Dark Cave is one of the most popular adventure caves in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. It spans almost 6km long, 50m wide and 80m high with two entrances. Unlike many in the region, the cave is not artificially lit and it features a natural mud bath at the end of a narrow passage.
In this guide, we are going to show you everything you need to know about visiting the Dark Cave in Phong Nha, Vietnam.
Our Dark Cave Experience
To make planning easy for you, we’re going to walk you through what you can expect in Dark Cave including what we liked and didn’t like. If you have never explored a cave, we highly recommend you add Phong Na to your Vietnam itinerary.
What Is Dark Cave?
Known as Hang Toi in Vietnamese, Dark Cave was discovered in 1990. It derives its names from the black basalt found within the limestone. But many people like to think it comes from the fact there are no artificial lighting systems within the 6km long chamber.
This cave offers visitors an adrenaline rush with long zip lines and over-water obstacle courses. But that’s not all. When you visit, you will also have the chance to go swimming, kayaking and mud bathing. So if you are looking for a unique place to visit in Vietnam, look no farther than Dark Cave.
After the discovery of Dark Cave, the locals wanted to open up the cave for commercial use to help further promote Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.
In 2014, a 400m long double zip-line was created as the entrance to Dark Cave. At the time it was built, this was the longest zip line in Vietnam.
Travel Tip: You don’t have to use the zip line to enter dark cave, but it might be included in the price you pay for a ticket. More on this later in our guide.
The cave is primarily formed of crevasses that become narrower and narrower the further you advance inside. It also features a muddy bottom with thick clay walls.
The mud inside Dark Cave is completely buoyant which makes you float and this is a highlight for many visitors.
Dark Cave is polar opposite to the nearby friendly favorite Paradise Cave. At Paradise, you will walk around a boardwalk to admire the spectacular stalactites and stalagmites. Whereas Dark Cave is for adventure lovers. We like to compare it to an adult playground.
Further Reading: Best things to do in Phong Nha
Best Way To Visit Dark Cave
The main entrance to Dark Cave is located along the Ho Chi Minh Highway West. It is about 5km (3mi) north of Paradise Cave. Be sure to keep an eye out for signs saying Zip-line to Dark Cave.
You can visit Dark Cave independently or with a tour. Hours of operation are typically from 8:30am-5:30pm. Personally, we decided to visit with a tour after reading some bad reviews on TripAdvisor.
If you choose to visit independently, you run the risk of not being able to enter Dark Cave. One of the common scams is to let visitors pay for parking and then deny entrance to the cave because it is “closed.”
This happened to a few tourists who visited in the afternoon during our tour. Since we visited the cave after the people were turned away, we saw this scam in action.
If you plan to visit Dark Cave on your own, we recommend you plan to arrive early in the day to have the best chance of entry.
For our visit, we chose a tour because it included both Dark Cave and Paradise Cave. It was a good option because they provided lunch and transport between caves. We also met some great people so it was worth it for us.
You can book tours with your Hotel or directly online here. If you want to read reviews and see a few more options, here are popular Dark Cave Tours:
Travel Tip: If you book with a tour company, they will take photos of your adventure. Many of the photos in this guide were taken from our Phong Nha Discovery guides.
Our Dark Cave Tour Walkthrough
Depending on the tour you book, you will visit Dark Cave in the morning or afternoon. We visited in the afternoon because we spent the morning at Paradise Cave.
Earlier in the day, Paradise Cave was filled with mesmerizing formations, stalactites and stalagmites. Our entire group had sweat a bucket full walking up to the entrance, suffering in the humidity.
But after we were back on the bus, it was time to visit Phong Nha Dark Cave. There was an air of excitement, everyone had been looking forward to it all day.
1. Lunch First
The mini bus pulled up to the Dark Cave entrance and we were shepherded to a partially covered cafeteria area overlooking the river. It was lunch time.
On big platters we were served rice, meat, veggie options and plenty of water. The food was great, but we could see people zip-lining and maybe the anticipation quashed our hunger slightly.
After lunch we were instructed to get changed into swimwear. There are plenty of private changing rooms so you can change with no issues.
2. Preparing For The Zip Line
Before we were allowed on the zip-line we had to pick up a life-jacket, harness and helmet. A safety briefing followed to warn us about lifting our legs up at the end of the zip-line to land safely.
As our group walked towards the lighthouse-like building from the top of which the zip-line begins, we realized that we wouldn’t be zip-lining for a good half hour.
A line snaked its way around the windy external staircase and went down extremely slowly. We could see that it took each person about 3 minutes to get into position, strap in, zip-line and move away from the landing area.
So if you have 10 people in front of you, it will take about a half an hour. Everyone eventually filtered through and we were next.
3. Our Zip Line Experience
Kristen hooked up first and took a run up before launching off over the turquoise pool below. It took around 30 seconds to zip 400m down the line.
There was a hairy moment for her on the zip-line because the trajectory took her directly over the top of a roof that first looked like her legs would hit, but it was only an optical illusion.
At the end, Kristen landed elegantly, unclipped and moved away for Mark to follow along. Near the bottom you have your photo taken so prepare your best Instagram pose!
Let’s just say Mark was a little less elegant. He spun around a few times as though listening to Billy Idol’s 80’s classic on the way down.
But now we could see the entrance to the cave.
Once the whole group had zip lined over, we all jumped in the river and swam 30 meters to the entrance with our life jackets on. The ice cold water was a welcome relief from the humidity.
Travel Tip: The weight parameters for the zip line are 40-90kg (90-200lbs). We did see a woman who hit her head pretty hard on the ground because she came in a bit too fast. There was another child who struggled to get down the line. Please keep this in mind for safety reasons.
4. Inside The Cave
At the entrance, we climbed onto a wooden boardwalk, which took us into the huge cave opening. Now we were beginning to get excited for this Indiana Jones adventure.
The boardwalk didn’t last long and eventually we were walking on a sandy, gravelly surface. As our group penetrated the cave, the light began to fade and we could see our head torches for the first time.
We walked through some waist deep pools before finding ourselves in complete darkness, except for the head torch beams shallowly illuminating the black expanse surrounding us.
Our guide told us all to turn our lights off at once and it was as dark as dark can be. The circumference of the cave didn’t change much for the first section as we waded deeper into the unknown.
Some of the members of our group were saying they should have brought a pair of water shoes and we definitely agreed.
Before long, the way forward was blocked, but to the immediate right, a series of narrow passageways revealed themselves. Our guide led us through the confined spaces as we all stared around in amazement.
It’s worth noting that a few of the passageways require a little bit of physical fitness, but you certainly don’t have to be an athlete.
5. The Mud Room
There were no artificial footpaths to follow, the ground was uneven and the walls to our sides covered a broad spectrum of acute and obtuse angles.
Left turn followed right turn, until eventually we were led into a cavern that instantly felt unusually slippery underfoot. A thick, sludgy water came up to our knees.
We were in the mud room.
Mark referenced it felt like the end of the movie National Treasure except it was the mud room instead of the treasure room.
Mud is good for skin so everyone began by simply rubbing mud on themselves. It was freezing cold but the exfoliation was extremely moreish.
It was only a matter of time before the first piece of mud was thrown and splattered on someone’s back with a dull and echoing thud. That’s it, floodgates open!
Needless to say, we all left the mud room caked up to the eyeballs in gloopy grey mud.
Travel Tip: The mud is harsh and can stain your bathing suit. Wear a darker colored suit or one you don’t really care about incase it gets ruined.
6. Obstacle Course
On the return leg out of the cave, we traversed more narrow, sandy and rocky passages. We even had to climb up an incline and slide down the other side like a waterslide at one point.
The walk back was less exciting because we knew what to expect. Back at the cave entrance we were all blinded by the daylight.
It was time to jump into two person kayaks and paddle our way back to the dock area. It was maybe 150-200 meters away. But the fun was not over yet.
After our excursion inside Dark Cave, there was an over-water obstacle course to finish the tour. The main obstacle began by taking another zip wire, but this time we had to hold the handle and release at the right time to land in a rubber pocket.
If we missed, there was a fair drop to the jade blue Chay River below. Once out of the pocket, we had to clamber across a rope net, like on Ninja Warrior.
At the far side was a series of individual ropes that we had to Tarzan across to reach the far side. And finally, we had some hard to reach monkey bars to contend with.
After everyone had a chance at the course, we were provided with an alcoholic drink. Just what we needed to finish the day.
Travel Tip: The obstacle course was optional so you can skip this section if you aren’t interested.
Dark Cave Tickets
We thought visiting Dark Cave was worth it. Our tour cost us $55 per person at the time. This price included pick up, 8 Ladies Cave, Paradise Cave, Dark Cave, lunch, alcohol and drop off at our hotel.
It was a bit steep when you consider prices in Vietnam, but this was just way more convenient for us.
We also got to spend the day meeting other travelers and ended up in Andy’s nightclub with everyone that night.
The day before, we spent our time at the massively underrated Botanic Gardens and spent less than $4 total. So we could justify the price of Dark Cave.
If you chose to visit independently, here are the current adult prices:
- Entrance + swimming (no zip line or mud bathing) – 65,000 VND/person ($2.68)
- Full access with zip lining and mud bathing – 299,000 VND/person ($12.33)
- Limited access with zip lining but no mud bathing – VND 189,000/person ($7.80)
Remember you will also have to pay for parking at Dark Cave.
Pros And Cons To Dark Cave
Still on the fence about visiting Dark Cave? Here are a few pros and cons to help sway your decision:
- Ability to experience many adventurous activities
- Good for those on a budget who still want to visit a Phong Nha cave
- Chance to have a fun mud fight
- Great for those travelers short on time
- Not as safe compared to western standards
- The staff can be nasty and miserable
- Tours are extremely touristy
- The price is expensive for Vietnam
So is it worth visiting Dark Cave?
Dark Cave get mixed reviews on TripAdvisor. Many travelers complain about the lack of safety which we can’t dispute. We did not experience any issues ourselves, but we’ve heard a few injury stories from other people.
Since we only had one day to visit the caves in Phong Nha, Dark Cave was a great option because it only took a few hours to experience. We appreciated the additional activities offered such as zip lining and the over water obstacle course, but it’s very touristy.
For an alternative tour option, check out the Tu Lan Cave system. This would be a more authentic cave trek, away from the crowds where you can explore 2 dry and wet caves. If you want to see what other larger caves are in the region, read more from Oxalis here.
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We hope our guide to visiting Dark Cave in Phong Nha helps you decide if this activity is worth your time in Vietnam!
Please let us know if you have any questions about visiting Dark Cave or planning a trip to Vietnam in the comments below.
Mark and Kristen
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Mark and Kristen Morgan are travel, hiking and photography experts. Over the last 6 years traveling full time, they have explored more than 40 countries and 30 US states.
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