Your Guide To The Phong Nha Caves

Tucked away in Quảng Bình province far removed from most tourists lies the Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, home to over 300 caves including the largest one in the world, Sơn Đoòng Cave. Back in 2003 the park earned itself a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List and tourism has been slowly increasing ever since.

Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park in central Vietnam This is the main entrance of Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park as seen from the Ho Chi Minh Trail

Although the park is quite popular with Vietnamese tourists only a fraction of foreigners make it here. (Most traveling north from Huế and Hội An just skip all the way up to Hanoi, in order to have time to squeeze in a trip to Sapa and/or Halong Bay before their visa expires. During our day there less than 5% of the visitors to the caves were westerners.)

  Star Attractions Of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

Boats transport visitors to and through the Phong Nha Cave

Entrance Fee: 80,000VND ($4USD)

Phong Nha Cave

The namesake of the park is nearly 8km long (5 miles) but unfortunately only the first 1.5km (1 mile) is open to tourists. Boats line up at the park welcome center waiting to transport visitors to and through the cave. They cost 350,000VND ($17USD) each to hire and can accommodate 12-14 people.

  Money-Saving Tip: Either come with a larger group to reduce the boat price or wait a few minutes and split a boat with one of the other groups arriving. While waiting feel free to read the welcome center signs:

Sign at the Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park welcome center

Sign at the Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park welcome center

Sign at the Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park welcome center

Sign at the Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park welcome center

After a scenic ride down the river the motor is killed and the boat top is rolled back to allow for maximum relaxation. There are two stops where you can get out on foot and explore a cave that has been enhanced with colorful modern lighting. Pay a little bit more money and you can continue on to Tiên Sơn Cave, although this is not recommended (see why below).

The colorful Phong Nha Cave

Entrance Fee: 40,000VND ($2USD)

Paradise Cave

Discovered in 2005, Thiên Đường “Paradise” Cave took the title of longest cave in Vietnam away from the name star of the park, Phong Nha Cave. At 31km (19 miles) in length Paradise Cave is more than four times longer than it’s nearby sister and has much more impressive stalactite and stalagmite formation. (In other words if you only have time to explore one of the caves, this is the one!)

Thiên Đường Cave (Paradise Cave) The cave has only been open to tourists since September of 2010

  Take A Photographic Journey Through The Cave

Sign displaying ticket prices for Paradise Cave One good thing about communism: No inflated tourist pricing. Locals and foreigners pay exactly the same price.

A quick briefing (in Vietnamese) at the entrance of Paradise Cave The Paradise Cave “Translation Area” strangely had no English translators.

Sơn Đoòng Cave

In 2009 yet another new cave outshined the namesake of the park. Although Son Doong cave was originally discovered by a local farmer nearly two decades prior, it wasn’t until many years later that the cave was actually documented and finally gained an international reputation as the biggest cave in the world. Inside giant stalagmites measure more than 70 metres (230 feet) tall!

  Son Doong measures 140m (460 feet) in diameter for a straight stretch 4.5km (2.8 miles) in length! The cave continues far past that, albeit at smaller dimensions.

The biggest cave in the world, Son Doong cave in Vietnam. It's largest cavern measures 460 feet in diameter and is nearly three miles long. The biggest cave in the world, Son Doong cave in Vietnam. It’s largest cavern measures 460 feet in diameter and is nearly three miles long! dknuth

Thanks to it’s size there are a variety of tour packages for those eager to step foot in the largest known cave in the world. The ultimate one is one week long and costs $3,000USD per person! Fun as that might have been, I think I can do better things with that much money and decided to skip this cave.

Tiên Sơn Cave

The final cave open to the public and oldest known cave of the park is the one kilometre long Tien Son. This one can be explored in conjunction with Phong Nha Cave. Tien Son is pretty much identical to Paradise with the colored lights and wooden walkway, only smaller. It is also located higher up in the hills and does require walking up stairs and a cement path.

  Tiên Sơn Cave can easily be skipped if you have already seen Paradise Cave or if it is a particularly hot day and you don’t feel like sweating while climbing up to the entrance.

Tiên Sơn Cave Because of the humidity in the cave all the steps and walkways are slippery so be careful while exploring.

Ever been to the Phong Nha caves?

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About Derek Freal

"Some people eat, others try therapy. I travel."   Cultural enthusiast. Adrenaline junkie. Eater of strange foods. Chasing unique and offbeat adventures around the world since 2008. Derek loves going to new destinations where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, or places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo -- supposedly its healthier and more efficient. For more information (about Derek, not squat pooing) including popular posts and videos, check out his bio.

11 thoughts on “Your Guide To The Phong Nha Caves”

  1. I’ve heard all about these caves, didn’t know they were all in the same complex, how exciting, i would love to visit this area some day perhaps 2015 will be perfect. Thanks for the tour.

    • Yeah, I had heard a tiny bit about these caves years ago, back when Son Doong was first announced to be bigger than that cave in Malaysia whose name I now forget because it is #2 and not #1. Anyway I’m sure you’ll like the park, it is gorgeous and there is more to it than just caves. We motorcycled a full circle around the park one day and then later that week spent a day taking a boat out to the other two caves. I also have video footage from the motorcycle and of the park, however I didn’t want to continue to delay the publication of this article while I edit it all into something exciting.

  2. Damn Derek, that whole system of caves looks so gnarly. And pretty crazy how little westerners venture there! The Song Doong Cave looked pretty wicked. I’ll need to check this out when I get to Vietnam sometime.

    • Yeah, Son Doong looks amazing but given the price and time required I obviously didn’t get the chance to explore that one. The other three were pretty fun though, had a couple nice lil boat rides in there and motorcycling around the entire park was a blast too. Mounted my HD camera on the front of the bike and got some cool footage too but when I time-lapse it the shaking becomes enhanced and ruins the video. So I need to find a way to stabilize the footage first, before I time-lapse it. Any ideas how to do this?

      • Find a way to attach to your chest. GO PRO make a harness for their cameras. Maybe you can adapt. Very stable. You can always use a helmet attachment but you seem to move your head around too much so footage becomes sloppy

        • Yeah, I need to give that a shot. My helmet in Vietnam had a GoPro mount built into it but yes, as you said, the head does tend to move around a lot while on the road — especially crazy roads like that. I usually strap it to the front of the bike but that too tends to bounce around a bit. Maybe the chest would be best.

  3. I remember reading an article about the Son Doong cave and while I wanted to go, I couldn’t justify the thousands of dollars price tag. The article didn’t even MENTION these other caves which are just spectacular, from your photos. Will definitely be getting back to Vietnam soon and exploring this area!

  4. I skipped it on my visit…just because I hadn’t heard from it… But I have add it to my list! Great reason to go back to Vietnam and get some great pho on the way 😉

    • That’s cool you saw the Phong Nha caves also but bet you didn’t do that one week trek through the world’s largest cave, eh? That’s okay, neither did I 😊 Bit pricey IMO but daaammnnn would that have been fun 😉


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