Caves, bats, jungles, mosquitoes, sweat, trekking, swimming, and hospitality—if these make your ears whistle with pleasure, Phong Nha, Vietnam is the destination you want. Besides being home to the largest cave in the world (Son Doong Cave), it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site with hundreds of caves and, well, too many other things to list here (just click on that link). I’ll write briefly about my three day experience in Phong Nha, which took place during July 2018.
As I mentioned in an earlier post about Ha Giang where I utilized Flamingo Travel for booking accommodations, transport, and a tour, they were also able to book me an overnight train from Hanoi down to the city of Dong Hoi. They also recommended a place to stay—Phong Nha Farmstay—who will arrange to pick you up from the train station (approximately 40 minutes away from the train station in Dong Hoi). I want to take this moment to say how much I enjoyed the hospitality at the Farmstay. The entire staff was incredibly nice and accommodating (they will set up all the tours you may want during your stay, which should be NO shorter than three days, four nights). I especially enjoyed how Hien and May indulged my warped sense of humor, banter, and evening drinking (which some may describe as overconsumption). I’d venture to say they’re almost as cool as me. 😉
I took a one day trekking and cave exploring tour, which was helmed by the wonderful Phuong from Jungle Boss Tours. The tour included Paradise Cave, a trek through the jungle, lunch, a visit to a sacred temple, a 600 meter swim in the Tra Ang cave, capped off with a beer on the ride back to the farmstay. If and when I return to Phong Nha, I will book a longer expedition, but I think the one day tour is a good start and not too physically strenuous.
The other free day I had (the first day there was a rainout), I visited Phong Nha Cave, which is accessed via dragon boat. This was heavily populated with tourists despite the heavy downpour. The cave itself is beautiful and well worth a half-day visit if you need to fill some time. Unfortunately for me, because of the rain, many of the other caves in the area were unavailable. So I suppose my piece of advice is to plan accordingly, i.e. avoid rainy season.
With respect to clothing and shoes, bring items that you may not wear ever again. Also, I highly recommend a waterproof bag for your trek in addition to a must-have mosquito repellent and adequate sunblock. The farmstay does provide overnight laundry service, which proved quite helpful. However, my shoes (already hurting and not quite recovered from Ha Giang) took another environmental beatdown.
The last highlight I will mention is a large dinner that the farmstay and their excellent chef puts together once a week at a very reasonable cost. Because of the number of drinks I consumed, I can’t recall how many dishes were served, but I do remember the entire meal giving my taste buds “palategasms.” Also, the co-owner Ben from Australia (don’t hold that against him) bought me a glass of wonderful rice wine, so of course, he gets a shout-out from me.
Phong Nha, Vietnam has something for everyone and will satisfy the person looking for extreme adventures to the person seeking a more relaxed vacation destination.