Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site. Phong Nha is tucked in between densely forested, dark green mountains and is home to many caves including the world’s largest caves, the Son Doong caves.
My long narrative (Please scroll down for important points)
We reached Phong Nha at 4 am. To our surprise (pleasant) the queen bus stopped right at Thien phu hostel. We had to walk two steps to get to the open waiting area. Thien Phu hostel is very close to the Phong Nha information center and the Phong Nha caves. We dozed off on chairs in the open area waking up only to mosquito bites. Slowly the morning light made way, and through my sleepy eyes I saw you huge mountain filled with greenery right on the opposite side of the road, with the sun trying to peep from behind it. I wasn’t dreaming, the mountain stood right there and this hotel was literally (almost) at the foot of it.
The hotel owner Thiep let us sleep in the inner area (6 of us in total) after few hours. Two got a small cot, the other two got a mattress and my friend and I got a straw mat to sleep on, for an hours and they gave us an early check-in. Check-in time was 10:30 am and they let us check-in at 7:30 am! That was a favor that no other hotels had done so far. Well later we realized that the rooms were free by 4 am as all the buses heading out to other destinations left by 4:30 am. Nevertheless, we were thankful that the staff got the room cleaned earlier and let us check-in early.
We rented out a motorbike from the hostel, and headed out to the explore pàradise caves and dark caves or Phong Nha caves (if time permits). The roads were picture perfect, shining new with no potholes (except for the last little stretch at Paradise cave). On both sides of the roads were green carpets of lands extending into mountains. And here and there we could spot locals wearing the signature Vietnamese straw hat. The front view of the road had dozens of dark green mountains, and as we rode into them they got bigger and the scene got more beautiful by each minute. Riding through this scene was like being in a nature’s canvas painting, live!
With this scenic ride to Paradise caves, we had collected enough joy for the day. Only to see that there was more to awe about, when we entered the caves. The entrance to paradise cave cost 250000 VND, 5000 VND for bike parking and a buggy ride from the front gate to the cave entrance was 50000 VND.
The cave formations are spectacular and the length appears never-ending. We spent hours there staring at each formation, we even spotted a formation that looked like the Walt Disney castle (well just for my eyes). My friend did not find any familiarity 😉
We kept strolling at leisure, jumping with joy on each and every unique formation of stalactites and stalagmites and making our way forward. The cave was quite and we had it mostly to ourselves except for one sudden surge of tourists and then the next moment my friends mobile was gone.
It was in fact, inside her sling bag fixed to the new selfie stick bought in Hanoi market, and fixed to a power bank as well. Just the power bank was left in her bag. Thankfully her wallet and passport were safe. She realized it the very next minute, and we immediately checked everywhere with additional help from a friendly security. The search though was to no avail, the phone had vanished from the cave.
We could not make it in time for the other caves because majority of our time went inside the Paradise caves. At the hostel Thiep’s wife who was a one man army, handling staff and customers while taking care of her 3-year-old kid, helped us lodge a complain with Vinaphone to block the sim card. Since it was a prepaid SIM, they said that it need not be blocked (did not understand why though). There were no mobile stores at Phong Nha, we decided to buy one at Hoi An.
Our next stop was Hoi An, and the only option to go directly from Phong Nha was an early morning bus at 4:30 AM. Other option was to go to Dong Hoi and then try for a public bus, about which we could not get any information.
So we booked the morning bus to Hoi An. Had local dinner in Son Trach area and then retired early to catch the 4:30 AM bus to Hoi An.
Another day at Phong Nha would have been an ideal plan. In any case, we enjoyed the Paradise caves. And the scenic ride to the caves and back to Son Trach was an out of the world experience.
1. The easiest and most economical way to get around Phong Nha is to rent out a motorbike. Cycling is also very popular here. If you are constrained on time, better rent out motorbikes.
2. Queen and Camel VIP Sleeper buses are the recommended ones (based on backpacker blogs). Queen VIP buses are relatively newer (as per Tour agents in Ha Noi). So we went with Queen VIP sleeper bus. The ticket costs 250000 VND to Phong Nga from Ha Noi and it takes less than 8 hours.
3. Motorbike rentals are 100000 VND for a day. Petrol cost approx 30000 VND for a day.
Places to see:
1. Phong Nha caves (close to the tourist center)
2. Paradise caves (Dong Thien Duong)
3. Dark caves (Hong Toi is the local name, this is famous for zip lining and is said to be a miniature of the Son Doong caves
4. Son Doong caves discovered in 2009, is the world’s largest cave known. You need a lot of time and money to explore this cave. It’s usually booked out and needs to be booked in advance. A 7 day package costs approx 3000 dollars.
5. A ride within Phong Nha national park area is in itself an out of the world experience and is a must do based on my experience.
1. Even a minute of distraction would suffice an adept thief to get on with his task. When a crowd approaches you or you are in crowded places, its best to be aware of your belongings and place a hand on your bag.
2. That said, there are always moments and incidents in your travel that happen and could not have been avoided. And we move on, not letting it cloud our experience. Such is life too, we gotta get over losses and move on because there are more beautiful things than to brood over something past.
3. After seeing Ha Long Bay, I had thought nothing else could awe me as much. But I was wrong. Phong Nha National park, tucked in between the forested dark green mountains, was another wonderful experience in itself.
Nature has so much more in store and she will never cease to amaze me!
Itinerary: Phong Nha, Vietnam: 1 days, 1 night.
Stayed at : Thien Phu Hostel, Son Trach Ward, Bo Trach District
Short review : Serves as a bus stop for the Queen buses and is located very close to the Phong Nha tourust center. Good staff, helpful owners (their house is adjacent to the hotel). Has bike rentals, package tours, bus ticket booking all at one place. Room rent was 14$ per night inclusive of free breakfast.
Travelers: Two female backpackers
Country Loop: North Thailand -> Laos -> Vietnam -> Cambodia -> Myanmar -> Malaysia -> Philippines -> South Thailand