Vietnam, a country you came for culture but stayed for the caves. As recently as 2008, the biggest cave in the world was discovered in Phong Nha national park. How big, you asked? Well, the cavern is so big it has its own weather system.
I was fortunate enough to be passing through the central of Vietnam in March 2015 and I decided to stop in Phong Nha for 2 nights mainly because of my curiosity about the cave system there, but also the long bus ride from Hoi An to Hanoi didn't sound very attractive to me. One full day, I spent trekking in a dark cave called Paradise Cave that took me to the cavern lost in nature and time. Vietnam truly holds one of the best cave experience in the world.
Looking for a complete travel guide and itinerary for Vietnam? 2 Weeks Itinerary for Vietnam.
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Getting to Phong Nha from Hoi An
I asked the receptionist at my guesthouse to arrange a bus pick up from Hoi An to Phong Nha. I first thought it was a direct bus but that proved to be a mistake on my part. I got carried away hoping that it would but there was no way a tourist bus would go directly to where I wanted to go. In the end, I was dropped in Dong Ha where one of the guys showed me where to go to get on another bus to Phong Nha. It was easy enough and everything went smoothly afterward.
Looking for a guide to Hoi An? The Colorful Lanterns of Hoi An's Ancient City .
Where to Stay in Phong Nha
I arrived at 11 PM and I was dropped off near the Easy Tiger hostel, a somewhat party hostel with a good social area and it was where all the cave tours are arranged. The staff speaks excellent English although the room was a little underwhelmed. The dorm I stayed in was the only room without electricity because of some issues with the generator but other than that, it was good enough for me.
Go Caving in Paradise Cave
Before I went to bed, I booked a 1 day guided hike into the Paradise Cave which cost us 2,650,000 VND or around 120 USD. A 7 km private trail through the dark caves of Vietnam. I found out later that the only way to do the trail was by a guided tour and they only run once per day. We basically had the whole cave to ourselves.
The day began with a cloudy and rainy weather. That did not matter because we were exploring a cave after all. Crappy weather made cave exploration even more spectacular.
They were 5 of us in the tour. After being transferred from the hostel, we met our hilarious guide who promised to play the Jingle Bell song with the rocks in the cave. He gave us all the gears we needed from jackets, pants to shoes and safety helmet.
The first kilometer of the cave is setup to be a museum where anyone could go in. Lights and walkways were installed to make it convinient for visitors.
We looked like a fool walking with all our gears like this but we did get the last laugh.
The museum part was pretty impressive in itself. These rock formations were formed millions years ago.
Even if you don't go with the tour, you can still enjoy the amazing rock formation in the Paradise Cave.
There were signs explaining what it looked like. This was suppose to be a waterfall rock formation. Our guide told us that these explanations are for tourist, and he said not to bother with them. We said more exciting things awaited.
And he was right. After the end of the walk path, a security guard let our group off the usual path and into the darkest and deepest area of the cave.
With our headlamp, we walked through the dark caves step by step marveling at the scale of these caverns. One of them was so big, you could fit a small sport stadium in.
One of these days, I will probably die from the stalactite falling right into my eyeballs.
A gigantic dome-shaped of what looks like a sandstone (?) You can see the surface glittered from lights from our headlamps.
One of the smallest area on the trek. The guide told us that during the rainy season, this area will be filled with water preventing trekkers from going further. There were still some water left in the cave so we had to take a paddle boat (which was in the cave) and paddled our way through the water and walked through mud.
As we approached the end of the trek, we were rewarded with a view of a giant cavern. Raindrops dripped from the open cavern straight several meters down to the ground.
The cavern was gigantic! It was almost impossible for me to capture the open ceiling and the ground in one frame.
We stopped here for lunch and swam in one of the waterfall inside the cavern. The water was cold but refreshing. It was a perfect rest stop from a 2 hours hike in humid tropical weather.
After an hour at the cavern, we trekked back the same way to the entrance in a much faster pace.
Even though the price was a little steep for me, knowing that they took us through a private trail with all the gears provided and an awesome guide, I think it was worth the price.
From what I gathered, trekking in dark caves here can only be done through a tour and the Paradise Cave trek was the cheapest one that can be done in a day.
We were transferred back to our hostels and went separate ways. The rain still didn't gave it and it would be like this for several days to come.
Stunning landscape of Phong Nha national park. I was starting to feel closer to nature in Vietnam more than all my previous destination.
Before crashing for the night, I went to one of the travel agency to arrange my next leg to Ninh Binh. Since there were no bus going directly there, I had to get up super early to catch the first bus to Dong Hoi and catch a morning train to Ninh Binh.
Will I made it to the train station in time and what was there to see in Ninh Binh? Stay tuned for the next entry of my Vietnam trip.
Continue Reading the Next Part: A Motorbike Guide to Ninh Binh.
Further Reading about Vietnam
Are you looking for more information about traveling in Vietnam? Here are a few more articles that can help you with your trip in Vietnam:
- Looking for a complete travel guide and itinerary for Vietnam? 2 Weeks Itinerary for Vietnam.
- Are you planning to travel to Vietnam as part of a big Southeast Asia trip? Check out our 3 months backpacking itinerary for Southeast Asia.
- Ho Chi Minh City is a great place to start your journey in Vietnam and you can read more about Ho Chi Minh City here: 3 Days In Ho Chi Minh City
- Looking for things to do in Hoi An? Be sure to check out an article I wrote about my experience in Hoi An here: The Colorful Lanterns Of Hoi An's Ancient City
- Ninh Binh is a great alternative to Halong Bay if you are not so keen on sleeping on a boat for a few days and having to deal with cheap tour agencies and drunk tourists. You can read more about my experience of Ninh Binh here.
- I have written about my experience traveling to Sapa by train, hiking and exploring the mountains and hills of Sapa on a motorbike.
- Not convinced by my words about Vietnam? Here are 33 photos that will inspire you to visit Vietnam now.
- You can see all my Vietnam related articles on my Vietnam Travel Guide page.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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