Caves, Zip Lines and Deep Mud in Phong Nha

Last updated on: 13 Comments

What it’s like to explore Phong Nha National Park on a guided tour.

Phong Nha National Park Tour Paradise Cave
The Paradise Cave

My leg sunk in again, this time up to my knee. I looked down, aiming the small beam of light from my headlamp at the enveloping mess all around me.

There was no escaping the thick mud.

I was hundreds of metres inside Hang Toi (the Dark Cave), with 20 newfound friends.

We were all in the same position, all experiencing the same surreal sensation of trekking through a cavern void of illumination. All stuck in the mud. It was hilarious.

READ MORE: Check out our complete guide to help you travel to Vietnam!

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park has become famous all around the globe for being the location of Hang Son Doong, the current record holder for the world’s largest cave.

But that is not the only attraction in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The national park is home to imposing karst mountains, dense jungle, a multitude of rivers and of course hundreds of limestone caves, some say as many as 300.

The other thing that lays scattered all throughout the park is thousands of unexploded ordinances from the Vietnam/American War – a dangerous reminder of the tragic history this region experienced.

Despite this, the area has become a magnet for adventurous travellers keen to explore the beauty and excitement on offer.

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Phong Nha National Park Tour View
The view inside the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

Phong Nha – An Adventurer’s Paradise

When we arrived at the iconic Phong Nha Farmstay, we were excited to book ourselves into their renowned National Park Tour.

We had met backpackers all across South East Asia who had recommended both the Farmstay and their tours, so our hearts were set before we had even arrived.

Setting off in the morning with our intrepid group we headed straight for the national park in our comfortable and modern air-conditioned minibus.

Our local English-speaking guide, Hung, beamed enthusiasm for his native home and regaled us with stories of what it was like growing up in the Quang Binh province, which also has the unfortunate title of being the poorest province in Vietnam.

Phong Nha National Park Tour Group
Our intrepid group.
Phong Nha National Park Tour Memorial
Hung lighting incense to connect with the deceased’s spirits.

En route to the 8 Lady Cave, we stopped off for various photo opportunities across the winding valleys and limestone mountains.

Hung told us about the history of area, in particular about the bombings of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail that occurred over the years by the United States.

He pointed out bomb craters in the cliff faces and small hideouts where Vietnamese soldiers sought shelter while explosions occurred all around them.

We reached Hang Tam Co (8 Lady Cave) and the Highway 20 War Martyrs Memorial Temple which was built to remember some of the poor souls that were killed during the war.

8 young Vietnamese were hiding in a cave next to where the temple is now built when a US bomb struck the top, tumbling large stones over the entrance and trapping the men and women.

After 9 days of their friends trying unsuccessfully to free them they unfortunately perished. The highway was named number 20 because the ages of the deceased were all around 20.

The temple is a picturesque yet sombre experience.

Phong Nha National Park Tour Paradise Cave Formations
Fascinating limestone formations inside the Paradise Cave.

The day’s highlight was next to come – the astounding Thien Duong, better known as the Paradise Cave.

Stretching 31.4 kilometres into the earth the colossal chambers offer a glimpse into a unique underground world.

With subtle lighting effects and a well-constructed boardwalk, the first kilometre of the cave is accessible to almost anyone with a basic amount of fitness.

Stepping down to the cavern floor and gazing up at the goliath stalagmites and stalactites was overwhelming.

READ MORE: Check out our list of the best things to do in Vietnam!

We spent an hour wandering throughout the galleries, pausing at the most arresting spots to take in the incredible formations. Pools of calcium deposits gathered near the base of columns.

The shear enormity of the Paradise Cave was hard to comprehend. The grandeur was beautiful.

Exiting the spectacular cave we were then treated to a delicious, fresh lunch.

The delectable Vietnamese dishes were shared in the traditional communal way and added to the great social aspect of the tour.

Our hunger satisfied, we jumped back in the minibus and headed to our final adventurous activity.

Phong Nha National Park Tour Food
The delicious food provided for us during the tour.

The Dark Cave is more than just it’s namesake caverns – it also has adrenalin-pumping zip lines over the river.

The heart is beating fast even before you step foot inside the chambers.

Hang Toi is not named due to it being completely void of light, although that is the case as well.

The title comes from the rocks that make up the composition of the Dark Cave – a mix of black basalt and limestone, which gives the caverns its dark colour.

Phong Nha National Park Tour Zip Line
The Dark Cave zip line.

Once you soar through the sky to reach the entrance, you trek into the wet cave, wading through waist-deep water.

Unlike some of the other somewhat dangerous activities in South East Asia, with the Phong Nha National Park Tour you are provided life jackets, a helmet and a headlamp.

Phong Nha National Park Tour Zip Line River Jump
Zip lining into the river.

Following our guide we then reached the section that forms everyone’s favourite memory – the deep, slippery and buoyant mud that fills up the cavern floor.

Completely coating yourself in the muck makes for a strange sensation on the skin, and you can’t help but laugh as you slip and slide your way to a small room at the end of your tour.

Here the mud is above knee height and you can lay down and completely float in the pool of slush.

We switched our headlamps off and immersed ourselves in the darkness and slop for a few minutes.

When the lights came back on an impromptu mud fight inevitably started and everyone took part in the joyful mayhem.

Phong Nha National Park Tour Dark Cave
The entrance to the Dark Cave

Finally it was time to exit the cave, with a swim inside the internal river to wash our skin.

Hung, our guide, pointed out some ancient fossils of fish, snails and shells on the way out which were fascinating to see.

When we made it back to the outside world we jumped into some waiting kayaks and paddled our way back to the minivan.

Surrounded by the jungle and mountains, this was one of the most idyllic settings you could hope to finish the day in.

Phong Nha National Park Tour Kayaking
Lesh and Jazza kayaking back to the bus.

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end. The Phong Nha National Park Tour was one of our biggest highlights in over 9 months backpacking South East Asia, and one of the coolest things we have ever done.

To be in this captivating region with some of Vietnam’s most beautiful scenery is humbling, and to explore it in style with the Phong Nha Farmstay tour was phenomenal.

We’ll walk away from Phong Nha Ke Bang longing to return to do further exploration – perhaps sooner rather than later.

Phong Nha National Park Tour Dark Cave Mud
Lesh caked in mud inside the Dark Cave
Phong Nha National Park Tour Happy Lesh
Lesh was very happy with the tour.
Phong Nha National Park Tour Kayak View
View from the kayak.
We did this tour with the support of the Phong Nha Farmstay. All thoughts and opinions are our own.

About the author

Alesha and Jarryd

Hey! We are Alesha and Jarryd, the award winning writers and photographers behind this blog, and we have been travelling the world together since 2008. Adventure travel is our passion, and through our stories and images we promote exciting off-the-beaten-path destinations and fascinating cultures as we go. Follow our journey in real time on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

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13 COMMENTS

  1. The Dark caves were an incredible experience. They were only discovered in 1992 and opened to tourists in 2009, which meant there was little to no health and safety regulations.

    The Paradise Cave is such an awe-insipiring sight! In addition to that, all the trekking, zip line adventure and crazy mud fun is undeniably a unique experience any tourist – an adventure-seeker at that – can experience. How much did you have to spend for the whole trip? Thanks!

    -Lashaunda

      I think the tour was around $60, but I could be wrong. It was a while ago. Definitely worth the money!

    We did the Phong Nha 7km Paradise Cave tour and had an amazing and absolutely surreal experience. We did think the pricing was a bit out of sync with what the tour offered, but on the other hand I am pretty sure they have a monopoly on cool cave tours 🙂

      Oh awesome! We are yet to do the 7km Paradise Cave tour as it is currently flooded. Hopefully it will open up soon and we get in there to check it out for ourselves. Unfortunately it is quite expensive, but from all accounts it is meant to be worth the dollars.

    Looks amazing! Did you find paradise cave too touristy and busy which spoilt your visit to it? And was it claustrophobic in the dark cave??

      We didn’t find it too touristy, however we were there during the quiet season. I have heard they have up to 3’000 people a day in peak season. Still, it is a beautiful place. The Dark Cave could be claustrophobic, but still a lot of fun. Definitely recommend it! Thanks for reading Cath!

    This tour looks like quite an amazing adventure! Will definitely check it out if I ever make it to Vietnam!

    I’d never thought I would say this but your wonderful writing makes me want to experience being stuck in all that mud! 🙂
    I’d like to explore these caves the next time I am in Vietnam.

      Really appreciate the kind words, Natasha. Our writing and photos can’t truly depict our amazing the day was (even being stuck in all that mud). Be sure to head to Phong Nha next time you’re in the country.

    That sounds like such a brilliant trip, those caves look awesome! Thoroughly enjoyed the story Lesh & Jazza! Keep it up!

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