If there’s one place you add to your travels in Vietnam – make it Phong Nha National Park. It was actually more of an accidental step in our itinerary through Vietnam than anywhere we’d harboured a desire to include. After buying a copy of the Lonely Planet from a street seller in Hanoi we saw the park was located conveniently between Hanoi and Hue and decided to spend a day there. Way back when we’d been planning our trip Rob had mentioned some caves he’d like to see in Vietnam and it turned out this was where they were located so it seemed the perfect addition to our trip through Vietnam.
Sadly visiting Hang Son Doon cave, the largest cave in the world and a place that’s well and truly on our bucket list was off the cards once we discovered it would cost $3000 each and include a week or so of trekking to get there. Maybe next time! However there are still plenty of other impressive caves to visit in Phong Nha National Park, not to mention some of the most beautiful landscapes we saw in Vietnam.
The park itself is857.5 km² and hosts an amazing collection of limestone mountains, jungle landscapes and underground rivers and cave systems. It was a hard fought area during the war and as such it’s one of the locations with the highest concentration of unexploded ordnance left in Vietnam. For this reason hiking without a guide is technically forbidden and there are many warnings to ensure you stay on marked paths at all times.
It’s been open to tourism for several years now though and there’s a well worn route through the park that’s more than worth exploring. The best way to get there and around is to stay in Phong Nha town – we stayed in Dong Hoi as we needed decent internet – but the local town is far more convenient. Easy Tiger hostel looks like a good option and does great food and cheap drinks. If you do stay in Dong Hoi it costs less than 1USD to get the bus to the park and they run every hour from 7am to 5pm, taking just over an hour each way. In Phong Nha hire a motorbike for around 200,000 Dong including a full tank of fuel and hit the main trail through the park to explore.
We visited a couple of caves – the Paradise Cave being our top choice – and spent an amazing sunny day exploring the park and incredible landscapes by bike. Here’s a few pictures to show why you should definitely spend at least a day in Phong Nha National Park.