Ahh, the epic caves of Phong Nha National Park. The one adventure that got away from me.
MJ and I had planned since we left to do a multi-day tour of the legendary cave system (the largest in the world!) with Oxalis Tours. Unfortunately, my body was having none of it and due to some mysterious hip pain that I never really figured out, I had to miss out.
MJ and Anna set out on a 3D/2N tour of Hang Tien cave and had an epic time - check out her post!
SO. Because of this set back, I hung around the beautiful city of Phong Nha, right in the national park, for a few days to let my body get back to homeostasis.
I also took the opportunity to take a short day trip with two friends that took us kayaking deep into Phong Nha Cave. It was unbelievably cool.
Here’s a bit more about it.
Phong Nha Cave
Phong Nha Cave is one of the most accessible caves to tourists within Phong Nha National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In its entirety, this enormous cave, the namesake of the whole cave system, is 7729 m long. Tourists can only get about 1500 m, which was about how far we got on our kayak adventure.
The cave is famous for beautiful rock formations as well as its use as a hospital, storage place, and base throughout numerous military campaigns in Vietnam. There are relics and evidence that date as far back as the Cham civilization, but most recently, the cave was used by the North Vietnamese army during the Vietnam War against South Vietnam and the United States.
The cave served as an important link on the Ho Chi Minh trail, allowing soldiers to camp out and hide both themselves and supplies at a strategic location in central Vietnam.
There are a number of caves you can visit that are considered a part of the Phong Nha Cave. Some of the most famous of these are called Paradise Cave and the Dark Cave. Tours to all of these caves, as well as the kayak tour I took, can be booked locally at Phong Nha Caves Tour Center or through your hostel/hotel.
Kayaking in Phong Nha Cave
Why kayak over boat? Kayaking into this cave allows you to go about 1.5km into the cave, about 1km further than the boat tour. You’ll also get a chance to explore smaller caves off to the side of the main river, which is an amazing experience.
The tour is straightforward, informative, and a fantastic adventure. You’ll get picked up early in the morning (take a dry bag or ditch the valuables!) and hop into a kayak on the Son River to paddle into the cave.
The entrance to the cave is stunning, perhaps even more so going out than going in. Huge rock formations, stalactites and stalagmites, tower above and around you from all sides, gaining this cave the nickname “The Fairy Cave.” As you venture further into the cave, lit only by flashlights, you’ll reach your first stopping point.
This first side cave offers you a glimpse at some of the cave’s history. Scrawled across the walls of this cave, further back than you dare go, are charcoal messages from soldiers who hid in the caves back during the Vietnam War and even earlier campaigns. This was where they cooked, slept, and trafficked supplies across the country. It’s surreal to see the evidence of that so far into the cave.
After this brief stop, you’ll jump back into your kayak and continue as far as you can into the cave before getting out again. Then it gets rocky.
The hike to reach the underground lake is tricky, but definitely doable for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness. Pay attention to your guides and watch where you put your feet (and hands, those cave spiders…).
After breaking about half-way for an amazing picnic lunch on a particularly large rock, we finally reached our destination - the underground lake.
We spent a little over an hour swimming, cliff jumping, and lazing about in the icy black water. It’s unbelievably quiet and peaceful this far back into the caves, something I’d imagine anyone who wasn’t scared of the dark would enjoy.
We finally paddled out of the cave, wet, tired, and happy, and slept about as well as you’d expect after our full day. The cost of the tour was roughly $70-$80 pp and if you’re interested in seeing the caves within this national park, but don’t feel quite up to a multi-day excursion, this is a wonderful alternative.
Interested in something a little more intense? Check out Oxalis’ legendary tours, including their famous 4D/3N expedition into Son Doong Cave, the largest cave in the world.