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Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park is 885 square kilometres of relatively untouched jungle and caves found in central Vietnam. It first rose to prominence when it was said to be home to the world’s largest cave – Son Doong Cave – in 2009. Lots of the best Vietnam caves are found in Phong Nha Kẻ Bàng including the Dark Cave, Phong Nha Cave and Paradise Cave (more on these later!)
As a UNESCO World Heritage site, Phong Nha Ke Bang is definitely an unmissable destination when visiting Vietnam. It’s tranquil jungles, fascinating caves and jaw dropping landscapes are must sees for every Vietnam backpacker. Read this Phong Nha Guide to find out all about the best things to do in Phong Nha.
THINGS TO DO IN PHONG NHA
Getting to Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park
If you are travelling Vietnam north to south you might, like me, be travelling from the Ninh Binh province. I took a 7 hour night bus from Trang An, Ninh Binh to Phong Nha which cost 360,000VND (£11.70 – 2019 prices). Hanoi to Phong Nha is a 500km journey. The best and cheapest option would be to take a 10 hour night bus from Hanoi to Phong Nha. If you are travelling Vietnam south to north you are likely to be coming from Hue to Phong Nha, a much shorter journey of around 3 hours.
Tourism is saturated to pretty much one street so when you arrive you are likely to be just a few minutes walk from your accommodation. This is very helpful if you arrive at stupid o’clock from your night bus. The night bus from Ninh Binh to Phong Nha arrives at 4:30am.
How long should you spend at Phong Nha Ke Bang?
I spent 4 days here but that really isn’t necessary. When I arrived here it was at the point of my backpacking trip where I just needed to chill out for a few days. Most backpackers only spend 2 nights in Phong Nha.
Where to stay in Phong Nha Vietnam?
Easy Tiger Hostel, Phong Nha
£1 / night (May 2019 prices)
If you talk about going to Phong Nha to any backpacker there will almost immediately tell you that you HAVE to stay at Easy Tiger hostel. It is definitely the most popular hostel for backpackers heading to Phong Nha Kẻ Bàng. The price of Easy Tiger hostel was just £1 a night when I was there! There’s a pool for guests to use, an amazing on site restaurant (of course cheap!) and free bicycles. There’s always a great atmosphere here so it’s the perfect place fot solo travellers. They arrange tours to various Phong Nha caves every day and there’s a free group tour to the Phong Nha cave every morning.
Gecko Hostel, Phong Nha
£2 / night (May 2019 prices)
This hostel is very basic but ideal if you are arriving from the night bus at 4:30am. They will let you check in as soon as you arrive and only charge you for one night. For example: if you arrive at 4:30am on Monday morning, you pay only for Monday night, not Sunday and Monday night. The mattresses were rock solid when I stayed there so don’t expect a great nights sleep!
Shambalaa Hostel, Phong Nha
£1 / night (May 2019 prices)
This is Easy Tiger’s sister hostel so you can use the pool and free bikes at Easy Tiger even if you stay at Shambalaa. The air con here was amazing and the beds were really comfortable. Some rooms even have single beds and not bunk beds, although the showers weren’t great. This is a great second option if you can’t get into Easy Tiger. I wanted to book an extra night last minute but they were full, so booked me into Shambalaa instead.
Things to Do in Phong Nha
Take an Organised Phong Nha Caves Tour
Cost – 60USD+
In all hostels there are lots of adverts for tours you can take to go explore the caves and go trekking in Phong Nha Ke Bang national park. There are lots of different caves you can visit but the some of the most popular are Dark Cave (Hang Toi Cave), Hang En Cave (the third largest cave in the world) and Paradise Cave (Thiên Đường Cave). A lot of these Vietnam cave tours involve kayaking, swimming in caves and trekking through the jungle.
Visit Phong Nha Cave
Cost – 150k (£5) entrance fee per person, 360k (£12) per boat of up to 12 (split the cost) (May 2019 prices)
This cave is just a short walk from the street in Phong Nha where all the hostels / hotels are. It’s best to get the boat with a larger group of people because then it works out cheaper. The best way to find people to go with is at your hostel. Easy Tiger hostel have two trips to the cave a day organised, so just go to the reception in the time slot and hopefully there will be people to go with. Otherwise don’t be afraid to ask anyone you see at the caves. When we were buying tickets for the boat there was a couple in front of us on their own so we just asked them to join us and it made it cheaper for all of us. The boat takes you up to the cave and then into it. You get out inside the cave to explore and wander around.
Motorbike Around the Phong Nha Kẻ Bàng ‘Loop’
Cost – Motorbike hire approx. 100,000 VND (£3.35 – May 2019 prices)
The cheapest and quickest way to get around Phong Nha National Park is to hire a motorbike. I paid 100,000VND (£3.35) to hire a motorbike for a day, and spent just 30,000VND (£1) on fuel. The roads are really quiet and easy to drive along, and there isn’t really anywhere to get lost! It’s the best way to encompass some of the best sites in Phong Nha Kẻ Bàng too. Paradise Cave and the Botanic Gardens are likely to be on your list of things to do in Phong Nha, and these can be easily reached on motorbike.
Check Out Paradise Cave Phong Nha
Cost – 250,000VND (£8.50, May 2019 prices)
Definitely a must on the list of things to do in Phong Nha – the Thien Duong Cave is the longest cave in Phong Nha National Park. It is an impressive 31km long but tourists are only able to explore 1km of it. The cave is massive, with hundreds of stalagmites and stalactites to photograph. On top of the entry cost you can pay an extra 100,000VND for a shuttle bus to take you from the ticket office to the base of the face. This really isn’t worth it as the walk there is completed flat and in the shade.
The climb from the base of the cave up to the entrance is steep, hot, sweaty and tiring – but once you arrive it’s definitely worth it! Paradise Cave welcomes you with it’s cool temperatrues and there are beautiful views of Phong Nha Kẻ Bàng all the way up.
Watch my vlog from my day exploring Paradise Cave
Go Walking and Swimming in the Botanic Gardens Phong Nha
Cost – 40,000VND (£1.30) entry fee plus 4,000VND (£0.15) to park your motorbike – (May 2019 prices)
The botanic gardens take up 40 hectares of the beautiful Phong Nha National Park and is the best place to wander around the beautiful, unspoilt jungle that the park has to offer. There’s different options of treks that you can do, all of which encompass the Geo waterfall where you can have a refreshing swim to cool off. There are three suggested routes to explore the Phong Nha Botanic Gardens. When I visited I took route 2:
Route 1: 40 minutes, just to the waterfall and back
Route 2: 2 hours, 1.5km
Route 3: 3 hours, 2.5km
BEWARE: the paths are pretty slippy and quite rocky so it isn’t the easiest of walks, make sure you have some good shoes with you!
Cycle Through the Bong Lai Valley
Cost – Bike hire: free – 60,000VND (£0-2)
Easy Tiger hostel have free bicycles for all it’s guests, but otherwise there are plently of places to hire them cheap for a day. Prices for bicycle hire in Phong Nha are likely to be between 30-60,000 VND (£1-2). After cycling out of the tourist centre of Phong Nha, just keep along the main road (it’s relatively quiet don’t worry!) until you come to a turn off to a dirt track. This takes you through the Bong Lai Valley, a beautiful rural area dotted with farms and small villages. Along here I unexpectedly came across a sunflower field!
Check out my YouTube video from my day exploring the Bong Lai Valley.
Become a Duck Leader at The Duck Stop
Cost – 100,000VND (£1.30 – May 2019 prices)
This is a simply a MUST on your list of things to do in Phong Nha. It’s a totally unique attraction and generally just really fun. You will come across the Duck Stop as you’re cycling through the Bong Lai Valley. Altogether it’s around a 5km trip to the Duck Stop from the Phong Nha tourist centre so it took around half an hour to cycle there.
On arrival at the Phong Nha Duck Stop you’re greeted by the enthusiastic Vietnamese children who pretty much run the place. The 100k fee gets you a snack, a drink, Bahn Xao (Vietnamese pancakes) for lunch, the ‘duck experience’ and the ‘plant experience’.
The Duck Experience involves you feeding the ducks, becoming a ‘duck leader’ and ‘releasing’ a duck into the water for good luck. The plant experience just involves being shown the different fruits, vegetables and spices that are grown at the farm there.
Relax at the Pub With Cold Beer
Cost – drinks are priced between 20,000 and 40,000 VND (£0.60 – £1.20)
Finally on my list of things to do in Phong Nha is to visit the most simple and relaxing ‘pub’ I’ve ever been to! Continuing through the Bong Lai Valley, just a short distance from the Duck Stop is the appropriately named Pub With Cold Beer (other cold drinks are available). If you’re like me and hate beer (yes, I know *eye roll emoji*) there’s plenty of other stuff to choose from – I went for an iced coffee, how basic. There’s loads of hammocks overlooking the valley and Phong Nha Kẻ Bàng so it’s the ideal spot to relax and cool off for a little while.
Hopefully this guide of things to do in Phong Nha has either inspired you to go and visit Phong Nha Kẻ Bàng, or given you an idea of what you can do when you visit Phong Nha National Park!
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