What to do in the Phong Nha, Vietnam

airial photo og Phong Nha town, Son Trac

Phong Nha is a must stop destination in Vietnam. Known as the cave kingdom, Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site that boasts many of the top 10 largest cave passages in the world. Many of which, for the right price you can explore. Aside from caves, there are plenty of outdoor activities, great food, and friendly homestays. In this post I break down what to do in Phong Nha into the following 3 main activities – most of which can be done on a motorbike.  Click on title text to jump forwards

Exclusive cave treks/exploring with an adventure tour company:

DIY Phong Nha National Park Tour: motorbike loop and activities (no tour necessary): Public access caves, short treks, swimming, and awesome scenery

    • Phong nha Cave
    • Tien Son Cave
    • Phong Nha Botanic Gardens
    • Paradise Cave: 1km boardwalk 
    • Mooc Spring
    • Dark Cave

       

Bong Lai Valley loop and activities (no tour necessary): Great food, fun activities, cute animals and more:

    • Pub with Cold Beer
    • The Duck Stop
    • Bong Lai Swing Nature Farm
    • Bomb Crater Bar

       

Before jumping into the guide, here is some useful information to make the most of the visit. 

How long to stay in Phong Nha: 2 - 5 full days

Phong Nha has a lot to offer. I recommend at least 3 days, giving yourself at least 1 day to do each of the 3 main activities. However, if you’d like to do one of the longer cave treks – which I highly recommend –  budget a few extra days.

Best time to visit Phong Nha:

March – August is the dry season, with April and May offering the best temperatures for trekking and riding the loop. Sometimes this area gets pounded by rain in September, leading to flooding so high that the locals canoe throughout town. But for the most part avoid planning a visit during the more predictable rainy season of October – February, and the beginning of March.

Best Exclusive Cave Tours in Phong Nha

Often regarded as the highlight of a tour of Southeast Asia, Phong Nha cave trekking is a MUST do in Vietnam. The jungle treks here are genuine jungle treks. You will balance across logs, get your hands dirty, tredge up rivers, and scramble rocks. No road walking here. These treks can be a bit strenuous, but are 100% worth the effort. 

All of the best caves in the area are completely exclusive. To visit them, you must hire an adventure tour company to take you there. If you get caught visiting any of these caves on your own, you will have to pay a hefty fine, and leave the park. 

If you’re short on time, do a one day Jungle/cave trek over anything else.  Don’t leave the area without doing it! 

When it comes to single day trips, Jungle Boss is the most bang for the buck. They offer incredible one day tours that visit multiple caves that are friendly for the backpacker budget. In terms of cave trips, Jungle Boss offers the greatest return on investment. A backpacker favorite single day trek is their Mada Valley and Elephant Cave trek. 

Jungle Boss also offers multi day treks through sections of the largest cave system in the world, The Hang Vom Cave System. Currently, they offer the 2 day Hang Pygmy Exploration and the 3 day Tiger Cave Series Adventure through the Hang Vom System. Rumor is that they plan to offer more treks through newly discovered caves. 

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Jungle Boss throughout the past few years, and I gotta say, they are the most caring and friendly bunch of people I’ve ever met. 

Oxalis Adventure Tours: 1.8m - 69.8m VND ($76-$3000USD)

Oxalis offers treks to a handful of mind blowing caves, including the largest cave passage in the world Hang Son Doong ($3,000+ usd). They have a wider selection of trips than their competitor Jungle Boss. However they tend to target the premium space in the industry. If you are hoping to do a Son Doong trip, make sure to book your spot well in advance. The wait time can be a year or more.

I haven’t checked out any of their other tours, however, their 7km Paradise Cave tour is stunning. This tour goes beyond the public access boardwalk inside the entrance of Paradise Cave, and takes you through one of the most beautiful ancient caves in the area. The passage itself isn’t large like the caves like you’ll find with Jungle Boss or Oxalis, but it’s old age has allowed for the formation of some stunning cave decorations.

DIY Phong Nha National Park Tour

Man Driving motorcycle through road on mountainous jungle

Riding around the park and visiting some of the points of interest is a great way to spend a day. Throughout the loop there are a number of public access caves that are not free, but tour guides are not needed.

The road conditions in the park are mostly nice, with a bit of bumpy sections, but nothing too difficult. Mainly, you want to watch blind corners as tour vehicles and dump trucks race around the park regularly. 

Before heading off you may want to grab a good pair of walking shoes, some swimwear, and some snacks and water. Points of interest listed as if doing the loop in a clockwise fashion.

What to do in Phong Nha: Motorbike Routes

Stop 1: Botanic Garden: 44k VND entry ($2USD)

The botanic garden is a convenient place to stop along the loop through the park. The garden includes a few short paths in the trees, a waterfall and a small swimming hole. Personally, I would skip it. But, I’ve added it here because it’s cheap and easy.

Stop 2: Paradise cave: 255k - 300k VND ($11-$13USD)

A large cave with beautiful speleothems all over the cavern. It's brightly lit.

At about the halfway point of the national park loop is Paradise Cave. The ancient cave is nicely lit with a display of marvelous cave formations. Inside the cave there is a convenient boardwalk that leads you a few hundred meters into the cave. Costs include the 5k parking fee, and the 250k entry fee. There is the option of taking the electric shuttle car for an additional 60k/ 4 pax and 90k/ 6 pax. Alternatively, you can walk the relatively flat pathway for about 15 minutes. At the end of the path you will need to climb a steep but short path to the cave entrance. It’s a thigh burner.

Stop 3: Mooc Springs: 80k - 180k VND ($3.4 -$7.6USD)

Mooc Springs is a designated swimming area along a lovely mountain spring. Cave experts believe that the spring may actually lead to the largest cave in the world, but they have not been able to successfully dive the spring due to the massive upward force of water  For 80k you can walk the designated pathway and bridges through the spring but, you won’t be able to swim or use the kayaks provided. For an additional 100k you can swim, kayak and enjoy other activities. It’s a nice way to enjoy a hot day.

Stop 4: Dark Cave: 450K VND ($19USD)

Dark Cave is one of the most popular tourist sites in Phong Nha. To get there you will need to book a tour through the tourism center in Phong Nha Town. This tour includes ziplining across the beautiful blue river to the cave entrance, swimming, exploring the cave, and playing in mud.

Stop 5: Phong Nha & Tien Son Cave:
150k - 300k VND + shared boat 360k
($6.4-$12.8 + $15.30USD)

Phong Nha Cave is a short river cave, and Tien Son is a dry cave just above Phong Nha Cave. When compared to other caves in the area, they aren’t very impressive. A big part of visiting the cave is taking the short boat ride up the river to the cave. If you are going to see other caves, you can skip these two and not feel like you missed out. The caves are actually very close to Phong Nha Town. The official way to get there is to hire a boat from the tourist center in town. The boat costs 360k but can be shared between 14 people. If you arrive alone, wait for a group to come along and share the boat cost with them. Additionally, there is a 150k fee per person, per cave. If you want to see both caves make sure to pay both entry fees before heading up river.

Finally, there is a way to access the caves via motorbike. However, they do not sell entry tickets at the caves. You must buy the cave entrance tickets at the tourism center in town before heading to the caves. The route is in red on the route map.

Bong Lai Valley Motorbike Loop

Just outside of Phong Nha is a valley of farm land with fun activities and good eats. You can make a half day out of visiting this valley, and getting there on your bike is simple. No need for a tour guide. For the most part everything is on one paved road, but there is a bit that is dirt road. If it’s been raining heavily, it might be muddy and slippery. 

Additionally, I have added a side route that goes over the Con River and through some cute villages. As of now, you cross the river via private floating motorbike bridge. But there is construction for a new bridge underway.

Stop 1: The Pub with Cold Beer

Pick the chicken you want for lunch, then chop it’s head off! At Pub with cold beer you have the option of catching your own chicken, killing it, and cleaning it. It’s not required, but the option is there. Once the chicken is ready they will barbeque the body, and make a soup out of the organs. Definitely an experience to remember and the meal is super delicious. Oh, they also have cold beer, hammocks and some billiards tables.

Stop 2: The Duck Stop

3 people standing in a circle holding ducks

This place has held the #1 spot on trip advisor for a reason, it’s fucking adorable. Go play with ducks, ride a buffalo, have a beer and explore a small peppercorn farm for a few bucks! Also, there is some great views of the river.

Stop 3: Bong Lai Swing Nature Farm

A tree swim in the night, with the milkyway in the background

This spot actually goes by 2 names (not unusual in Vietnam), Bong Lai Swing Nature Farm and Wild Boar Eco Farm. The Homestay/Farm sits high on a river bluff providing great views of the valley stretching in the distance. To add to the experience there are large swings placed right on the edge of the bluff. Order a beer, grab a swing, and watch the sunset. 

Additional to the setting, they serve fresh free range chicken, and give tours of the farm. 

Bonus tip: For a complete experience, stay the night at the Wild Boar. Once it’s night out, turn off all the lights, put down your phone and let your eyes adjust to the dark for 30 minutes or more. Look straight out from the bluff in the southerly direction to see the galactic core of the Milky Way Galaxy in all its glory. For best results go between June – August, during or around the new moon. 

Stop 4: Bomb Crater Bar

Bomb Crater Bar is what the name implies, a bar, near a massive bomb crater. The land that the bar sit’s on was a depot during the Vietnam/America war, so the area got bombed like mad. This is a good place to end the trip and have some good drinks. 

Well, that’s the gist of it. There is a lot more to do in the Phong Nha area – like a bunch. But the above activities are the best way to make the most out of a short trip.

If you liked this guide, and you’re planning your trip to Phong Nha, check out my guide to Phong Nha’s Food and Accomodation.******

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