National Park Guide:

Phong Nha-Ke Bang

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Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park:

Guided and Self Guided Tours of Phong Nha

Dates Visited: March 2019

It's surprisingly easy to do a self guided tour of Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, even though it's Vietnam's largest national park. However, there are also plenty of guided tour options available as well. This national park is unlike other one's we have been to because there is no official entrance, instead you pay per attraction you want to visit within the park.

Phong Nha was established as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003 to protect it's large ecosystem of limestone forest and caves. The park is home to over 300 caves and grottoes, most of which are largely unexplored[1].

In fact one of Phong Nha's most recent discoveries, Ruc Mon Cave, only opened to the public within the last few years. Read more about the best way to get there, how to do a self guided tour of Phong Nha, some guided tour options, and where to stay in town.

How to get to Phong Nha

Phong Nha is a pretty under developed village, it's basically a one street town of hostels and restaurants that were built for tourism. Don't get me wrong, there are other home-stays off the beaten path if you want to get out of the 'tourist center.' It's definitely a good way to see how the locals live if that's something you're interested in. We did an amazing homestay in SaPa and would highly recommend it as an alternative to hostels.

Getting to Phong Nha can be a bit of a trek. Most backpackers we met were coming from larger cities like Ha Noi, Ninh Binh, or Hoi An. Bus rides from those cities can range anywhere from 7-9.5 hours. We took an overnight bus from Ninh Binh and it took roughly 8.5-9 hours - below are some options to consider if you want to get to Phong Nha.

Ha Noi ➳ Phong Nha

 

Cost: 330,000 VND/person ($14 USD)

Length: 9-9.5 Hrs

Ninh Binh ➳ Phong Nha

 

Cost: 330,000 VND/person ($14 USD)

Length: 8.5-9 Hrs

Hoi An ➳ Phong Nha

 

Cost: 200,000 VND/person ($8.50 USD)

Length: 7-7.5 Hrs

Park Entrance Fee

Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park is unique in that there is no entrance fee to get into the park itself. In lieu of the entrance fee, you pay for each attraction individually inside the park. Nonetheless, the entrance gates to the park are still manned by guards. Simply wave and pass by as they open the gate and you should get through with no problem.

Phong Nha Self Guided Tour

If you're like us and wanted to do a super cheap trip to Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, then doing a self guided tour is the way to go. Motorbikes can be rented for about 100,000 VND/day ($4.25 USD) and petrol is roughly 25,000 VND/liter ($1 USD). Thus, transporting yourself around the national park is quite cheap. To get yourself around the park we recommend taking the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park loop which allows you to take in the beautiful Jurassic-esk landscape.

Phong Nha Loop

Cost: Free*

Recommended Time: 1.5-2 Hrs

Operation Hours: 6:00AM-6:00PM

The most essential part of doing a self guided Phong Nha tour is the Phong Nha loop. The whole loop is roughly 45Km without making any additional stops along the way. We recommend having at least 3 liters of fuel to do the entire drive in addition to venturing off to do some of the attractions along the way. From the loop you will be able to give yourself the full Phong Nha self guided tour experience.

This route will take you on a scenic drive through limestone mountains covered by lush green forests. Along the way you will find Phong Nha Botanic Garden, Paradise Cave, Dark Cave, and Phong Nha Cave. The only thing on our self guided tour route that isn't included on this route is the Duck Stop.

*In order to do this you'll need to rent a motorbike: 100,000 VND/day ($4.25 USD), and at least 3 liters of fuel: 25,000 VND/liter ($1 USD). Other than that, the route is free since there is no entrance fee to the park.

Self Guided Tour of Phong Nha

*In order to do this you'll need to rent a motorbike: 100,000 VND/day ($4.25 USD), and at least 3 liters of fuel: 25,000 VND/liter ($1 USD). Other than that, the route is free since there is no entrance fee to the park.

Self Guided Tour of Phong Nha
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Phong Nha Botanic Garden

Cost: 40,000 VND/Person ($1.70 USD) + 4,000 VND/Motorbike Parking  ($0.17 USD)

Recommended Time: 1-1.5 Hrs

Operation Hours: 8:00AM-5:00PM

The first stop on our self guided tour of Phong Nha is the Botanic Garden. These gardens offer two different hiking loops, 1.5 Km for the shorter route and 2.5 Km for the longer loop. This was one of the cheaper attractions in the park that will give you the opportunity to do some hiking through the lush forestry without hiring a guide. We appreciated it because it allowed us to see some of the park's natural beauty on our own.

These hikes feature teal pools of water and a waterfall which we saw a few people taking a dip in. We might have joined them if we were wearing swimsuits since it was super hot and humid during March. We would recommend wearing shoes with good grip because part of the hikes will require bouldering over some slick rocks.

Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park
Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park

Paradise Cave

Cost: 250,000 VND/Person ($11 USD) + 5,000 VND/Motorbike Parking ($0.22 USD)

Recommended Time: 1.5-2 Hrs

Operation Hours: 6:00AM-6:00PM

The next stop on our self guided tour of Phong Nha National Park is Paradise Cave. Paradise Cave was discovered in 2005 by a local man, and upon exploration by experts is considered to be the longest cave in the national park. Though the cave spans nearly 31 km, only 1 km is open to the public. This cave is one of the most popular attractions in the park which gives it the higher price tag.

The cave itself is actually quite remarkable and worth checking out, but be prepared for a bit of a hike to get there from the 'entrance.' The walk from the ticket office to the actual entrance of the cave is nearly 2 km. You can catch a ride on an electric buggy for about 25,000 VND ($1.10 USD). However, we would recommend walking since it's great exercise and you'll have to climb about 500 stairs to the entrance of the cave anyway.

Self Guided Tour of Phong Nha
Self Guided Tour of Phong Nha

The Dark Cave

Cost: 400,000 VND/person ($17.25 USD)

Recommended Time: 1.5-2 Hrs

Operation Hours: 8:00AM-4:30PM

The Dark Cave is the most expensive attraction in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park. Starting off you will take a zipline (if you're under 90Kg) into the Chay River that leads into the Dark Cave. Lifejackets and headlamps are provided since the name of the cave implies what it is, dark. In fact, there are no lights installed in the cave so it's totally pitch black.

Don't worry, there are lockers outside the cave where you can leave your belongings. It's recommended not to bring anything of value into the cave, like cameras, because they can easily get lost. If you decide to bring a Go Pro anyway we recommend having a floaty handle and attaching it to your wrist.

We were on the fence about this one since it was so expensive, and also requires you to do some swimming. In the end we opted against it because it was too pricey and we didn't feel like getting in the water that day.

Phong Nha Cave

Cost: 150,000 VND/person ($6.50 USD) Entrance Fee + 360,000 VND ($15.50 USD) Boat Hire

Recommended Time: 2-2.5Hrs

Operation Hours: 6:00AM-6:00PM

If you're looking to do a self guided of Phong Nha then this is probably going to be one of the busier spots. Fun Fact: Phong Nha cave was used to hide floating bridges during the Vietnam/American war. It's a wet cave so that means you'll need to hire a boat to get inside of it. In order to get to this cave you'll need to first head down to the Phong Nha boat station.

From here you can buy the entrance ticket for 150,000 VND/person ($6.50 USD) and hire a boat. The boat holds up to 12 people and costs 360,000 VND total ($15.50 USD) so the more people you get, the cheaper the ride. Don't worry, there will be other people waiting at the boat station so you can find other people to split the cost.

Phong Nha self guided cave tour
Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park

The ride from the boat station to the mouth of the cave takes roughly 30 minutes each way so you should plan for the whole experience to take about 2-2.5 hours. However, if you want to see Phong Nha cave for free then put in Phong Nha cave into google maps and ride through some villages until you get to the end of a dirt road at the mouth of the cave.

Unfortunately you won't be able to get into the cave from here but we felt good about our decision not to go on the boat. In general, visiting Phong Nha National Park is pretty expensive and we were trying to be as frugal as possible. Plus we saw that all of the boats stop at a tourist trap right before going into the cave. We didn't like that they did this since you would be forced to spend time, and most likely more money, on food, drink, or souvenirs.

The Duck Stop

Cost: 100,000-150,000 VND/Person ($4.30-6.50 USD)

Recommended Time: 1-1.5 Hrs

Operation Hours: 8:00AM-8:00PM

If you feel satiated with your self guided tour of Phong Nha, then the The Duck Stop is another excellent attraction to see outside the park. We would recommend going with an open mind because it's definitely one of the more bizarre tourist attractions we have visited. Upon arriving, you will be warmly greeted by the staff and given a small snack. Then you will be asked whether you want to feed the ducks (100,000 VND/person) or ride the retired water buffalo, Donald Trump for 150,000 VND/person.

If you decide to feed the ducks, they will eat right out of your hand. It feels pretty weird at first but it's actually quite fun. We were also given a 'duck massage' - the staff member will drop food on your feet and the ducks will eat it, essentially massaging you with their bills. After the massages, we washed our hands/feet then went back to the picnic table area for a lovely vegetarian lunch.

Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park
Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park

Phong Nha Guided Tour Options

Before we decided to do our own self guided tour of Phong Nha we did some research about guided tour options. We heard some pretty good reviews of Jungle Boss and Phong Nha Discovery tour operators. Jungle Boss has an office located on the main drag in Phong Nha; they are straightforward with the costs, knowledgable, and super nice. Even if you don't end up booking a tour through them, they are more than happy to offer some tips about how to see the park.

Cost: 1,350,000 VND/person ($57 USD)

Includes: Entrance Fees, Paradise Cave, Eight Lady cave, Jungle BBQ lunch, Swim at Tra Ang Cave

Tour Length: 8:00AM-4:30PM

This tour starts at the famous Paradise Cave, a must see cave in the National Park. Then you'll continue onto the 8 Ladies Cave and War Martyr Memorial. Tour guides will give you a history about the Vietnam War at these two spots, make sure you bring clothing that covers the knees and shoulders for this part.

Following the cave and war memorial is a trip to Tra Ang Cave. After trekking about 2 Km to the jungle, a BBQ lunch is provided. Following lunch is the optional swim in the waters of Hang Tra Ang then the journey back to Phong Nha begins.

Cost: $70 USD

Includes: Transportation, Ruc Mon Cave, Lunch (veggie options available)

Tour Length: 7:30AM-5:30PM

Ruc Mon Cave was only recently discovered and made available to the public for tours. In fact, this is one of the few attractions that isn't available without a tour guide, so it's off the table if you're looking to do a self guided tour of Phong Nha. The cave features underground rivers with towering stalactites and stalagmites. With the tour, you'll get to float through the cave waters enjoying and then have lunched served to you once you get out of the water.

Though it's pretty expensive, we think it's a fairly good idea that they are keeping this cave exclusive for now in order to prevent over-tourism. However, it could just be a money making scheme by taking advantage of a new attraction, but we are optimistic there are better intentions with the reasoning. We opted against this tour since we wanted to see more of the national park in one day, plus the price tag would have put us over our daily budget. Nonetheless, if you can swing it then it might be worth the pioneering experience.

Cost: 1,050,000 VND/person ($45 USD)

Tour Length: 7:30AM-5:00PM

This tour includes both the entrance fees to Phong Nha Cave and Paradise Cave, in addition to lunch, a guide, transportation that will take you to each attraction. Both entrance fees to the caves are 400,000 VND/person total.

Thus you will be paying 650,000 VND extra for the transport (which includes the boat to Phong Nha Cave), guide, and lunch. Not a terrible deal. However, we wanted to do the caves at our own pace and didn't want to shell out the extra $28 USD for transport and a guide when we could rent a scooter for 100,000 VND/day ($4.25 USD).

Cost: 1,350,000 VND/person ($58 USD)

Tour Length: 7:30AM-5:00PM

This tour includes both the entrance fees to the Dark Cave and Paradise Cave, in addition to lunch, a guide, transportation that will take you to each attraction. Both entrance fees to the caves are 650,000 VND/person total.

Thus you will be paying 700,000 VND extra for the transport, guide, and lunch. We opted against Dark Cave anyway since it is so expensive and we didn't want to go swimming. Though, we had friends do this and they loved it, so to each their own. We were just trying to be as frugal as possible during our time here and opted to do a self guided tour of Phong Nha.

Though lunch is included in both of these tour options, it's super cheap to bring your own. We brought lunch during our self guided tour which was about 15,000-20,000 VND (less than $1 USD) for a Bahn Mi.

Where to stay in Phong Nha

From our experience, we like to use Hostel World to check out potential hostels, then check other booking websites like Booking.com to make our reservations. Sometimes we also message hostels directly to get a better price. We also like to use Airbnb to book accommodations if its a better deal than hostels. Clicking on either of the icons will give you a deal with either of the sites, but are affiliate links so we earn a small commission.

Dorms: $6+ USD

Private Rooms: $10+ USD

Amenities: 24/7 Reception, Free Wifi, Free Breakfast, Tours/Travel Desk

Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com

Dorms: $4.50+ USD

Amenities: Free Wifi, Pool, 24/7 Security, Parking, Tours/Travel Desk, Bar/Restaurant

Dorms: $2.50+ USD

Private Rooms: $7.80+ USD

Amenities: Free Wifi, Free Breakfast, 24/7 Reception, Tours/Travel Desk, Bar/Cafe

Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com
Photo Courtesy: Hostelworld.com

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By |2019-11-06T09:34:26-05:00March 19th, 2019|Asia, National Park, Vietnam|0 Comments

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