Imagine a world of underground rivers, thousands of extensive caves, cascading waterfalls sparking into vast cavernous sinkholes, and you’ll have only scratched the surface Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. It’s located by the tiny village of Son Trach in north-central Vietnam, 43 kilometers west of Dong Hoi, and some 500 kilometers south of Hanoi.
Marked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003, the park covers 300 caves and grottos, up to 126 km in combined length, much of it still unexplored. Needless to say, you could spend a lifetime trekking between light and darkness and not even see it all. Because of the danger of getting lost underground or even worse, stepping on some unexplored war ordnance, visitors are generally required to be part of a tour before entering the park.
Touring Phong Nha-Ke Bang
And what an entrance it is. Starting from the picturesque village of Son Trach, visitors are taken up the river on their tour in small riverboats. From here, travelers can branch off to a variety of different destinations inside the national park.
Caves in Phong Nha-Ke Bang
One of the highlights of the national park is the Hang Son Doong cave system. Only discovered in the early 90s and confirmed to be the biggest cave in the world only 10 years ago. Comprising of a 5km long cavern it will take most of a day for those on tours to navigate, however, be warned that some caving experience is recommended and that tours can be rather expensive compared to other activities (around $75 USD per person).
Nearby there is also the Phong Nha cave that is big enough for boats to enter, or check out Hang Toi (known locally as the dark cave) which can be entered by an adrenalin-inducing zipline. Some tours are overnight in the national park, giving you a chance to live away from the city lights in a world that time forgot.
Wildlife in Phong Nha-Ke Bang
Animal lovers will also find the park bountiful with roaming elephants, dangerous tigers and even black bears making their homes among the caves. There are also some endangered primates hiding away in the deep forests, but they are kept away from human contact to encourage their populations to recover. Ecological tours take visitors on a hike to find these animals and help contribute to the conservation efforts at Phong Nha’s Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre.
Since 2014 the government has been flirting with plans to introduce a cable car to encourage more visitors to the park, but some environmentalists warn that it could damage the caves and introduce more people than the park can realistically handle. The government hasn’t really made moves yet, but it should be a warning that the majesty and unspoiled nature of the national park is fleeting, and you really should try to visit before it is finally opened up by capitalism.
The best way to get to the park via the city of Dong Hoi, located 50 km away. Dong Hoi is connected to the national Hanoi – Saigon (Ho Chi Min City) railway system and is frequented by trains to both cities. Additionally, Dong Hoi has an airport approximately 45 km with regular domestic flights. Tourists do need to pay an entrance fee into the park, which is included in their tour package.
Address: Phong NHA, Bố Trạch District, Quang Binh Province 511860
Season: Year round