Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng is a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Quảng Bình Province, in the north of the Central Coast region of Vietnam. The park is 50 km north of Dong Hoi, around 450 km south of Hanoi.
The core zone of this national park covers 857.54 km² and a buffer zone of 1,954 km². The park was created to protect one of the world's two largest karst regions with 300 caves and grottoes and also protects the ecosystem of limestone forest of the Annamite Range region in north central coast of Vietnam.
The plateau on which the park is perched is probably one of the finest and most distinctive examples of a complex karst landform in Southeast Asia. This national park was listed in UNESCO's World Heritage Sites in 2003. In April 2009, the world's largest cave, Son Doong Cave, was discovered by a team of British cave explorers of British Caving Association. Tourist activities in this park includes expedition of caves and grottoes in boats, eco-tourism, discovering the flora and fauna in this park and mountain climbing, trekking.
Phong Nha town is on the edge of the park just off the main highway, and has undergone some growth since the caves were discovered. Most accommodation, restaurants and travel providers are in the town, although there are some good places in the surrounding villages - where the tradeoff is the peace and quiet!
Flora and fauna
Like North Central Coast Region (Bắc Trung Bộ) in general, and Quảng Bình province in particular, the climate in Phong Nha–Kẻ Bàng national park is tropically hot and humid. The annual mean temperature is 23-25°C, with a maximum of 41°C in the summer and a minimum of 6°C in the winter. The hottest months in this region are from June to August, with an average temperature of 28°C, and the coldest months from December to February with an average temperature of 18°C. Annual rainfall is 2,000-2,500 mm, and 88% of the rainfall is from July to December. With more than 160 rainy days per year, no month is without rain. Mean annual relative humidity is 84%.
Several arrivals and departures at Dong Hoi daily from as far away as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, only a few hours from Hue.
A local bus goes from Dong Hoi to Phong Nha for less than 40,000 dong. It departs hourly from many bus stops around Dong Hoi. Look for the blue signs that say Dong Hoi - Hoan Lao - Phong Nha or Dong Hoi - Phong Nha - Trooc
Sleeper buses with Hung Thanh Travel, Camel Travel and Queen Cafe make stops in Phong Nha with an overnight journey between Phong Nha and Hanoi and an early morning departure to Hue and evening arrival from Hue.
The DMZ bus operates a door to door service between Phong Nha and Hue. Departs Phong Nha at 06:30 for 500,000 dong and stops at Vinh Moc tunnels and Ben Hai River Museum on the way. Hue to Phong Nha departs early afternoon from Hue with no stops and costs 150,000 dong (from DMZ bar Hue)
Motorbikes can be rented for 150,000 dong from hotels in Dong Hoi. It takes about 1 hour via a highway, but it is easier to get a transfer to Phong Nha or take the bus then rent a motorbike in Phong Nha. The Phong Nha cave is about 45 km from Dong Hoi and the Thien Duong (Paradise) Cave is about 70 km from Dong Hoi.
- Tung Motorbikes +84 915960481 mail: email@example.com offer a great selection of fully serviced and safety checked motorbikes for rent for visiting Phong Nha Caves and arround. Deliver and pick up included. Address: 44 Hoang Dieu, Nam Ly, Dong Hoi, Vietnam.
Taxis can be hired from hotels, resorts, airport or train station in Dong Hoi. About 1 hour on a highway with cars, oxcarts, motorbikes, buses, trucks, but it is easier and more economical to book a transfer through your accommodation in Phong Nha.
- Phong Nha and Tien Son Caves. It costs 150,000 dong for the entrance fee to see Phong Nha cave and 80,000 dong for Tien Son, and 360,000 dong to rent a boat for up to 14 people to visit Phong Nha cave (2016). You can share a boat with other tourists that show up. Renting a boat is a requirement as there is no other way to get to the caves. Caves are exquisite and very large. Xuyen Son Ho is a 300 square metre lake located inside Phong Nha cave, part of the underground Phong Nha River. It was discovered in a survey in 2012.
- Nuoc Mooc Spring Eco Trail. Transportation can be negotiated to take you there from Phong Nha village. Buy a ticket at the hut under the sign off the road, then wander the bamboo bridges and paths along both sides of the river/rapids. Go back to see where the river springs up out of the ground. This is also on the road to the Thien Duong (Paradise) Cave. 50,000 dong.
- Thien Duong (Paradise) Cave. Paved road off the main HCM Highway provides car,motorbike, and bus access. Buy 250,000 dong ticket to enter. Just after that, separate optional ticket for non-polluting electric golf cart to the base of the stairs if nice weather, walk along the new path of about 1.6 km instead. Approx. 500 stairs up to entrance of cave, another 100-200 stairs down inside. Stunning, tastefully lit cave features along 1.1 km of relatively new wooden pathways. It is about 70 km by road from Dong Hoi and takes about an hour and a half by motorbike. Some claim that this is among the most beautiful caves in the world. 120,000 dong.
- Son Doong cave. Reputed to be the world’s largest cave by the British Caving Association. Only guided tour available but with group of limited persons. Tour costs USD3,000/person and requires 5 days and 4 nights. First group completed their exploration in early August 2013. USD3,000 per person.
- 1 Tu Lan and Hang En Caves. If your budget doesn't quite stretch to Son Doong cave, Oxalis also offer 1-4 day trips to Tu Lan and Hang En caves. They seem to have a monopoly on the overnight cave trips, but they do have good English speaking guides. Prices start around 5.5M dong, limited or no trips during the rainy season from September-December. Beware of tropical storms when visiting the Hang En cave, it is prone to flash flooding.
- Dark Cave ( Hang Toi), Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. 07:30-16:00. A real adventure cave, still without the lights and large tourist groups to spoil the experience. Explore this spectacular cave on a National Park tour or independently, and after kayaking across the river, enjoy swimming through the cave with your headtorch leading the way, then explore a side passage. Hang Toi is a wonderful and very accessible example of the beautiful caves that are found throughout this region. 450,000 dong.
- Ruc Mon Cave (inside the National Park), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Discovered in 2016 by a local man, this cave has the potential to be the 2nd biggest cave in the world. The first tourists experienced this cave in 2017. Green Land Tours is the only company that offers access to each of the cave's two entrances. The tours are led by the man who discovered the cave and spent 2 years exploring it. The Ruc Mon Cave is named after the indigenous people who made a home at the entrance until the 1980s. The cave is 17 km long, with one entrance in Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park and the other at the border of Laos. This cave has the potential to be the second biggest cave in the world, following the first biggest cave also located in a Phong Nha. One of over 300 caves in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, this cave is probably the least-explored of the many caves open to tourists.
Bicycling and kayaking, swimming at allowed points along the rivers.
- Phong Nha Caves Tour Center, Phong Nha Tourist Center, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Tailor-made tours in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, including group tours, daily departures.
Vung Hue - The original restaurant in town still serves up great Vietnamese food. Great for groups.
Phong Nha Farmstay - Vietnamese and western food. Crispy based wood-fired pizzas. Daily specials.
Easy Tiger Hostel - Western food in a young and fun environment. Live music.
Capture Vietnam - Gourmet food and woodfired pizzas. Coffee, tea, wine, cocktails, fresh juice and more.
Thang Nhung - They serve spitroast pork and a range of noodle dishes. Try the pork banh mi or the bun thit nuong.
Tuan Ngoc Restaurant - well priced Vietnamese food with friendly staff.
The Pub with Cold Beer - as farm to table as it gets. This spot in the Bong Lai Valley serves up the freshest local chicken you will ever eat. Choose your chicken from the out the back and watch the transformation to the plate.
Moi Moi Restaurant - also in Bong Lai Valley this local gem serves up a range of great dishes. Pork in Bamboo is a speciality.
Why Not Bar - Vietnamese food. Great beef soup in the morning.
Mountain Goat and Hill Chicken - just past the big yellow church on the river. Goat and other dishes in Vietnamese style. Great views.
- Gecko Restaurant, Phong Nha, Son trach, Bo trach , Quang Binh, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 07:00-23:00. Phong Nha Gecko Hostel and restaurant with Cycles bar. Phong Nha's brand new premiere hostel in Phong Nha tourist center - Great spot in town with many option of delicious Vietnamese & Western dishes
- Paradise Pizza and More (Next to Greenland Homestay), ✉ email@example.com. Casual dining atmosphere with the best pizza and sandwiches in town. Very good, reasonably priced specials. Free delivery in town, take-away available on all dishes. US$2-10.
The Pub with Cold Beer - an all day watering hole that serves fresh chicken. Ride a bike out to Bong Lai Valley for real rural Vietnam.
Easy Tiger Hostel - 3 happy hours, draft beer and a great crowd. Easy Tiger is the centre of town for the social scene.
Bomb Crater Bar - A small bar on the river between Phong Nha and Bong Lai. Stop in here for half way refreshment or for a place to relax close to towh. Swim in the river here.
Andy Bar & Disco - opens at 23:00 when the Easy Tiger closes. Music and booze. Free shuttle from Easy Tiger.
- Gecko Bar, Phong Nha, Son trach, Bo trach , Quang Binh, ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. A great place to unwind after your day's adventure. And as the late hours approach quench your thirst with a cocktail at Cycles Bar open late every night.
- Phong Nha Farmstay, Cu Nam Village, Bo Trach, ☏ . Australian-run. Two night minimum stay, but they can point you at local homestays for a one-night stay. Offers a range of cave and local area tours and can be remarkably quick at replying to emails. US$45 and up.
- Phong Nha Lake House Resort, Khuongha, Hung trach, Bo Trạch, Quang Binh (Near Phong Nha cave about 45 min from Dong Hai and 15 minutes from Phong Nha National Park). Restaurant on premises. Transport from Dong Hoi can be provided for 400,000 dong, or direct bus to the guesthouse from Hue is available through tour operators for 500,000 dong. Tours of the cave can be arranged starting at US$45.
- Easy Tiger Hostel, Phong Nha Town. Owned by the same folks as the Phong Nha Farmstay, but in the middle of Phong Nha town. 4-person dorms only. Offers the same tours as the Farmstay. Pool, live music, happy hours, draft beer and great food.
- Chay Lap. They do not allow independent bookings to stay at their resort. You must book through one of their pre-approved package tour providers.
In Phong Nha Town near the cave boat dock there are many budget level guesthouses as well as new hotels along the road TL20 (intersection with the giant sign that says Phong Nha Ka Be National Park) starting around 250,000 dong with the median around 400,000 dong.
- Trang An Hotel (Right before the entrance into the national park area with a bright neon light visible from the HCM Trail at night). Free Wi-Fi. Doubles with private bath, air-con, and fridge for 350,000 dong.
- Phong Nha Gecko Hostel, Phong Nha, Son Trach, Bo Trach, Quang Binh, ☏ , , ✉ email@example.com. Phong Nha Gecko Hostel and restaurant with Cycles bar. 26 rooms with 65 beds. 6-bed male/female dorms, 10-bed mixed dorms, private rooms for the solo guest or a family.
- Phong Nha Coco House, Phong Nha village, Son trach, Bo trach , Quang Binh, ☏ . Check-in: 08:00, check-out: 12:00. Phong Nha Coco house is a special lodging in Phong Nha village, the house has two private rooms are fully equipped with private entrance. Come here you have chance escape from touristic area, staying in private house of a local included private kitchen, fridge, TV and WiFi.
- Nguyen Shack Phong Nha Central Town and Nguyen Shack Phong Nha Lake Hill. Same business 2 locations in Phong Nha. The Central Town is a semi-private rustic dormitory. The other one in the countryside is a rustic resort with bungalow by the lake in Cu Lac 2 village, 2 km away. 110,000vnd/person.
Free camping is not permitted in the park. Park rangers are very suspicious of undocumented visitors overnighting in the park.
You can camp at the Botanic Gardens in the park for a fee.
Be cautious driving on the road to/from Dong Hoi and on the roads around the National Park; avoid night driving. If you want a motorbike with driver this can easily be arranged at Thang's Phong Nha Riders next to Easy Tiger.
Bring mosquito repellent, or buy some at Capture Cafe in Phong Nha Village, next to Easy Tiger. They have a range of "necessities" as well as excellent food and drinks. Tea, coffee, cakes and baked goods, woodfired pizza and more.
Quảng Bình Province was one of the most heavily mined and bombed during the war, and unexploded ordnance (UXO) is still a problem in the area including the national park. Be wary of leaving trails, and strongly consider using a guide. You can walk in the jungle at the Botanic Gardens but the rest of the park is off limits unless you are on a tour.