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Phong Nha Ke Bang: National Park Tour

With only two days to spend in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, we decided to join an organized tour group to spend a full day out and about seeing the caves. We originally wanted to join the 7km in depth trek through Paradise Cave, however we missed out on that specific trip as we frustratingly didn’t realise the tour only departed on certain days of the week which didn’t coincide with our visit, so we were sadly unable to join that trip.

Instead, we joined a National Park Tour that would take us to see the highlights of the National Park, which included 8 Ladies Cave, the Highway 20 War Martyrs Memorial, Paradise Cave, and the newly opened Tra Ang Cave – which we would swim through!

Our trip was arranged through our Farmstay accommodation, and operated by Jungle Boss. For VND 1,350,000 / £45 pp, we joined a small group of 5 others on a full day (08:00 – 16:45) trip with a lovely English speaking guide, Nga.

Read On To See What We Got Up To

Paradise Cave

Situated 14 km South West of Son Trach, Paradise Cave is one of the most popular caves to visit in the National Park thanks to the 1km boardwalk that has been built inside the cave. At a ceiling height of 100m and a width of 150m, this cave was massive, and at 30 km in length Paradise Cave clearly deserves it’s title as the longest cave within Asia!

Make sure you have a bottle of water with you as you’ll have a steep hike through the forest to reach the entrance of the cave. Electric buggies are available for those unable to walk the distance though. Clamber down the wooden staircase into the mouth of the cave and then enjoy a stroll along the man-made boardwalk that stretches 1km deep inside the cave.

Whilst the cave was definitely impressive, I would have much preferred to have joined the in-depth tour of Paradise Cave, which takes you 6km beyond the boardwalk, along the floor of the cave to explore further.

Top Tip: Paradise Cave can also be visited independently, so if you can make your own way there, I’d strongly advise to do this to avoid the shouty tour guides with their megaphones. Absolute nightmare. Try visiting in the afternoon to avoid the multiple tour groups.

8 Ladies Cave & War Martyr’s Memorial Temple

Named after 8 brave ladies who based themselves in the cave during the war when up to 7,000 bombs were being dropped daily, constantly destroying the local roads. The ladies would do their best to clear and repair the roads, until the sad day that a bomb trapped them inside the cave. Without food, drink, or air, all 8 ladies perished – but are honoured with a shrine in memory of their hard work.

Top Tip: Both the 8 Ladies Cave & War Martyr’s Memorial Temple can be visited independently, so don’t feel like you need to book on a tour to visit either.

Jungle Trek (to Tra Ang Cave)

Tra Ang Cave had only been open 6 months when we visited, and for me, this was the highlight of our day trip, as we would be swimming into the cave! Our group were driven a short distance from Paradise Cave to be dropped off by a tiny track entrance that you wouldn’t have otherwise noticed. Once down the steep verge, we trekked through the dense jungle, along a river, past a bomb crater, until we reached a clearing in the jungle where a covered area was set up and lunch was being prepared.

We had a quick and refreshing dip in the nearby stream, and then a light lunch of homemade spring rolls and BBQ’d meat. We were joined by another Jungle Boss tour group, and once lunch was over, we all got changed into our swimmers ready to be kitted out. As there would be some scrambling involved, we were given plastic shoes to protect our feet. We would be swimming into a pitch black cave so life jackets, hard hats, and head torches were compulsory for everyone too.

Tra Ang Cave

There were 12 of us in total along with 3 guides, and one by one we headed back into the jungle, towards a large set of boulders that blocked the entrance of the cave. Once we’d clambered across the rocks, we climbed down into the waters, and began to swim into the mouth of the cave.

With the exception of an amazing light shaft filtering into the entrance of the cave, we were otherwise swimming into pure darkness. With the guidance, solely of our head torches, we swam as far as the passage would allow us to. At the far end, roughly 600m in, we gathered together on a rocky ledge as our guides gave us a brief talk. We were asked to turn off our head torches (great for someone like me who is terrified of the dark), as our guides yipped and yelled to demonstrate how sound echoed so intensely within the cave.

We then swam back through the cave in the darkness, as we were surrounded by flying bats and god knows what else – but best not to think about that! Back at camp we dried off, handed back our equipment, before heading off shortly afterwards. I’m really glad I did this despite spending the morning worrying about the darkness and the caves. We had a short hike back to the main road where our minivan driver was waiting with a cool box of rewarding cold beer.

I would have loved to have shared what this part of the tour looked like, however all cameras had to be left behind. Besides, inside the cave was pitch black, so even if we did have our camera’s and go-pro’s, we wouldn’t have been able to capture much!

Other Tours

With more time on our hands and a bigger budget, I would have definitely considered one of the overnight trekking trips. These do however come with a hefty price tag of up to VND 8,000, 000 / £265, and depart less frequently – so plan and book ahead!

Click here to read more about other tours that are available through Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park.

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