Phong Nha-Khe Bang National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Northern Vietnam protected as one of the largest karst formation zones in the world. The park, situated in the middle of Vietnamese jungle, is known for its exceptionally high level of biodiversity. The intricate system of caves, grottos, and underground rivers that makes up the park continues to be majorly uncharted and unknown to the public.
Son Doong Cave, one of the parks many features, is regarded as the largest cave in the world. However any cave in the park is unique and worthwhile to experience. We chose to explore the park with Oxalis for a multi-night trek, but there are other options too! Check out our other post for ideas on how to explore the magnificent caves without sleeping among the creatures of the jungle.
Oxalis is an internationally accredited adventure company that receives glowing reviews year after year. The Oxalis team of local guides and international managers are very fluent in English, French, and even German. They offer a variety of tours ranging in intensity, from full day adventures to 4-day trekking expeditions.
We opted for the Hang Tien Exploration to enjoy multiple days in the jungle. It was nice to spend a couple of nights camping in the national park. Check out their website for info on their other tours!
Hang Tien Exploration
Rated as one of their Level 4 options, the Hang Tien tour is designed for active lovers of the outdoors to spend a few days immersed in the jungle of the park. We covered 22km in 3 days, with multiple river crossings and mountain climbs per day.
Secret Cave - cave pearls, sparkly curtains, great introduction to cave environments.
Hung Ton Cave - epic river swim through that empties into a beautiful lagoon for lunch.
Tien 1 Cave - massive cavernous opening, boundary lines, "flying fox” zipline across a dark canyon.
Tien 2 Cave - another massive cavern with a beautiful open space where you have the opportunity to experience the true darkness of a cave.
Gear to Bring
First we’ll start with things they provide for you, so don’t bother bringing:
a tent, a sleeping bag, or a sleeping mat
a special flashy red backpack for trekking during the day
protective gloves for when you climb sharp cave rocks
mess kits and food items
In terms of clothes, you’ll want to bring:
personal essentials (take the toothbrush, leave the face mask - you won’t even have access to showers)
2-3 long sleeve shirts even though it’s hot, there are a lot of thorny plants in the jungle
1-2 long pants, again, it’s thorny jungle
as many undies as you’ll want - that number’s up to you
at least 3 pairs of non-cotton socks - they will get wet and dirty from river crossings and muddy terrain. Do yourself a favor and pack a fresh pair for each day.
a swimsuit for floating through the river cave and relaxing at the camp watering hole
an extra layer for when the sun goes down
a raincoat - you might not need it, and if you do, it might not even help... bring it anyway
Things you might want to bring, but don’t need to
a lightweight, quick-dry towel
a book for down time at camp
flip flops, crocs, or birkenstocks for walking around camp
deodorant - plan on smelling bad no matter what you do
Hiking shoes, here’s the deal -
You will be crossing at least one river at the beginning of each day. You have to leave your shoes on, so they will be waterlogged for the rest of the trek. Plus, the terrain is unbelievably muddy. So much mud. Drowning in mud.
SO, if you opt to use your own shoes, make sure:
they are not gortex, waterproofed, special at all kind of boots, and
you don’t give a shit if they get absolutely destroyed
Otherwise, Oxalis lends out shoes you can guiltlessly destroy. They’re basically camouflaged converse high-tops with unnecessarily long shoestrings. They have exceptionally horrible support, so you may want to pluck the insoles from your own shoes and slip them into your combats for the trip. Just don’t forget to take them out before leaving Phong Nha.
You really only need to bring your personal essentials. If you’re already in the middle of Vietnam before you realize you don’t have enough socks or need an extra pair of pants, Oxalis offers last-minute gear you can buy before hitting the trailhead. Packing light is the name of the game. The porters take your gear for you, so don’t pack any bricks. Other than that, don’t worry about it! All your stuff will show up at camp before you do!
An expedition inherently requires sleeping in a tent, there's no getting around it. Oxalis has a series of camps throughout the national park, and depending on what tour you embark on, you’ll get to sleep in some really amazing places.
La Ken Camp - Right next to a little babling brook. You'll get there later in the day, so expect to be pretty exhausted. The chefs cook an amazing dinner, and you'll sit around the smoky fire all night waiting for your clothes to dry.
Tien Camp - This is a bigger camp, and it's next to a much bigger river. There's an unreal swimming hole next to a massive rock face where the water seeps out seemingly out of nowhere. You'll get into camp during the early afternoon, so you have the rest of the day to float around in the creamy blue water. Wake up early for a morning dip if you don’t mind hiking with wet hair.
Amazing. No chance of going hungry. Every meal is a feast.
Breakfast is a bowl of instant noodles with a fried egg on top. Plus pancakes and fruit! AND coffee! Instant coffee, but coffee.
Lunch comes from a massive bin of fried rice. Vegetarians have their own box, while everyone else gets some chicken or shrimp chopped up in theirs.
Dinner is where the feasting happens. Morning glory, potato carrot curry, barbecue chicken, tomato-y tofu, lots of rice, some kind of salty soup, garlicky green beans, salted peanuts, and of course - rice wine. Choco pies and oreos for dessert!
An Oxalis van will pick you up and drop you off at your accommodation in Phong Nha town. They even provide a congratulatory beer for the ride home! Be sure to tip your guides and porters before heading out if you appreciated their hard work! And don’t be afraid to drop them another glowing review on TripAdvisor...