12 Best Things To Do In Phong Nha, Vietnam


Phong Nha ke bang National Park sign on hill

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park has many adventurous things to do, including caves, botanic gardens and restaurants. Paradise Cave, Dark Cave and the Duck Stop are some of Phong Nha’s most popular attractions.

In this guide, we’re going to show you the 12 best things to do in Phong Nha, Vietnam.

Our Phong Nha Experience

A man zip lining over turquoise water to dark cave in Phong Nha, Vietnam
Mark on the zip line at Dark Cave

We visited Vietnam in October 2018 as part of our 18 month trip around the world. During this trip, we stayed in Phong Nha for a few days exploring multiple caves and the surrounding area. Read more about us.

In hindsight, we would have spent more time in this region because we didn’t know how many caves were actually located here. We plan to visit in the future to experience a multi-day cave trek. If you like adventure, Phong Nha is the perfect place for you.

About The Region

 A stalagmite rising from the floor in Paradise Cave
Interesting formations inside a Phong Nha cave

Before we get into the best things to do in Phong Nha, it’s important you understand why this region is so special. This will help you appreciate the area for what it truly is.

Located in north central Vietnam where the country is at its narrowest, Phong Nha is a small village comprised of 1,000 residents. It’s only 60km (37 miles) to the border with Laos and 30km (18.6 miles) to the coastline where Vietnam meets the South China Sea.

Built around the Son River, the town serves as the tourist gateway to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. In 2003, Phong Nha-Ke Bang was listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites for its remarkable geology.

Once a peaceful farming village, Phong Nha was devastated during the Vietnam/American war (1955-1975) because key sections of the Ho Chi Minh Trail were built through the region.

Locals fleeing regular bombings used the dense jungle-like canopies and vast caves as shelter. Word spread about the great mysterious caves and they began to internationally attract attention.

In 1990, the British Cave Research Association were finally granted permission to explore and research areas of the national park alongside Vietnamese professors from Hanoi University.

Game Changing Discovery

Deep green jungle clad hills in Phong Nha, Vietnam
Stunning green hills in Phong Nha

Over the following decade, the same teams led by Howard Limbert, discovered, surveyed and mapped many of the caves that are now the major tourist attractions in Phong Nha.

It wasn’t until 15 years later in 2005 that Paradise Cave was discovered, and yet a further 4 years until the surveying team found what they’d been looking for all along.

Son Doong, the world’s largest cave gained international renown in 2009. However, this enormous cave had been found almost 20 years prior by a local man named Ho Khanh.

Ho Khanh was a logger in the area and made his discovery in 1991, but had no equipment or knowledge of caving. Jump forward 18 years and the British Cave Association having heard about his discovery, asked him for help locating the entrance.

A few failed attempts followed before they finally found the small entrance that would forever change Phong Nha.

Tourism In Phong Nha

Andy nightclub is one of the best things to do at night in Phong Nha
The entrance to Andy’s Disco in downtown Phong Nha

Although tourism is booming in Phong Nha, the town is still in its early stages of development and there are a number of amenities opening each year.

But it’s still much smaller than the likes of Sapa, Halong, Ninh Binh and Nha Trang. However, there has been much speculation about big investors from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh entering the commercial tourism arena in Phong Nha.

For now, the lack of big buck investors in Phong Nha means that it’s one of the only places in the world where tourism has actively helped local conservation.

Most of the accommodation and food services available to tourists are set up and run by locals. They are able to employ their family members to help run these amazing places.

And let us tell you, some of the friendliest people we met in all of Vietnam were found here in Phong Nha.

Local authorities have restricted access to the larger caves in the region in an attempt to conserve the intrinsic value they hold. Therefore you have to book with Oxalis Adventure, the company who have exclusive rights over tours taking you into many of the larger caves.

This is actually a good thing because it means companies won’t compete with each other by lowering prices and eventually over saturating the excursions.

So let’s take a look at some of the incredible caves found within the region including a few budget friendly options for all age groups.

Here are the best things to do in Phong Nha:

1. Son Doong Cave

Several tents set up next to a wall inside son doong cave
A row of tents inside Son Doong Cave

The creme de la creme of all things to do in Phong Nha. If you like the sound of exploring the world’s largest cave, this is the activity for you.

At over 3 million years old, Son Doong is 3 miles long and up to 40 stories high. Inside the cave itself, visitors will trek through both a jungle and underground river.

Son Doong is so big, this cave actually has it’s own climate. But tours through the massive cave are extremely exclusive with only 1,000 places available per year to enter the cave.

Here is the official Son Doong tour with Oxalis. This 6 day 5 night adventure expedition will cost about $3,000 and you must be 18-70 years old to book.

You can watch the Oxalis video of Song Doong Cave here.

Travel Tip: Fewer people have seen the immeasurable beauty inside Son Doong cave than have stood on the summit of Mount Everest. 

2. Tu Lan Cave System

We can all agree Son Doong would be an amazing experience, but it’s expensive and tours sell out quickly. However, the Tu Lan Cave system is a great second option.

This system is home to about 10 caves. Visitors will trek through both dry and wet caves featuring underground rivers. Oxalis offers 1-6 day tours ranging from easy to extremely demanding.

Here are some of the popular options:

  • Tu Lan Experience Tour – 2 dry and wet caves ($78)
  • Wild Tu Lan Cave Explorer Tour – 4 day moderate tour ($409)
  • Tu Lan Cave Expedition Tour – 6 day most difficult tour ($774)

For the full tour descriptions and prices, visit the official Oxalis website. You can also watch this YouTube video to give you an idea of what to expect inside the Tu Lan cave system.

Travel Tip: Tu Lan has become famous because it’s one of the filming locations for Kong: Skull Island.

3. Hang En Cave

Several campsite scattered around a body of water inside hang en cave
Tents inside the Hang En Cave

In addition to owning the largest cave in the world, Phong Nha also has the third largest cave too. This is a good option for those who want to explore one of these amazing caves, but don’t have much time or budget.

Oxalis offers this two day tour featuring the world’s most unique campsite, a swim in the beautiful emerald underground pool and a trek through primeval jungle.

At $327, this tour is more affordable compared to the likes of Son Doong. We were on a tight budget when we traveled through Vietnam, but in hindsight we would have picked this tour instead.

Prior to booking, you can watch the official Oxalis video here. One of the highlights in this cave also includes a Hollywood filming location known as the fairyland in Pan from 2015.

4. Hang Tien Cave

Entrance to the hang tien cave
The stunning entrance to the Hang Tien Cave

In Vietnamese, Hang Tien means cave of fairies. This cave is special and it showcases a natural beauty that often overshadows its bigger sisters.

The Hang Tien is the last cave in the Tu Lan system. In summer, Hang Tien is the largest dry cave in the system, but when the rainy season comes, a huge river flows through the cave.

Here is the Oxalis tour through Hang Tien. With a moderate level of difficulty, this 2 day tour costs $354. You can also watch this video for comparison.

5. Hang Va Cave

This is the last major cave we will discuss in our best things to do in Phong Nha guide. We understand not everyone will be interested in these tours, but we want you know about them because they weren’t well known when we traveled here in 2018.

The Hang Va Cave is much sought after by photographers for it’s rare tower cone rock formations that rise out of cave waters as though they formed the back of a Stegosaurus.

These tower cones are made from calcite, which principally makes up limestone. Hang Va cave is another tour that can only be done as part of a 2 day expedition and it costs around $426.

But the Hang Va tour is a bit more challenging than the other 2 day tours. You will face bouldering, rock scrambling, rope traversing and wading through an underground river. Here is the Oxalis video for Hang Va.

Now let’s have a look at some of the more affordable and easier to access caves. These are more likely to be on the average Phong Nha itinerary for the budget backpacker.

6. Paradise Cave

A wooden boardwalk leading through Paradise Cave in Phong Nha
The wooden boardwalks through Paradise Cave

Locally known as Thien Durong cave, Paradise Cave was discovered by a local man in 2005. Soon after, the British Cave Research Association explored and surveyed its entirety.

Paradise Cave runs for 31km (19.3 mi), has a maximum height of 72m (236ft) and gets as wide as 150m (492ft). However, the public can only access a small portion of this cave and a wooden boardwalk has been created inside for visitors to use.

We think one of the most interesting aspects about this cave is the opening where you enter and leave. This hole is much smaller than you would imagine, especially when compared to many other caves in the area.

However once inside, the cavern opens up to reveal staggeringly beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, hence the name Paradise. This is one of the most popular caves in Phong Nha because it’s easy to visit and extremely affordable.

We think Paradise is absolutely stunning and the lighting is fantastic because it allows you to see incredible details on the formations. You can visit on your own or book a tour here.

Further Reading: How to visit Paradise Cave

7. Dark Cave

Several tourists inside the mud room in dark cave
Photo courtesy of Phong Nha Discovery

Locally known as Hang Toi, Dark Cave is one of the best things to do in Phong Nha because it bridges the gap. This is a super adrenaline filled cave tour at an affordable price.

Compared to Paradise Cave where you just walk around a boardwalk admiring the caves intricacies, Dark Cave is an adult playground filled with fun adventurous activities.

We like Dark Cave because you can visit in just a few hours which makes this a good option for those who only have one day in Phong Nha.

The best way to visit Dark Cave is as part of a tour on which you visit another cave the same day. This is a popular tour here that combines Dark and Paradise Cave. We won’t spoil all of the surprises, but the photo above is our tour group having a mud fight.

Further Reading: How to visit Dark Cave

8. Phong Nha Cave

A boat making its way through the entrance to the Phong Nha Cave
The entrance to the Phong Nha Cave

The whole entire region gets its name from Phong Nha Cave. It was one of the original caves explored and surveyed by the British Cave Research Association in 1995.

Phong Nha Cave is the easiest cave in the region to access as it’s only a few kilometers from town, but it’s also one of the most spectacular.

The only way to enter Phong Nha Cave is to be escorted in by boat. Park your bike or scooter at the visitor center in town and then purchase your tickets for entrance to the cave and for your boat ride.

Entrance to Phong Nha Cave is 150,000 VND ($6) and the boat ride is 360,000 VND ($15). If this seems a bit steep for your budget, hang around the visitor center until more tourists appear.

Boats can fit 14 people so the longer you wait, the cheaper it will be. Or you can book this combo tour with Paradise Cave if you want someone else to worry about the details.

After 20-30 minutes of floating along the Son River, you will finally see a huge black expanse among the towering jungle clad limestone karsts. This is the entrance to Phong Nha Cave.

The Cave is 7,729m long and has 14 grottoes. More interestingly, it is home to the subterranean river that runs for 13,969m underground.

So far scientists have surveyed 44.5km (27.7 mi) of the Phong Nha Cave system. However, only a tiny proportion of the cave is open to the public.

Your boat driver will shut the engine off before entering the vast dark entrance. You will see stalactites and stalagmites jutting out from below the water and hanging down from the cave.

You have 20-30 minutes to wander around the cave, take your photos and admire the inside of the cave. This is a good option if you are traveling with kids, don’t want hire a scooter or don’t want to pay for a tour.

9. Eight Ladies Cave

The 8 ladies cave shrine with candles and incense burning
Incense burning at the Eight ladies Cave

The Cave of 8 Ladies, or Hang Tam Co, is a sacred place to local Vietnamese. It’s a tiny cave but a better representation would be to describe it as a shrine or temple.

In 1972, when the Americans hit Phong Nha and the Ho Chi Minh Trail with a huge bombing raid, a group of 8 young locals ran into the small cave for shelter.

But after prolonged bombings, an enormous piece of rock cracked and completely covered the entrance to the cave. Those sheltering were stuck.

There were many attempts to rescue them but all of them failed. By the 9th day, the voices of the women were no longer heard. It’s a tragic and sobering story.

You can find it just off the Ho Chi Minh Trail, close to Paradise Cave. Some of the tours will make a stop and tell you about it. There’s no entrance fee but it is a sacred place so you’ll need a sarong to cover up for both men and women.

10. Phong Nha Botanical Gardens

A waterfall and wooden ladder in botanical gardens at phong nha
A small waterfall and wooden ladder at the botanic gardens in Phong Nha

One of the best things you can do in Phong Nha is visit the Botanical Gardens. We like the gardens because they are close enough to access by bike or scooter and it’s a stunning ride up to the national park.

You will ride along empty narrow lanes past water buffalo caked in mud and cattle grazing on long grass. A thick green blanket spreads out and smothers limestone rocks as far as the horizon.

The botanic gardens are located within a primeval forest full of flora and fauna waiting to be discovered. But we loved the picture perfect 30m high Gio Waterfall. This waterfall was the reason we made the effort, everything else was a bonus.

When you visit, you can hike three different routes. You can either keep it short (1.5km) or tag on some extra distance (2.5km). There are signs explaining plant species along the way as well as rest stops with swings to relax on.

Woman on a swing in the botanical gardens in Vietnam
Kristen on a swing at the Phong Nha botanical garden

The Botanic gardens are a super cheap alternative to shelling out a large chunk of your budget for the caves. It costs 40,000 VND ($1.65) for entrance plus 4,000 VND to park your scooter.

Travel Tip: Parking is free for bicycles.

Be sure to bring your swimming gear and a towel because you can take a dip in Vang Anh Lake. The botanical gardens are open from 7:00am-5:30pm daily.

Further Reading: Reasons to visit the Phong Nha Botanic Gardens

11. Bong Lai Valley

Rice paddies at Bong Lai valley in Vietnam
Waterlogged rice paddies in the Bong Lai Valley

Just 9km (5.6mi) away from town lies a beautiful little valley called Bong Lai. You will find rice paddies and friendly locals who welcome tourists into their authentic homestays.

Either jump on a scooter or hire a mountain bike, ride along the Son River and cut across the main road to reach the valley.

You will pass the Duck Stop just after you arrive into the valley which we will talk more about below. But first, you should stop at the Pub with Cold Beer or Moi Moi.

Over the years, the Pub with Cold Beer has become famous for the fact you can kill your own chicken for dinner. Visitors often rave about the pool, hammocks and peaceful location. See reviews here.

Moi Moi is a highly rated restaurant offering delicious food. We only discovered this place after our trip to Vietnam and can’t wait to visit when we return. See reviews here.

Aside from the food and beer, the Bong Lai Valley is a perfect place to see what a rural Phong Nha looked like 20 years ago, before any tourism came to the region.

This is one of the best things to do in Phong Nha if you are looking for a little peace and quiet.

12. The Duck Stop

A flock of white ducks
A large group of white ducks

Last but not least, the Duck Stop is an extremely popular place to visit in Phong Nha because you can feed a large group of big white ducks.

For 100,000 VND ($4.12), you get about 10 minutes to feed over 100 ducks who basically run wild, poop on your toes and peck at you.

This family farm grows peppers, rice, peanuts, cassava and chili so you can also learn how to be a Vietnamese farmer. Be sure to try the pancakes with homemade peanut sauce known as Banh Xeo.

The Duck Stop always gets quacking reviews, you can check TripAdvisor comments here.

Travel Tip: There is a water buffalo ride at the Duck Stop which we would personally avoid. While buffalos are an essential animal in Vietnamese culture, this situation can distress the animal. It’s important for us as travelers to only support ethical practices.

Phong Nha Interactive Map

In order to understand where every Phong Nha activity we mentioned in this guide is located, use our interactive map below. Keep reading to learn about your transportation options.

Here is the key:

  • Red – Activities
  • Dark blue – Hotels
  • Light blue – Restaurants
  • Maroon – Transport options

You can also access our best things to do in Phong Nha interactive map via this link here.

Gio Waterfall at the Botanical Gardens in Phong Nha
Gio waterfall at the Phong Nha botanical gardens

In Conclusion

So is Phong Nha worth it?

Yes, Phong Nha is worth visiting because there is so much more to do this region than just caves. In fact, Phong Nha was one of our favorite places in Vietnam. Purely based on the fact this is where you can see the authentic Vietnam of a decade ago.

Phong Nha is currently nestled exactly in the sweet spot between beautifully unexploited nature and tourism overload. Traditional and friendly locals will greet you around town.

The best way to explore Phong Nha is to rent a bike or scooter and hit the roads. You will have most roads completely to yourself as though there’s been a zombie apocalypse.

How To Get To Phong Nha

A yellow sleeper bus in Phong Nha
The yellow sleeper bus we took to Phong Nha

Phong Nha is located within the Quang Binh Province in Vietnam. And getting to Phong Nha is much easier now than it was a few years ago. There are 4 options depending on where you’re coming from. Let’s take a look:


It’s unlikely you’ll be flying into Vietnam from abroad just to go to Phong Nha, unless you’ve booked one of the expensive cave expeditions. International flights will land at either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City where you can get an extremely cheap connecting flight to Dong Hoi, the closest airport to Phong Nha.

Once you’re in Vietnam you can pick up cheap flights to Dong Hoi. There will be direct International flights to Da Nang if you are already in South East Asia. Da Nang is much closer than Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh and you could get a bus or train to Dong Hoi from there. We always book our flights with Skyscanner to find the best deals.

Further Reading: How to find cheap flights

Sleeper Bus

The sleeper bus is both an effective and budget option for arriving into Phong Nha from many parts of Vietnam. We took an overnight sleeper bus from Tam Coc directly to Phong Nha.

It was one of the few journeys that went smoothly, but we did arrive at a ridiculous time of morning around 3:00am. The company we traveled with gave us a free hostel to crash in on arrival but it was pretty dingy to be honest.

We recommend booking in advance online from wherever you will arrive from. Booking online gives you a better quality of bus.You can book with 12Go Asia.

The main reason we chose the sleeper bus is because the bus arrives directly into Phong Nha. This will be your most direct route which is a good option if you are short on time. If you live in America, you will know Dunkin’ Donuts motto says America runs on Dunkin. So just to compare, Vietnam runs on sleeper buses. At least for tourism, anyway.

Further Reading: What to expect on a Vietnam sleeper bus

Sleeper Train

Your alternative to flying and the sleeper bus is to take a sleeper train. Or just a normal train during the day if you have the time to spare for traveling by day.

Train travel in Vietnam is more than just a train ride, you get to see parts of the countryside you wouldn’t by bus or plane. They are often more comfortable than buses and planes. If you have the budget, you can even book first class tickets for a more luxurious experience.

When we travel to Vietnam again, we intend to use trains where possible. But as mentioned above, the problem you have for Phong Nha, is that you can only get to Dong Hoi. If you’re coming all the way down from Hanoi or up from HCMC and don’t want to fly, get a train.

A bus that far would be horrendous. But if you’re closer by in Hue or Tam Coc for example, the bus might be more convenient as it drops you in town. Check Baolau for ticket prices, then compare with 12Go Asia for the best price.

Arriving Into Dong Hoi

If you arrive into Dong Hoi by plane, train or bus, you will need to take a bus or private transfer to Phong Nha. A private transfer could cost anywhere between 150,000 VND to 600,000 VND ($6-25) depending on the number of passengers. You should also be prepared to negotiate.

A local bus will only cost you around $3-4, but you will need to take a short taxi from the train station to the bus terminal. You can book a shared shuttle bus or a private transfer with Klook here if you want to book before your trip and save the hassle.

Where To Stay In Phong Nha

hotel room on Phong Nha sofa
Our room at Thao Nguyen Homestay

There are numerous accommodation options in Phong Nha and it will be difficult to choose just one. But the good news is there is something for everyone including budget friendly hostels, sustainable homestays and luxurious villas.

We had to drag ourselves across town when we arrived at 3:00am to the free hostel provided with the sleeper bus. It was not a great experience.

After a few restless hours sleep, we headed over to Bamboo Chopsticks for breakfast and searched booking.com for a cheap homestay nearby. We found Thao Nguyen Homestay, which was less than 100 meters away and we were ready for a shower.

Man on a hotel balcony in Phong Nha with spectacular view of the surrounding green hills
Mark on the balcony of our room looking out at the hills of Phong Nha

We visited in off season so it was quiet at the homestay. But we had the swimming pool and gorgeous views to ourselves. The location is perfect with all amenities close by and they have made some serious aesthetic improvements since we stayed.

Many of the homestays in Phong Nha are located just south of town on the Son river. They often feature amazing views, swimming pools, private bathrooms, a bbq area and friendly staff.

Here are more top rated options in Phong Nha depending on your budget:




Eating Out In Phong Nha

Visitors inside Bamboo cafe in Phong Nha
Visitors at Bamboo Chopsticks, a popular spot in Phong Nha

For such a small town, you have plenty of choice for eating out. We’ve already mentioned Pub with Cold Beer and Moi Moi over in Bong Lai Valley.

Back in town we highly recommend:

If you’ve been sinking beers and want to continue the party into the early hours, head over to King Kong Bar or Andy’s nightclub.

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We hope our guide featuring the best things to do in Phong Nha helps you plan a trip through Vietnam!

Please let us know if you have any questions about visiting Phong Nha or planning a trip to Vietnam in the comments below.

Happy Travels,

Mark and Kristen

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