April 16, 2020 | Last Updated: April 17, 2020 in Asia, VIETNAM with 0 Comments

Complete Guide to Visiting in Phong Nha Caves in Vietnam

Technically speaking, Phong Nha is the name of one particular cave, within one particular national park in Vietnam.

But like me, most people don’t realise that until they visit the area.

So up until this point, the Phong Nha caves are a just short-hand travel term for the entirety of the incredible cave network that lies in this part of Vietnam.

A cave network so huge and impressive it’s UNESCO-listed and rumoured to hold some of the largest caves in the world.

As such, this guide is going to cover the entire area – everything you need to know and prepare for your trip to this part of Vietnam.

Because if there’s one thing you should do when it comes to the caves of Phong Nha, it’s don’t miss them!


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Why Visit Phong Nha Caves?

Vietnam, Phong Nha, Walk to Caves

So as I’ve alluded to in the introduction, the Phong Nha cave network is a must-visit Vietnam spot in my opinion.

UNESCO-listed, ultra-impressive and massive, I also liked this part of Vietnam because it was different – another diverse string in this country’s already incredible offering.

We all know Vietnam has lovely islands, vibrant culture, good food, crazy cities and Halong Bay, but who knew it had epic caves as well?!

The Phong Nha cave area also provides travellers with a chance to enjoy more outdoor and active adventures – yet another reason why I liked it.

After all, it’s not every day you get to go caving!

Combined with readily available hiking, kayaking and biking opportunities already existent in Vietnam – caving was another amazing adventure I was able to enjoy in this country.

And as far as I know, Phong Nha is the only place you can do this!

I also liked Phong Nha, and recommend you visit it, because it’s not hugely popular.

Most travellers on a tight itinerary miss it out and while it can’t be said to be off the beaten track, this part of Vietnam is considered something a little different.

Just what I like!

 

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Where is Phong Nha Cave?

Vietnam, Phong Nha, Cave Setting

Situated between the central belt of Vietnam and its northern region, Phong Nha is normally a stop between the cities of Hue and Hanoi on most travel itineraries.

It can also be fitted in south of Ninh Binh, if this is on your list too.

However, it is the other side of the country i.e. the west, not the east, and lies closer to the Laos border than the coast.

As such, most travellers usually opt for Phong Nha or Ninh Binh on their way south from, or north to, Hanoi.

 

How to Get to Phong Nha

Vietnam, Phong Nha, Oxalis Start

Being located between Hue and Hanoi, the easiest and most convenient way to get to Phong Nha is via a bus.

That’s because services run direct into the town of Phong Nha, which acts as the access point for the whole area.

Both night and day services call in here from Hue and Hanoi and, although buses aren’t usually the quickest method of transport of Vietnam, it is the most direct and simple method for getting to Phong Nha.

The other alternative is to take a domestic flight or a train, but both of these options involve an arrival in Dong Hoi, some 1.5 hrs away, via bus.

The hassle and time involved in doing this, really makes getting a bus direct to Phong Nha the best option in my book.

It’s also very cheap!

As always in Vietnam, I use 12Go to book my bus tickets in advance securely and easily in English online.

 

When to Visit?

Vietnam, Phong Nha, Inisde Cave

Being located in the northern-ish region of Vietnam, the climate in and around Phong Nha can be a little temperamental.

In the winter months of May to October it can get pretty chilly here, but does tend to be drier.

In the summer months of November through February – when it’s high season in most of Southeast Asia and the south of Vietnam – it’s often raining very heavily in the north of this country.

My best suggestion is therefore to visit during the shoulder months of April and October when the weather tends to be dry and not too hot.

The south of Vietnam is also ok to visit during these months too, which makes them good all-round times to visit.

 

Perfect Phong Nha Itinerary

Vietnam, Phong Nha, Inside Cave

I’d recommend a stay of 2-3 nights in the Phong Nha Cave region – depending on what time of the day your arrive.

If you arrive in the evening from Hue, as I did, then day 1 will likely just involve checking into your accommodation, settling in and wandering Phong Nha town, which is really just a one-street village with some restaurants, guesthouses and rental shops lining it.

I’d then suggest spending day 2 exploring the caves near town, which you can do independently by hiring a scooter in town and heading to nearby Phong Nha National Park.

Here you’ll find Dark Cave and Paradise Cave, which are easy to access without a tour or guide.

On day 3 of your Phong Nha cave itinerary, I then suggest taking a tour to some of the deeper and further away caves – the ones you really can’t access by yourself.

If you arrive early on day 1, instead of in the evening, then condense the first 2 days of the above itinerary into 1 and use the remaining 2 days to take an extended Phong Nha cave tour.

Learn more about extended cave tours further on in this article.

 

What to Prepare in Advance of Your Visit

Vietnam, Phong Nha, Me Inside Cave

So yes, one of the things you should prepare in advance of your trip to the Phong Nha cave region is your cave tour.

That’s because there’s few companies that offer them, given the special equipment and license etc you have to have.

One of the few, and the best as far as the online reviews and my personal experience go, are Oxalis.

Oxalis run tours to several different caves deep within the Phong Nha area and for some of the most challenging and remote, they are the only company to go there.

Because of this, plus their professionalism and range of tours, Oxalis book out quickly.

I only realised this when on the bus to Phong Nha and luckily found 1 place left on 1 tour for the next day.

However, I don’t recommend leaving it this late as you’d hate to go all that way to the Phong Nha caves and not be able to experience them at their best.

As such, one thing you should definitely do in advance of your trip is book your Oxalis tour for the dates and tour you want to.

They offer many different options, so check out their website for details including tour length, difficulty rating and availability.

I took their 1 Day Adventure Tour, which visits Tu Lan Cave (because it was the only one they had space on) but I absolutely loved it and definitely count it among my best days in Vietnam, if not the whole of Southeast Asia.

Given the chance and the budget however, I’d love to have taken one of their 2 day tours (which involve spending a night out in a cave) so consider this is you can.

Top of my list would be there Hang En tour.

Alternatively, check out this full 16 day tour of Vietnam, which includes a multi-day trip with Oxalis that looks amazing!

 

The other thing you should do in advance of your visit to Phong Nha is take out suitable travel insurance.

As always, I highly recommend travel insurance from World Nomads, which I’ve used myself in Vietnam, as well as throughout Southeast Asia and further afield.

Don’t worry if you’re already away though, with World Nomads you can even take out a policy whilst abroad – hoorah!

Get a free quote from them by filling in your details below…

 

And finally, you should check you have the right sort of clothes for your Oxalis tour, details of what you’ll need can be found on their website and more info is given in the next section of this post.

 

Essential Packing List for Phong Nha

Vietnam, Phong Nha Cave, Me

Yes, so one of the things you must think about in advance of your Phong Nha cave trip is whether you have the right sort of clothing.

If not, it pays to pick up the bits you might be missing in advance of your arrival here, as there aren’t really any suitable shops in town.

Thankfully I had all the gear required for my tour with me, but if not, it would have been a problem, given how last minute my organisation for this part of Vietnam was in general!

Top of the list is suitable socks – you need good hiking ones that are at least ankle length to reduce the chance of blisters and to provide suitable protection.

This pair would be ideal.

You’ll also need good waterproof shoes to go over the socks. These should have excellent grip and tread, but still be light and flexible for the scrambling and clambering required.

Thankfully Oxalis have boots perfect for the job, in many different sizes, which you can rent at their office or registration centre.

I’d also advise a good, light, thin, waterproof jacket for your caving adventure, this North Venture 2 would be perfect, as well as trousers or leggings you can happily climb, hike and move in.

As always on outdoor pursuits on this nature, layers are key, so bring thin long sleeve tops you can layer over singlets for protections, as well a cap and scarf or buff for sun protection.

A decent day pack to carry everything in, as well as water and lunch is also required and this one from Osprey would be ideal given its design for active situations.

A spare pair of dry clothes you can change into for the bus ride home would also be a good idea, because sometimes the weather and conditions out near the deeper caves is hard to predict given the tropical feel and elevation too.

And nobody wants a soggy and shivering journey home!

 

Your Tour With Oxalis

Vietnam, Phong Nha, Oxalis Team

Because the journey from where most Oxalis tours begin to Phong Nha is around an hour, wonderfully, this company will pick you up and drop you off at your accommodation in Phong Nha either side of the tour, usually in a minivan where you meet your fellow group participants.

You then go to the company’s registration centre, located on the edge of deeper cave networks, from where you’ll begin your hike.

Here you can leave your dry set of clothes and anything else not required for the active part of the day.

You can also rent boots and other items of clothing here, as well as leave your shower stuff and towel for when you return, because yes, there’s hot showers here you can use too before your journey back to Phong Nha.

They also sell beer for the end of the day!

It might be useful to know too (as it was for me) that Oxalis will drop you back at to your hostel in time for any night bus departures, so if you’re heading onto Hanoi next for example, you can do this in the same day!

Just take your shower stuff and clean set of clothes, then after your cave adventure, you’re ready to head straight on the night bus, which will pick you up from your hostel normally around 8pm.

 

Where to Stay & Eat in Phong Nha

Vietnam, Phong Nha, Food

Because it’s a small place, Phong Nha doesn’t have a huge range of accommodation options, but it certainly has enough.

Most are of the guesthouse / homestay variety and perfectly comfortable.

King of the hostel scene in this town is Central Backpackers, which boasts a great location on the main street, swimming pool with loungers and a lively bar.

If you’re looking for somewhere more chilled and personal, then Tropical Valley Homestay gets repeatedly rave reviews.

This place is also well-situated, at the top of the main street, which is basically a strip comprised of eating spots.

For fellow vegetarians, don’t miss the Veggiebox Restaurant, which was a delightful find!

 

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Have I convinced you to add Phong Nha cave to your Vietnam list now?

I hope so, and also that this post has given you all the info you need.

And just to make it clear, I paid fully for my Oxalis tour and am not affiliated with them in any way.

I just totally back what they offer and their level of professionalism and organisation!

If I’ve missed anything, then please don’t hesitate to drop your questions into the comments box below…

 

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About the Author

About the Author: Creator of Big World Small Pockets, Stephanie Parker is a budget travel addict! Originally from Jersey in the Channel Islands, Stephanie backpacks the world collecting tips, advice and stories, to share with a smile .

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