Phong Nha is an interesting place. It’s completely built up as a tourist attraction, especially now that the world’s largest cave, Hang Son Doong has been discovered and open for touring.
While Hang Son Doong isn’t usually on the regular traveller’s to do list, as it’s over $3000USD to get in (and that’s if you can get in), rumour also has it you have to book months in advance! Oxalis is currently the only company that’s taking visitors into the cave right now.
However, there are several other caves near by that attracts just as many tourists, with the two most popular being the Dark Cave and Paradise Cave. I’d suggest visiting these caves first thing in the morning, like 7:30 a.m. when they open to avoid to large crowds.
I visited Paradise Cave at 8 a.m. and there were already hoards of local tourists. The cave was grand and you can check out the first 1 km yourself (there’s a wooden pathway you have to follow). But the amount of people there really ruined to experience for me. I literally felt like a sardine being pushed around.
It’s also a good kilometre or two just to get to from the ticket booth to the cave entrance. And the walk also includes a steady uphill climb. Wear comfy shoes!
After Paradise Cave, I went straight to the Dark Cave. Bad mistake. It was only 9am, but it was already packed! Just getting a safety form to fill out and paying for a ticket was a mission.
To experience the Dark Cave, there are two options available:
Option #1: Zip line, swim and kayak. This option does not include going into the cave, just fun outside.
Option #2: Zip line, swim, kayak and visiting the cave.
Since I arrived at the Dark Cave “late”, I was told if I wanted to actually go inside the cave and go for option 2, I’d have to wait until 3p.m. at the earliest! That’s over 6 hours of waiting!
No way was I waiting 6 hours! So option 1 it was. I still waited over 2 hours though. It would’ve been longer if I didn’t ask for a refund, which they refused and jumped me to the front of the line.
The zip line was low and over before the adrenaline even kicked in. I didn’t get to kayak because the line up for one was massive again. And swimming was barely accessible as there were so many boats and equipment.
I ended up leaving just to get out of the crowded space.
Phong Nha Loop
I was pretty disappointed with Phong Nha and the caves to be honest. I was however, much more impressed with the drive into the town. I drove from Vinh into Phong Nha, with a section of it going through the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park.
In my opinion, that was the best part. The road was barely blemished and traffic was minimal. You’re constant companions were the mountains and trees.
It was bliss after the crowds in Phong Nha itself.
Leaving Phong Nha, I detoured off the direct route and took the Western Ho Chi Minh Road to get to Hue. Again it was all day riding through the mountains. It was lovely, peaceful and relaxing. I’d highly recommend it!