If you only have the budget to splurge on one tour in Phong Nha, make it a hike through the Abandoned Valley. Hands down one of the best day trips I’ve ever done. Jungle Boss are the only company to offer the Abandoned Valley tour and honestly I couldn’t fault the day. It was perfectly executed and worth every penny. It was one of those days that sends you to sleep with a smile on your face and a warm glow in your heart.
The trek was challenging even for fit young things like us, but the spoils of swimming into the idyllic ice blue waters of Cave E (Hang E), enjoying a BBQ feast under the overhang of the Dark Cave and then traversing across the giant rocks inside the non-public side of Dark Cave made it a more than rewarding day. The Jungle Boss guides and porters were equally as amazing, spoiling us with laughter and insight throughout the day. There are quite a few different hiking tours on offer around Phong Nha, and if you’re anywhere near as indecisive as me, you might struggle to pick which one to do! Here’s what we got upto when hiking through the Abandoned Valley tour with Jungle Boss in Phong Nha-Ke Bang!
**This post is not sponsored by Jungle Boss.
Hiking the Abandoned Valley with Jungle Boss
Before we dive in, here’s a little highlight reel of our day with Jungle Boss and what you can expect! Grab you’re headphones and get the sound on for this one!
Preparing to hike the Abandoned Valley
The Abandoned Valley tour started with an 8am pick up from our accommodation, followed by a team meet at the Jungle Boss HQ. Our group was small, just 7 of us! Mostly English teachers on holiday for the long weekend, one traveler and a Vietnamese lady from Ho Chi Minh City. Our local guide for the day, Bamboo (who was an absolute angel), gave us a quick brief of what was in store for the day: 12 km trekking through the Abandoned Valley, swimming through Hang E cave, lunch under the entrance to the Dark Cave, finishing up with a trek into the Dark Cave before making our way back to base. We were in for a treat of a day. Before we could leave we got kitted up: New trekking shoes (the same kind that the Viet army use), towels for after swimming and bottles of water for the day. We had already been warned to bring swimwear, and long pants and sleeves. Plus a change of clothes. Now, we were ready to go.
Starting the Abandoned Valley trek
The 7 of us, plus Bamboo pilled into a mini van and hit the road. Before we could start hiking we needed to go on a 30 minute drive out of town and into the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National park. Time to venture into the jungle.
The first leg of the jungle trek wasn’t too challenging but it did come as a bit of a shock to the system for most of us. Climbing up hill, trudging along insanely muddy paths, getting short of breathe from our incompetent fitness levels: I was starting to question the 12km we’d signed up to hike today… Thankfully it wasn’t too long until the paths eased up and soon we were being rewarded with a snack stop, which the porters had raced ahead to set up.
Swimming through Hang E / Cave E
We had a quick change into our swimwear and got set up with essential kit for exploring our first cave of the day: Helmets, head torches and lifejackets. Hang E, or Cave E in English, is a water cave so you need to swim to see it. The water is a stunning blue. But icy cold. There is no way you would be able to stay afloat for long enough to explore it without the life jacket.
Once you get a few hundred meters in the light completely disappears, hence the head torches! Bamboo pointed out an area of fossils in the walls and the cave echoes like nothing I’ve heard before. The scale is just VAST. I really regret not having a waterproof camera casing to capture some shot from inside, but I guess its equally as beautiful from the outside!
Lunch under the Dark Cave overhang
After our morning adventures in Hang E, we dried off and ventured back into the jungle. But this time we had a to do it with wet feet! We trekked through river after river, and having rained the day before we were treated to some extremely muddy paths. The promise of a BBQ lunch waiting for us at the next stop helped push us on through the trek though.
Once again the porters raced ahead and set up lunch for us. It was quite a spread! A BBQ was on the go with Pork and Chicken roasting, which we used to create our own Phong-Nha-style fresh spring rolls! These were so different to the normal spring rolls you get in Vietnam which have rice noodles and prawns/pork. The Phong-Nha spring rolls are filled with rice, BBQ meat (eggs and tofu for the veggies and vegans) dipped into a coriander based sauce – apparently a local speciality! It was delicious.. and there was so much food that we didn’t even finish it all.
As if having delicious food wasn’t enough, the setting was UNREAL. Camp was set up under the overhang of the entrance to the dark cave. There are no words to describe how impressive this overhang is in person: photos just don’t capture the sheer size of it.
Exploring Dark Cave
After a long lunch to recover from the last leg of the hike we were ready to explore another cave! The second cave on the Abandoned Valley tour is the Dark Cave, but not the same side of the dark cave that can be explored via zip-line. On the Abandoned Valley tour you get to see the other side of the dark cave that you can’t normally! And wow is this side so much more impressive.
We kitted up with the same helmets and head torches as before, prepared to plunge into darkness – it’s not called the dark cave for no reason! We swapped out the lifejackets from the last cave for gloves: No swimming this time, instead we need to climb! This time I decided to try and take the camera with me – if you have a tripod bring it with you, you should be able to get some really cool shots using the light from the head torches but unfortunately I didn’t bring mine on the Jungle boss tour. I still managed to capture some shots of the Dark Cave though.
Dark cave is full of stalactites (hang from the roof) and stalagmites (come from the ground), and even columns like above where a stalactite and stalagmite join together!
The formations inside dark cave were stunning! The rocks were so varied: Some like the white above looking almost like coral, others completely smooth and even some with ridges that reminded me of the pools in Pamukkale, Turkey if you know them. We only ventured 700meters into the dark cave (though with all the climbing it felt further) but it goes all the way through until you reach the other entrance! This scale of Dark Cave didn’t feel so far away from the scale of Paradise Cave, though that might have been due to the lack of lights and other people. There are no other tour operators who do this trek, so you know that your Jungleboss group are going to be the only ones exploring the Dark Cave!
Ending the Hike
And then we were headed back. The trek between the caves makes a loop so you don’t feel too much like you’re just going back the way you came. Hiking back through the Abandoned Valley definitely felt like it took longer and we were all starting to suffer with aches and pains (BLISTERS EVERYWHERE). But then we got back to the start point just in time to see the sunsetting behind the mountain! What a perfect ending to an exciting day hiking through the abandoned valley and explore caves!
#SQUAD ON POINT
Cold beers and sodas were waiting for us at the minivan (what a nice touch) where we enjoyed the last light before hopping back in the minivan and back to Jungleboss HQ.
The lowdown for doing the Abandoned Valley tour with Jungle Boss
How to book: Directly with Jungle Boss – either online or in person in their Phong Nha office (address: Jungle Boss Sales Office, ĐT20, Sơn Trạch, Bố Trạch, Quảng Bình 511860)
Cost: $75 USD / 1,650,000VND per person (8 yo +)
What they provide:
- Water bottles and refills
- BBQ lunch with vegan and veggie options
- Pick up and drop off, plus transport to the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
- Shoes for trekking. Not the most comfortable but worth wearing to not destroy your own shoes in the water and mud.
What to pack: You will need to bring a backpack with you to carry everything.
- Wear long pants and long sleeved shirt (or at least pack them) to protect against poison ivy.
- Swimming costume
- Achange of clothes
- Long socks
- Hiking shoes (or you can borrow but your own will be more comfortable)
- A change of shoes for getting home as yours will get wet and muddy
- Insect repellant
- Hand sanitiser
Timings: Pick up from accommodation in Phong Nha between 7:30 – 8:30am. You will need to be staying in Phong Nha the night before. The hike ends around sunset. We got back to our accommodation around 6:30pm.
Hands down the best tour I’ve done in Vietnam. The Abandoned Valley tour is one to add to your Phong Nha itinerary!
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For more on Phong Nha:
- Visiting Paradise Cave without a tour
- Phong Nha Wanderlist (coming soon)
- A travel Guide to Phong Nha (coming soon)
**This post is not sponsored by Jungle Boss, I just had a truly wonderful day trekking with them and wanted to share the beauty of the Abandoned Valley with you.