The Phong Nha caves are Vietnam’s top natural highlight and anyone telling you otherwise is lying. Sure, Ninh Binh is pretty, but it doesn’t even compare. Yes, the mountains of Sapa are good, but let’s face it – the photos are better. May as well forget Halong Bay – it’s too crowded anyway. For something authentic, that isn’t just another stop on the cookie-cutter tourists’ route through Vietnam, you need to check out the Phong Nha caves.
Phong Nha Ke Bang is where it’s at. Where else will you find caves so big that they have their own ecosystems? Nowhere else, that’s where.
Here are the top 10 caves in Phong Nha. You won’t be able to visit them all, but that’s not a problem. Discovering just one cave will be an adrenaline-fuelled, life-altering experience. Trust us.
But how to choose which cave is right for you? Read on and find out.
1. Hang Pygmy Cave
Top of the list has to be Hang Pygmy. Did you know that fewer people have delved into this cave than climbed to the summit of Mt. Everest? Just think about that for a second. Then think about how breath-takingly Instagrammable it would be.
Hang Pygmy is the fourth largest cave in the world, but once you’re inside, you won’t be able to fathom that anything larger might exist. Hang Pygmy is one of the few places in the world where you can learn how it feels to be an ant.
As the trail was only established recently, the road to Hang Pygmy maintains a sincere sense of adventure compared with any other destination in Vietnam, even other Phong Nha caves.
Just getting there requires a fair bit of trekking through some stunning tropical landscape. If you do it right, there’ll be more than a bit of sweat, but hopefully no blood or tears. When you get there though, you’ll have the giant open cave system – replete with its own tropical jungle – all to yourself. Don’t forget the camera, or how will anyone know you were in the world’s fourth largest cave?
Trips to this cave are combined with Hang Over (see no. 5). Take a look at the Hang Pygmy Exploration tour to learn more.
2. Son Doong Cave
Son Doong Cave is the king of caves, literally. This really is the biggest cave in the world.
To give you an idea of how big Son Doong actually is, consider that its largest chamber is 200 metres high and could fit a 40-storey skyscraper inside. Phong Nha Caves are all protected as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, so thankfully, there’ll be no skyscrapers popping up here.
Son Doong is so big that it contains its own rainforest with trees up to 30 metres tall. If you’ve got the time, the money, and you book far enough in advance, this is one of the world’s great natural beauties. Whatever you do though, apply the old mantra – take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints. Learn more about this colossal cave in The New York Times.
3. Tiger Cave System
While Tiger Cave isn’t one of the biggest Phong Nha caves, but it does carry its own unique sense of adventure.
Unlike some other caves in the area, Tiger Cave is still very rugged and unexplored, requiring challenging scrambles and low climbs to reach its dark inner births.
To get into Tiger Cave, you’ll have to jump from a sandy bank into the river and then swim under the low ceilings, before you reach the wild heart of the large open cavern.
The perfect cave system for thrill-seekers, learn more about this three-day adventure at the Tiger Cave Series Adventure.
4. Hang En Cave
This massive cave is named after the birds that fly within – “En” means swallow in Vietnamese.
Hang En is the third largest cave in the world and the second largest cave in Vietnam. To get there you’ll hike through the valley, traversing streams as you go – don’t miss the chance to take in the stunning views when you visit Phong Nha caves.
5. Hang Over Cave
Hang Over and Hang Pygmy were once a single cave, only to be split in two when the ceiling collapsed. Now a beckoning light emanates from one end, which has caused the birth a unique kind of jungle growing among the collapsed debris. For those wanting to see the unearthly weirdness of that image up close, ignore the others and head straight to Hang Over Cave.
The 3.2km stretch begins with a long, narrow shaft and leads towards a superb grotto, full of stalagmites, stalactites, speleothems (find out what they are when you visit) and pools.
It takes a couple of hours to stroll through this underground Phong Nha cave kingdom and there’s no need to rush. Make sure you stick with your guide, as getting lost is not an impossibility – it’s best not to see Hang Over with a hangover.
Trips to this cave are combined with Hang Over (see no. 1). Take a look at the Hang Pygmy Exploration to learn more.
6. Elephant Cave
Known as Hang Voi in Vietnamese, this is a dry cave located right in the heart of the National Park. You’ll have to earn your right to exploration if you want to get inside of this Phong Nha cave, think you can handle it?
A challenging 20-minute trek through the dense canopy lies between the trail-head and the cave, but once you make it there you’ll gawp at a cave entrance that is 60 metres high and 300 meters long.
Sound fun? Learn more by taking a look at the Elephant Cave & Ma Da Valley Jungle Trek one-day itinerary.
7. Tra Ang Cave
One of Phong Nha’s oldest and most unexplored caves, Tra Ang only opened to visitors two years ago.
This may be partly due to the tricky assault course required to get into it – you’ll have to summit the cave’s own craggy mouth to get inside.
Although it might seem like Tra Ang doesn’t want visitors, it’s more than worth the struggle. Once you’re in, you’ll get around by swimming through the same river that created the cave. You can visit Tra Ang Cave on the Ma Da Valley Jungle Camping adventure.
8. Paradise Cave
Unlike many of the Phong Nha caves, Paradise Cave is easily accessible and cheap – you can drive up to its entrance and pay a few dollars to get in.
This makes a great cave for anyone unwilling to scramble up rocks and through dense jungle, but it turns out there’s a lot of those people, so this cave gets busy.
If you can look past the tourists and the megaphones, Paradise Cave is still beautiful. Explore this underground beauty along with other Phong Nha caves with the Jungle Boss National Park Tour.
9. Dark Cave
Definitely one of the most popular Phong Nha caves, Dark Cave lives up to the name. This is certainly recommended for anyone wanting to experience something totally unique in Phong Nha. Don’t forget your headlamp – and a sense of adventure.
It’s a little more secluded and a little more expensive to get into, but the extra cost is worthwhile.
Dark Cave’s 5,258 metre stretch has a few more activities than the average cave. You can try zip-lining, a mud bath, or swimming in its crystal-clear river – all of which only a handful of people have experienced so far.
10. Hang E Cave
The main appeals of Hang E are the pristine river, the endlessly blue natural spring, and the total isolation you can experience here. It’s easy to spot the inspiration for its alternative name: ‘Water Palace’.
The environment surrounding the cave itself is completely untouched. You’ll feel like you’re the first person to discover the area. Visit Hang E on the one-day Abandoned Valley Trek. Want to get away from the horn-honking masses in Vietnam – this is as far as you can go!
Still hungry for more information, read up on our complete guide to Phong Nha here – it contains more information than you’ll know what to do with.