If you only have the time or budget to splurge on one tour in Phong Nha, make it a hike through the Abandoned Valley. The jungle trek is challenging, but the spoils of swimming in idyllic blue waters, traversing giant cave formations and feasting on a BBQ under the overhang of a cave made the day more than rewarding. A true jungle adventure. Not only were the sites amazing, but the guides and porters were exceptional and had us all in stitches laughing. Jungle Boss are the only company to offer the Abandoned Valley tour and honestly, I couldn’t fault them; the whole trip was perfectly executed and worth every damn penny. Here is what you get up to on the Jungle Boss Abandoned Valley hiking tour in Phong Nha.
Who is Jungle Boss?
Jungle Boss are one of the leading adventure tourism providers in Phong Nha. They offer unique caving and trekking experiences in the national park, with a selection of 1 day and multi-day hiking tours in Phong Nha. We chose to do a tour with Jungle Boss specifically because of their interest in conserving the nature of Phong Nha through cleanups and responsible tourism; they only run small tour groups and have a “take nothing, leave nothing” mentality.
The Abandoned Valley hiking tour in Phong Nha
The Abandoned Valley is a one-day trekking tour that takes you through an untouched area of the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. The tour started with an 8am pick up from our accommodation*, followed by a team briefing at the Jungle Boss HQ where we met our guide for the day and learned what was in store for us. Our guide Bamboo filled us in on the plan; a 12km hike, swimming through caves, a BBQ lunch and hiking through dark a cave.
We had already been warned to wear swimsuits, long pants and bring long sleeves, as well as bring a change of clothing. The Jungle Boss team kitted us out with trekking boots (the same as the Vietnamese army use), as well as towels and bottles of water. Everything else we needed for the day was being brought along by porters.
The Abandoned Valley
We pilled into a minivan and headed 30 mins into Phong Nha-Ke Bang, the national park. Time to venture into the jungle. The first leg of the trek wasn’t too challenging but it did involve some uphill climbing and the paths were super muddy from the previous day’s rain, which led to a lot of laughter as we all fell over in the mud.
Swimming through Hang E / Cave E
After a quick break, we change into our swimmers and got kitted up with helmets, head torches and lifejackets, ready to explore our first cave of the day. Hang E (Cave E in English), is a water cave so we needed to swim to see it. The water here is a stunning blue, but boy is it icy cold. There is no way you would be able to stay afloat for long enough to explore it without the lifejacket. Once you get a few meters in the light completely disappears, hence the head torches. As we swam through the vast cave, Bamboo pointed out ancient fossils in the walls.
Lunch under the overhand of Dark Cave
After drying off we ventured back into the jungle, trekking through a series of rivers and muddy trails, traversing fallen trees and boulders along the way. The muddy paths proved treacherous with damp hiking boots so we found ourselves slipping all over the place, which made for lots of giggles. The promise of a BBQ lunch waiting for us at the next stop helped push us on through the trek.
Once again the porters raced ahead and set up lunch for us. It was quite a spread. There was a BBQ with pork and chicken roasting, to put inside 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. Phong-Nha spring rolls are filled with rice and BBQ meat (or eggs and tofu). You then dip them into the local coriander-based sauce. It was so good and there was so much food that we couldn’t finish it all.
As if having delicious food wasn’t enough, the setting was unreal. The camp for lunch 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 can’t capture the sheer size of it.
Exploring Dark Cave
After a relaxed 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 was the Dark Cave. You can visit the dark cave without a tour, where you zip-line into it but on the abandoned valley tour you get to see the other side of the dark cave that the public can’t normally access. I’ve done both and just, wow. This side of the cave is so much more impressive.
It’s not called the dark cave for no reason, so we had to get kitted up with helmets and head torches. There is no swimming in Dark Cave, but we do need to do climb over rocks so we grabbed some gloves to help protect ourselves.
Dark Cave isn’t quite as big as Paradise Cave, but the rock formations inside were huge. We were treated to hundreds of stalactites (from the roof), stalagmites (from the ground) and columns (where a stalactite and stalagmite meet and join together). The rocks were so varied; some look almost like coral, others completely smooth and even some with ridges that reminded me of the pools in Pamukkale, Turkey.
We only ventured 700meters into Dark Cave but it actually forms a tunnel so theoretically you could climb all the way through to the public entrance. Jungle Boss are the only ones with rights to take tours inside this side of Dark Cave so you know that you will be the only group exploring the cave which is pretty cool.
After Dark Cave, we started the return trek. The abandoned valley trek takes a loop so it doesn’t feel like you’re just going back the way you came but the hike back definitely felt longer, maybe because it wasn’t broken up or because our feet were covered in blisters from the damp shoes. When we made it back to the start point, cold beers were waiting for us to enjoy the sunset behind the mountains. The perfect ending to an adventurous day hiking and exploring the caves and jungle of Phong Nha.
Doing a hiking tour in Phong Nha is something I wouldn’t skip. Many of the sites in the national park are protected and require a guide to find them so this is a great way to see these hidden wonders. I’ve also done the Elephant Cave and Ma Da Valley day tour with JungleBoss and it was equally amazing, with a combination of trekking, swimming and caving (blog post coming soon). To book your own tour, head to the Jungle Boss website.
⏰ Pick up: 7:30-8:30am. Our hike ended at sunset and we were back at our accommodation* around 6:30pm.
👤 Must be 8yrs+
💰 $75 USD / 1.65mil VND
✍ For more information on where to stay, what to eat and other things to do, check out my full guide to Phong Nha.
Thanks to your post, I have a new favorite hiking destination, Frances! The Abandoned Valley goes right to my bucket list and I can’t wait to go hiking there. When would be the best time of the year to do so?
I am so into this. I feel like I missed so many things in Vietnam the first time around and this is definitely one of the things inspiring me to go back!
It does look really challenging but also an amazing experience! I would love to visit all the caves, especially Cave E.
Eeek i think i’d find the slippery mud on the hike challenging but oh how i want to swim in that water! It looks out of this world. Now firmly on my must do list!
Omg wow! This hike look so good. I love that it’s challenging as it makes so much more memorabe and worth it at the end. Gorgeous place. I wish I knew about it when I was in Vientm last year. THis is a total must-do 🙂