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Phong Nha

A Travel Guide to Phong Nha

Phong Nha is a wonderland of ancient karst mountains, the oldest in Asia, pocketed by hundreds of spectacular caves. If you’re looking to experience the stunning nature that Vietnam has then you’re planning a trip to the right place; underground rivers, 400 million-year-old fossils and vast caves, big enough to have their own microclimates. Phong Nha-Ke Bang stole my heart on my first trip and I’ve since been several times to soak up the stunning nature and friendly hospitality. This travel guide to Phong Nha will help you to plan the best trip.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, all marked with * Booking through these links generates a small commission for me at no extra cost to you.

Phong Nha at a glance

Phong Nha is a one-street town in north-central Vietnam. But don’t let the size fool you, Phong Nha has so much to offer. The town sits on the doorstep of Phong Nha National Park, a UNESCO protected area of tangled jungle that plays refuge to a vast network of caves. Within the national park is the worlds largest cave, Son Doong, and 3rd largest cave, Hang En. Though Phong Nha has been gaining popularity over the past few years, it has maintained its charm as a small town without huge resorts.

How long to stay – I recommend a minimum of 2 full days. One day for a hiking tour and another to visit some of the easier-to-access caves and attractions. You could spend longer if you opt for an overnight trek.

Best time of year – Phong Nha is nature-oriented so weather is important to consider. Apr to Aug is the dry season and has the hottest temps (~37°C). Sept to Mar is monsoon season.

During Oct (the wettest month of the year) some caves and tours close due to heavy rainfall and flooding.

Things to see in Phong Nha

Phong Nha is notably famous for the giant caves that have been discovered hidden in the mountains, as well as trekking in the national park. One of the best ways to get out and see everything is to rent a motorbike or bicycle and ride among the limestone karsts.

✍ For more things to see and do in Phong Nha, check out my 10 Best Things to do in Phong Nha.

Do an organised trek

I tend to avoid organised tours like the plague, but I highly recommend a hiking tour into the national park. I’ve done a couple of tours with Jungle Boss and they’ve always delivered an epic day full of hiking, swimming and caving in the national park. Oxalis are another major cave tour provider.

✍️ Abandoned Valley Hiking Tour in Phong Nha

Dark cave

If you’re one for adrenaline based activities then don’t skip Dark cave. Zip-line across a river to access the dark cave, go for a mud-bath inside before kayaking back down the river and finally try your hand at the aerial assault course.

Dark Cave📍Sơn Trạch, Bố Trạch, Quảng Bình

travel guide phong nha vietnam

Paradise Cave

Paradise cave is one of the easiest caves to visit and trust me, it lives up to its name. The scale of Paradise Cave is indescribable; it stretches 31km inside the limestone karst and hits heights of 70m.

✍️ Visiting Paradise Cave without a Tour

Duck stop

I won’t spoil the mystery of duck stop but if you’re down for a giggle, I highly recommend an afternoon at The Duck Stop. Don’t worry, there is no eating of duck.

Duck Stop📍Phong Nha Ke Bang, Hưng Trạch, Bố Trạch, Quảng Bình

How to get to Phong Nha

There are three main places that you can get the bus from; Hue, Ninh Binh and Hanoi. I’ve found the easiest way to book transport in advance is through Baolau*, a search engine that compares all travel options to find the best one for you.

From Hue

💰150k
⏰ 4 hours

From Ninh Binh

💰350k
⏰ 7.5 hours

From Hanoi

💰 350k
⏰ 9.5 hours

There is no train station in Phong Nha town, but there is a frequently serviced station in Dong Hoi, less than 1hr drive away. The majority of the trains are overnight which is great if you are looking to save travel time, and from my experience, the overnight trains are comfortable and easy to sleep on. Like with buses, Baolau* is the easiest way to book the train in advance. Prices vary depending on the seating option.

From Hue

⏰ 3hrs + 1hr transfer
💰 ~150k +

From Ninh Binh

⏰ 8hrs + 1hr transfer
💰~300k +

From Hanoi

⏰ 10.5hrs + 1hr transfer
💰 300-700k

How to get from Dong Hoi to Phong Nha

The most efficient way to get from Dong Hoi to Phong Nha is a private transfer, which all accommodation offer (I think I paid 400k via Linh’s Homestay*). Of course, you could take a taxi, but expect this to cost more than a pre-arranged transfer (I would estimate ~500k).

If you’re on a budget then you can also take the local public bus, bus number B4. This thread details the route that the bus takes through Dong Hoi and onwards to Phong Nha.

⏰ the public bus takes about 1.5 hours. It departs at 05.20, 06.00, 07.10, 08.00 and then on the hour every hour until 17.00 (excluding 12.00).
💰33k

If you are coming from the south of Vietnam, then flying is the most efficient mode of transport. The nearest airport is in Dong Hoi, about a 1-hour drive from Phong Nha town. The airport is serviced with daily flights from Hanoi and Saigon, both averaging around 1mil one-way.

How to get from Dong Hoi to Phong Nha

The most efficient way to get from Dong Hoi to Phong Nha is a private transfer, which all accommodation offer (I think I paid 400k via Linh’s Homestay*). Of course, you could take a taxi, but expect this to cost more than a pre-arranged transfer (I would estimate ~500k).

If you’re on a budget then you can also take the local public bus, bus number B4. This thread details the route that the bus takes through Dong Hoi and onwards to Phong Nha.

⏰ the public bus takes about 1.5 hours. It departs at 05.20, 06.00, 07.10, 08.00 and then on the hour every hour until 17.00 (excluding 12.00).
💰 33k

From Hue to Phong Nha

This is a pleasant drive, with no challenges and well-maintained roads.

⏰ 4.5 hours

From Ninh Binh to Phong Nha

There are two routes you can take if you are travelling from the north-south to Phong Nha; the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which keeps you inland along the border with Laos (it follows the route along which supplies were taken to the south of Vietnam during the war). This is the scenic route. See section 6+ of this guide by the Vietnam Coracle.

⏰ This route will need split over multiple days.

The alternative is to drive the highway, which is what I did on my Vietnam road trip. I would not recommend doing this drive in one go like I did; it is a highway the whole route. It is not particularly scenic, it’s heavily polluted and has lots of trucks. This drive was easily my most miserable travel day EVER (though the rain and lack of company undoubtedly contributed).

⏰ 8.5 hours (though it took me 10 hours)
📍I recommend splitting the journey up with an overnight in Vinh.

✍️  For more information on motorbiking in Vietnam, check out my Complete Guide to Motorbiking Vietnam.

Getting around Phong Nha

Phong Nha town is tiny so getting around the town isn’t a challenge. Some motorbike and car taxis are kicking about but there is no Grab. To explore the sites I recommend either renting a motorbike or joining a group tour.

Renting a motorbike

I always rent motorbikes via Linh’s Homestay* (my favourite place to stay thanks to the amazing staff) for 100k a day. Most accommodation can set you up with a rental bike, but if not there are motorbike rentals shops along the main street in Phong Nha. For an easy rider tour, I suggest checking out these guys:

Thang’s Phong Nha Riders📍 ĐT20, Sơn Trạch, Bố Trạch, Quảng Bình (you can rent a motorbike with driver for ~250k here)

travel guide to phong nha, vietnam travel motorbiking

Where to eat in Phong Nha

Phong Nha has a lot of great restaurants, and every time I return new ones are opening. It’s a very eco-friendly town, and you will see that most restaurants don’t sell bottled water (instead they offer bottle refills) and they don’t provide straws (if they do they are reusable). It is also a very veggie-friendly town.

travel guide to phong nha vietnam

Where to eat

Street food vendors set up along the entrance road into town, so if you’re looking for cheap food in the evenings, this is the place to head. Most dishes are around ~50k.

📍Capture Cafe (woodfire pizza oven and baked goodies)
📍Phong Nha Bamboo Cafe (lots of veggie options)
📍Phong Nha Veggie Box (not tried but looks great)
📍Thang Nhung (try the local pork spring rolls)

Where to drink

📍Phong Nha Coffee Station (a lovely spot for your morning brew)
📍Momma D’s Rooftop Lounge (rooftop good for sunset)

Where to stay in Phong Nha

I’ve stayed in 4 different places in Phong Nha, but on my more recent trips, I returned to stay at Linh’s Homestay* and will continue to do so. Quyen who works at reception is an absolute angel and so incredibly helpful with organising things.

Other accommodation I recommend checking out:

Nguyen Shack* (I stayed at their central town location but all locations look great)
Phong Nha Gecko Hostel* (social vibe)
Phong Nha Coco Riverside* (great views and not far from the hub of town)

Daily budget

Phong Nha can definitely be kept cheap, but I recommend spending a little more to get the full experience by visiting the caves and doing a guided trek into the national park, like the one I did with Jungle Boss.

🚗 ~$15

I recommend taking the bus directly to Phong Nha, as it will save you from having to transfer from Dong Hoi town to Phong Nha. Buses average around 350k. Book travel transport here*

🍜 ~$10

Street food can be found easily for ~50k ($2). For a meal in a restaurant expect ~150k ($6.50). I estimate a minimum of ~$10 a day for food.

🛏 ~$6-10

The average hostel is ~100k/night. Personally, I will continue to stay at Linh’s homestay* when I visit (private rooms from 250k). You can find accommodation to fit every budget here*.

📸 ~ $115

Attractions will be your biggest expense here. Of course, you don’t have to do everything, but I love everything on this list and recommend trying them if you can.

Motorbike rental 💰 ~150k ($6.50)
Paradise cave 💰 250k ($10.80)
Botanic Gardens 💰 40k ($1.50)
Phong Nha cave
💰 150k + ~50k for boat ride ($8.50)
Dark Cave 💰 450k ($19.50)
Duck Stop 💰 150k ($6.50)
Trekking tour 💰 1.5mil + ($65)

Daily budget: ~$80 per day*

*assuming you do all the activities including a full day trek. This would be much cheaper if you decided to not do all the caves or a trek.

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Meet Frances; Scottish lass turned Vietnam expat, and creator of this space. She can be found sippin’ ice tea’s and writing about her adventures from her sunny base of Saigon, Vietnam’s southern metropolis. All with a healthy side of researching her next road trip. With 5 years of living, travelling and scooting around Asia under her belt – let Frances be your guide to travelling the region.

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