Phong Nha-Ke Bang
Phong Nha-Ke Bang is a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Quảng Bình Province, in the north of the Central Coast region of Vietnam. The park is 50 km north of Dong Hoi, around 450 km south of Hanoi.
The core zone of this national park covers 857.54 km2 and a buffer zone of 1,954 km2. The park was created to protect one of the world's two largest karst regions with 300 caves and grottoes and also protects the ecosystem of limestone forest of the Annamite Range region in north central coast of Vietnam.
The plateau on which the park is perched is probably one of the finest and most distinctive examples of a complex karst landform in Southeast Asia. This national park was listed in UNESCO's World Heritage Sites in 2003. In April 2009, the world's largest cave, Son Doong Cave, was discovered by a team of British cave explorers of British Caving Association. Tourist activities in this park includes expedition of caves and grottoes in boats, eco-tourism, discovering the flora and fauna in this park and mountain climbing, trekking.
Phong Nha town is on the edge of the park just off the main highway, and has undergone some growth since the caves were discovered. Most accommodation, restaurants and travel providers are in the town, although there are some good places in the surrounding villages - where the tradeoff is the peace and quiet!
Like North Central Coast Region (Bắc Trung Bộ) in general, and Quảng Bình province in particular, the climate in Phong Nha–Kẻ Bàng national park is tropically hot and humid. The annual mean temperature is 23 to 25 °C, with a maximum of 41 °C in the summer and a minimum of 6 °C in the winter. The hottest months in this region are from June to August, with an average temperature of 28 °C, and the coldest months from December to February with an average temperature of 18 °C. Annual rainfall is 2,000 mm to 2,500 mm, and 88% of the rainfall is from July to December. With more than 160 rainy days per year, no month is without rain. Mean annual relative humidity is 84%.
Train: Several arrivals and departures at Dong Hoi daily from as far away as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, only a few hours from Hue.
Bus: A local bus goes from Dong Hoi to Phong Nha for 40,000 dong. It departs at 14:00 from Nam Ly bus station. The bus back to Dong Hoi leaves Phong Nha at 8:00, so you have to either stay overnight or try to go back with one of the tour buses (they may even take you to Dong Hoi for free).
By sleeper buses from Da Nang to Phong Nha, departures at 8:30 and 14:30 (2015).
Motorbikes: Motorbikes can be rented for 150,000 dong from hotels in Dong Hoi. It takes about 1 hour via a highway that has little traffic: the Phong Nha cave is about 45 km from Dong Hoi and the Thien Duong (Paradise) Cave is about 70 km from Dong Hoi.
Taxis: can be hired from hotels/resorts, airport or train station in Dong Hoi. About 1 hour on a highway with cars, oxcarts, motorbikes, buses, trucks.
Tours are available from Hue.
Hotels in Dong Hoi can arrange day trips to the park.
- Phong Nha and Tien Son Caves. It costs 80,000 dong for the entrance fee to see Phong Nha cave and 40 000 dong for Tien Son, and 320,000 dong to rent a boat for up to 14 people to visit Phong Nha cave (2014 July). You can share a boat with other tourists that show up. Renting a boat is a requirement as there is no other way to get to the caves. Caves are exquisite and very large. It is about 45 km by road from Dong Hoi and takes about an hour by motorbike. Xuyen Son Ho is a 300 square metre lake located inside Phong Nha cave, part of the underground Phong Nha River. It was discovered in a survey in 2012.
- Nuoc Mooc Spring Eco Trail. Transportation can be negotiated to take you there from Phong Nha village. Buy a ticket at the hut under the sign off the road, then wander the bamboo bridges and paths along both sides of the river/rapids. Go back to see where the river springs up out of the ground. This is also on the road to the Thien Duong (Paradise) Cave. 50,000 VND.
- Thien Duong (Paradise) Cave. Newly paved road off the main HCM Highway provides car/motorbike/bus access. Buy 120,000 dong ticket to enter; the fee includes an English speaking guide. Just after that, separate >>optional<< ticket for non-polluting electric golf cart to the base of the stairs if nice weather, walk along the new path of about 1.6 km instead. Approx. 500 stairs up to entrance of cave, another 100-200 stairs down inside. Stunning, tastefully lit cave features along 1.1 km of relatively new wooden pathways. It is about 70 km by road from Dong Hoi and takes about an hour and a half by motorbike. Some claim that this is among the most beautiful caves in the world. 120,000 VND.
- Son Doong cave. Reputed to be the world’s largest cave by the British Caving Association. Only guided tour available but with group of limited persons. Tour costs USD3,000/person and requires 5 days and 4 nights. First group completed their exploration in early August 2013. 3000 USD.
- Tu Lan and Hang En Caves. If your budget doesn't quite stretch to Son Doong cave, Oxalis also offer 1-4 day trips to Tu Lan and Hang En caves. They seem to have a monopoly on the overnight cave trips, but they do have good English speaking guides. Prices start around 5.5M dong, limited or no trips during the rainy season from September-December.
Bicycling and kayaking, swimming at allowed points along the rivers.
Thien Duong Cave: Along with the new road, several restaurants -- at the site entrance, as well as at the top of the 500 stairs! -- were being built for visitors in Spring 2011.
- Phong Nha Lake House Resort, Khuongha, Hung trach, Bo Trạch, Quang Binh (Near Phong Nha cave about 45 min from Dong Hai and 15 minutes from Phong Nha National Park). Restaurant on premises. Transport from Dong Hoi can be provided for 400,000 dong, or direct bus to the guesthouse from Hue is available through tour operators for 500,000 dong. Tours of the cave can be arranged starting at USD45.
In Dong Hoi, there is a range of hotels/guesthouses, as well as at least one beach resort. About 1 hour travel time from Dong Hoi to the park. At least two idyllic options very close to the park:
- Chay Lap. They do not allow independent bookings to stay at their resort. You must book through one of their pre-approved package tour providers.
- Phong Nha Farmstay, Cu Nam Village, Bo Trach, ☎ +84 944759864. Australian run. Two night minimum stay, but they can point you at local homestays for a one-night stay. Offers a range of cave and local area tours and can be remarkably quick at replying to emails. USD8-35.
In Phong Nha Town near the cave boat dock there are several budget level guesthouses along the road TL20 (intersection with the giant sign that says Phong Nha Ka Be National Park) for around 150,000 dong or more.
- Trang An Hotel (Right before the entrance into the national park area with a bright neon light visible from the HCM Trail at night). Free Wi-Fi. Doubles with private bath, air-con, and fridge for 350,000 dong.
- Easy Tiger Hostel, Phong Nha Town. Owned by the same folks as the Phong Nha Farmstay, but located in the middle of Phong Nha town. 4-person dorms only. Offers the same tours as the farmstay.
Check park regulations first, or go with an organised tour. Park rangers are very suspicious of undocumented visitors overnighting in the park.
Be cautious driving on the road to/from Dong Hoi; avoid night driving.
Bring mosquito repellent.
Quảng Bình Province was one of the most heavily mined and bombed during the war, and unexploded ordnance (UXO) is still a problem in the area including the national park. Be wary of leaving trails, and strongly consider using a guide.