As if my jet leg alone was not enough already to get me sleepless nights in Ho Chi Minh City. The morning after my arrival in Vietnam we had to meet up in the Lobby of the Grand Hotel Saigon at 04.00 in the morning for our trip to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. We were about to travel to Quang Binh Province to check out all the tourist spots in the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. It wasn't my first trip to Vietnam, but it was my first time to this part of the country.
In this blog post I will show you what it is like visiting Quang Binh Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park and list you the best things to do and places to visit in 2024.
Flying with Vietjet from Ho Chi Minh City to Dong Hoi
It was extremely early but when we arrived at the domestic airport in Ho Chi Minh it looked like rush hour. It was here were I looked for the best prepaid sim card in Vietnam, but it was a lot more quiet when I arrived 5 days ago. An endless seeming queue to get through security didn’t really brighten up my life this morning, but when I found my seat in the plane and there were two young kids sitting next to meet I could cry.
I wanted to sleep! It was already hard to fit in the seats of Vietjet, a low-cast airliner in Vietnam, but the two kids managed to even crawl on top of me to look out of the window. I smiled politely and told their mother, no problem, but all I thought was let me sleeeeeeeeep!
Let me help you arranging your Vietnam visa. In this blog you can read what you need and what is the easiest and cheapest way to get one.
Finding cheap flights to Dong Hoi, Quang Binh
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Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
Our main goal for the next days was to visit Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Here the jungle is ruling and people trying to live with it. The landscape is amazing with all its karst mountain peaks all around and you feel like driving around in a fairy tale. I was staring out of the window and all I could think was:
I want to visit Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park on a motorbike trip!
Funny because I actually only just arrived and was already thinking about coming back! Isn’t that a good sign? Many years ago I already traveled in Vietnam on a motorbike, but mostly just in South Vietnam. According to many guide books about traveling to Vietnam the road down south through the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is on of the most amazing road trips in Vietnam.
Another amazing thing to do in Vietnam is a trip to Mekong Delta. Check here for Mekong Delta travel tips.
Although a motorbike would be the best, driving around in a bus was not too bad either and on top of that were visiting some of the best places to visit in Quang Bing province, so who was I to complain!
Things to do in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
I am not going to give you a list of the best things to do and places to visit, because I only saw a couple of them. But to explain you what the National Prak is about you gotta understand that about 10 years ago there were very few tourists that even visited this region. No wonder, because most of the tourist spots in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park are discovered very recently. Caving is the number one thing to do in Quang Binh and with so many amazing caves that is no wonder, but as I said many of these places are only discovered recently. While visiting the national park I could totally understand why that is: the jungle here is extremely thick and seemingly impossible to get through.
Adventure travel is what Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is all about. Caving is the number one thing to do here, but you can also go for trekkings, boat trips, camping, homestays, climbing and many more activities in Quang Binh.
When you are going to travel to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park make sure you at least cross off the following tourist spots, just like I did.
1. Paradise Cave
From the parking it is just a short walk, they said. Luckily we got a buggy for the first 1,5 kilometer cause up here in the jungle it is super humid and hot of course. They didn’t say that the short walk was pretty much uphill to the entrance of the cave all the time. But once you have made your way up the elevated path you will be rewarded with one of the most amazing places to visit in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.
Coming in from the left you just follow the path to the right until you hit the end of the cave and return the same path.
This is what the path looks like. Caving in Phong Nha-Ke Bang is not that hard, right?
Sorry for the shitty photos. After this photo my camera jammed and I was only able to take iPhone photos.
The Paradise Cave is simply out of this world. Walking through a little hole in a mountain face it is hard to believe what will unfold behind it. Inside there is a massive open space which is the entrance to the Paradise Cave. As soon as you enter you have to walk down a staircase that brings you 60 meter deep into the cave then the cave is an astonishing 42 kilometers long, one of the longest caves in Asia.
The walking platform is just 1,5 kilomteres long, but so worth It is a very easy walk once inside. The Paradise Cave is a must do when traveling to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.
Ticket prices for the Paradise Cave.
2. Boat trip on the Son River
Find someone to arrange a boat trip on the river and see the incredible karst mountains from a different perspective. There are boat trips around the Saigon Phong Nha Hotel, but in town there are many hostels and tour agencies that can arrange any adventure travel trip around the area.
It really is a lovely activity and when you are lucky with the weather it is a great thing to do for sunrise or sunset. Arranging a private boat for yourself is not too expensive and for 2 hours you will pay around $40 USD for a private boat.
3. Meet travelers at Easy Tiger Hostel
Although a fairly small town the streets of Cuo Lac are a hotspot for backpackers and adventure travelers on a trip to Vietnam. There are many bars, restaurants and hostels around. In the evening go to Easy Tiger hostel they have cold beers for you and cheap western food if you are looking for a late night snack. But most important they have live music every evening, loads of travelers and many pool tables. Great backpack vibe and easy to meet people! It reminded me of my good old days as a budget traveler.
Curious how I was able to travel around the world on a budget for 5 years in a row? Click here to find out all about it!
4. Visit the Phong Nha Cave
Not just another cave, because here you can take a boat trip inside the river. We boarded just before the entrance and slowly floated into the massive black hole in the mountain face. This is where the underground river sees daylight the first time, but we were heading in the opposite direction, deeper into the cave. The ultra chilled boat trip shows you massive stalactites hanging from the roof and the most unique rock formations inside the cave. After about 20 minutes gently floating through the cave we were dropped on shore inside the cave and were able to walk back marvelling at how incredible planet earth can be underground.
5. Visit the 8 Ladies Cave
Long story short, the tiny little cave was home to 8 people during the bombing of the Americans during the Vietnam War. The 8 Ladies Cave is located just off Victory Road 20, a famous passageway in the Vietnam war. Believed to be a very important road through the jungle for the Vietnamese in times of war, the Americans heavily bombed this road. In total 55,000 bombs were dropped here in 1 week time. That is 1 bomb every 10 seconds and that for a week long!
The monument next to the 8 Ladies Cave.
What happened is that a massive piece of rock broke off and blocked the entrance of the cave and the 8 people were trapped inside. Through a tiny hole they survived for 9 days, but then eventually died. The cave is now a temple en shrine for those that died in the war.
Be aware that if you visit the temple you have to dress appropriate so makes sure knees and shoulders are covered.
6. Hamada Valley & Tra Ang Cave
Just a stroll away from the 8 Ladies Cave we literally gathered together at the side of the road and our guide told us here is the path that leads to Tra Ang Cave can you see it? Dazzled everyone looked around but no one could spot the steep path that lead down into the jungle.
The adventure started as reaching the Tra Ang Cave involved some serious jungle trekking. It was not long, but the path through the thick jungle was a cool adventure.
About 20 minutes later we arrived at the river and the cave entrance. This cave is one big adventure as here you get to swim into the darkness.
We geared up and jumped into the caves water and swam for about 20 minutes all the way to the end of the cave. At the end we turned off all the lights and it was pitch black. Such an exhilarating experience again. If you visit Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park then please add this to your itinerary!
Swimming in a pitch black cave, I had done it before on my trip to Raja Ampat, West - Papua.
At the end of this tour we ate traditional Vietnamese food, in the jungle next to the river. The guys barbecued some delicious meat and vegetables for us and together with some chilis, tofu en sticky rice we rolled them in cabbage leaves. Delicious!
Travel tips Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
The Park entrance is free, but be aware that prices for tours are pretty steep. For a multi day trip to the caves you will easily spend more than 100 USD. Entrance fee for most caves are just around $10 USD. Several caves can only be accessed on a guided tour. Simply because you will never find the entrance and you need special equipment.
Dong Hoi Quang Binh Province
The Beach! I saw the beach right in front of me! I was sitting in the hot seat next to the driver and had actually no clue where we were going, but at some point I saw the ocean. Vietnam is only about 50 kilometers wide in the Quang Binh Province and as much as the jungle is everywhere around you, the beach is never really far away.
We ended up driving to Dong Hoi, the biggest city in Quang Binh. Unfortunately I was totally drained and when I arrived at Bao Ninh Beach Resort I took a shower and had a quick power nap, because 45 minutes later we were expected in the conference room for a media event about the tourists spots in Quang Binh Province.
I have told you many times already, but my life is not just one big holiday. The life of a full time travel blogger only just seems like it. ;)
Anyway I got a lot of travel tips for Quang Binh that evening and even more inspiration to come back and travel to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. I knew already that the biggest cave in the world was also somewhere here in the Quang Binh Province, but I did not know that it can only be visited on a 5 day trekking tour through the jungle. No wonder that the Son Doong cave only was discovered 10 years ago.
If you are interested in visiting the Son Doong Cave then better start saving money. A multi day tour to the Son Doong Cave cost around $3,000. Say what? Yes that is right! Incredible huh? At first I couldn’t believe it either but I double checked it online. They only let a maximum of 900 people per year visit the cave by 2019. So even if you have the money start applying for your position because apparently it is a popular thing to do in Quang Binh.
Anyway the press meeting taught me all about the things to do in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park and the Quang Binh Province. I also found out that Dong Hoi, the city we were was a beach hotspot in Vietnam, with 5 star hotels for under $50 per room per night. Check out:
If you are looking for affordable luxury beach hotels, then ‘splurge’ in one of the above resorts on your trip to Vietnam
According to one of the Chinese guys the sand at the beach was of high quality! :) Funny, but yes he was right! The beaches were very nice and also empty! Mass tourism did definitely not arrive here (yet)!
Quang Binh Province has more to offer than just caving tours!
They changed the meeting room into a dining hall and started serving the most delicious Vietnamese dishes. Damn this trip to Vietnam I really fell in love with the food. I got to try so many new things and all of them very yummy. Not only food was served, many beers too and yeah the Vietnamese like to drink: môt, hai, ba, jo! That is 1,2,3, cheers in Vietnamese and with this you surely gonna make friends!
Night out in Dong Hoi
Completely unexpected I ended up driving around Dong Hoi at night with the president of the Tourism Board. He showed us a couple cool places to visit in Dong Hoi and told us super interesting facts about the war. He was a little child back then and told us how it was to flee into the mountains of Laos with his family many years ago.
One of the few building that survived the war!
But enough being serious he said let’s drink beer! Again? Haha I probably already about 8 by then. But why not, let’s do this Tom. It is not every day that you are out and about with a prominent Vietnamese president. :)
Of course we ended up going to a Karaoke Bar and although I am pretty good in a lot of things, singing is surely not on that list. But whatever, most of the people in the Karaoke Room didn't speak English anyway so I could just sing out loud. Of course I also wanted to try to sing along a Vietnamese song, I obviously completely failed.
To end the night we went to get street food and god how much I had missed that on my trip to Vietnam so far. This was my 4th time In the country and back in 2009 and 2013 sitting on the side of street on a tiny little chair eating delicious and cheap meals was one of the best things to do in Vietnam. Ending the day with a yummy Pho was wonderful!
Thank you Quang Binh for giving me yet another amazing Vietnam travel adventure! I surely will be back and travel to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park on a motorbike!
Vlog about visiting the caves in the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
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Enjoy your trip to Vietnam!