Sunshine in Hang Son Doong. By Ryan Deboodt
Hang Son Doong is by some criteria, the largest cave in the world. It’s big enough to accommodate skyscrapers and has its own jungle ecosystem. No wonder then that the multi-day tours to Hang Son Doong have sold out every year since they began in 2013. To explore this mammoth wonder, you’ll need US$3,000 and six days, but for those with less time and funds, there is plenty more subterranean exploring in Phong Nha.
Entering the magical world of the Tu Lan cave system on a two-day trip means swimming through river caves and camping on the edge of waterfall-filled lagoons, while the beady eyes of flying squirrels peer inquisitively down from the tree tops. At Hang Nuoc Nut, you can camp at the base of a limestone cliff, then enter the surreal world of Hang Va. Hang En features a magnificent, colossal main chamber with shimmering turquoise pools, while the cathedral-like chambers of Paradise Cave allow day-visitors the chance to marvel at thousand-year-old beauty.
Phong Nha's jungles are home to a rich diversity of flora and fauna. The ultimate way to discover this is on Hai’s Eco Conservation Tour. Mr. Hai, a young and enthusiastic conservationist, will bring you to the Wildlife Rescue Centre to see rescued macaques, langurs, porcupines, and more. While trekking to the Thac Gio Falls, you may spot macaques in their natural habitat.
Hire a bike and pedal out to the Bong Lai village in search of the Pub With Cold Beer for one of the country’s best foodie experiences. Here, only one item is on the menu: sublime grilled chicken, served with unbeatable homemade peanut sauce. After lunch, ride a little further and reward yourself with a cold drink and views across the Cuong River valley at the impossibly pretty lookout of the Wild Boar Eco Farm.
Non Mooc Eco Trail remains serene, its cool, rushing turquoise water inviting you to cool down when the mercury rises. It’s possible to cycle out here via farmland and cross the original Ho Chi Minh Trail on a tour with Phong Nha Adventure Cycling. Alternatively, hire a bike and make your own adventure.
With just 24 hours in Phong Nha, head to the Paradise Cave to witness the majesty of the underground world. Add on a trip to the Non Mooc Eco Trail in the afternoon.
Add a second day of exploring along the Bong Lai Loop by bicycle, or take a walk through the jungle with Hai’s Eco Conservation Tour. For the full caving experience, opt for the two-day trips that will take you into Hang Va, Tu Lan or Hang En.
Rains close some of the caves from November to January. April to June are fantastic months for the peanut harvest and swarms of butterflies while July to September the temperature can be very warm.
Trains arrive at nearby Dong Hoi train station from both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Direct flights from both cities are also available. The easiest way to transfer from the airport in Dong Hoi to Phong Nha is by local metered taxi.