Phong Nha National Park contains the oldest karst mountains in Southeast Asia and was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2003. Only after Hang Son Doong, the Mountain River Cave, was identified as the world’s biggest in 2009, tourists started arriving.
Nevertheless, there is much more to Phong Nha than “only” caves. It is actually a great place to spend a lot more time than what we had planned…
Travel Off The Beaten Track… Finally!
After Hanoi, Hoi An & Hue with its massive crowds of tourists, its relentless touts & armada of motorbikes, finally a Vietnam that is very different: a place where locals still say “hello” to foreigners, void of street vendors who push souvenirs into your face – people here are just happy to smile at visitors.
Rent a bike or a scooter, cross the river (or not) and get lost… You will discover a Vietnam hardly touched by tourism. The owner of a bike repair shop invited us for coffee, although we gave him no business: our bikes were perfectly alright. In a village along the way we joined a local crowd watching a rooster fight, a very violent and somewhat disturbing experience. Again, a family living nearby invited us for lunch. And no, they would not accept any money for the food. Be our guest!
Discover Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park
To do so, head for the Bamboo Café. Hai, the owner, decided to dedicate his life to the conservation of the very new National Park. A trained English teacher, he first joined the Wildlife Rescue Center. It shelters, rehabilitates and then releases wild animals that had been illegally taken by poachers to be sold as bush meat or as pets.
Lack of funds made this a rather sobering experience for Hai. Soon he understood that the only way to efficiently protect the National Park’s fauna was sustainable tourism. The outcome is impressive. Now his Eco Conservation Tour offers treks through the jungle-like National Park and visits to the Wildlife Rescue Center to inform visitors of the work done, the numerous challenges the center is faced with and how he envisions the development of the area.
For more detailed information about the tour, check the excellent article our friends Lesh & Jazza from NOMADasaurus wrote…
Endless choices for serious caving
The most popular is Paradise Cave, a 7 kilometer-long dry cave. Upon entering it puts you in a state of awe, a space rivaling the size of a cathedral welcomes you, adorned with white stalactite and stalagmite. Such a grand place has not remained a secret, so go there early morning or in mid-afternoon to avoid the groups.
Phong Nha Cave, a river cave, is explored by boat. Once inside, the engine is switched off, all you hear is the sound of the paddles rhythmically hitting the water. The way back is partly covered on foot. Try to find fellow travelers to share the costs for the boat.
You want to feel adrenaline rushing through you body? Head for the Dark Cave! Frankly, for us it was way too cold in January to even imagine jumping from a zip line into cold muddy water. But younger travelers, less sensible to the cold, would not miss this experience for anything and talked with thrill and passion about their experience.
Looking for some VERY serious caving? Why don’t you join a 5 days / 4 night expedition to Hang Son Doong, the largest cave in the world. Does not come cheaply… be ready to dish out 3.000 USD for this unique experience!
Enjoy the stunning landscape
The landscape around and within of the National Park is dominated by karst formations covered with primary rain forest, against a backdrop of rice fields. Beat that! A heavenly place, best explored and enjoyed by bike or motorbike. And… you will most likely meet very few to no other visitors.
Taking your pick as how to relax…
In the mood to chill out in a sofa and read a book? Listen to groovy (no thumping) music? Tired of crowds? BamBoo Café is your place… Food is good as well!
Looking for a local feel away from those fellow travelers? Plenty of excellent local restaurants / food stall around town are waiting for you…
After some serious partying? Live music, a big crowd and cold beer? “Easy Tiger” is exactly where you want to be…