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Paradise Cave & Phong Nha Cave, Vietnam.

Phong Nha Cave in Vietnam.

Paradise Cave & Phong Nha Cave, Vietnam.

April 2018.

After a few relaxing days in the understated outpost of Dong Hoi, it was time for my much-anticipated day trip to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Home to tropical forests, underground rivers, UNESCO caves and Asia’s oldest karst mountains, I could have easily based myself here for a week of solid exploring.

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.

However, by this point I’d already committed myself to other locations. Thus I had just one day to pick off a pair of the park’s highlights. After much consideration, I opted to go and see two of Vietnam’s (and indeed the world’s) most beautiful caves.

Driving from Dong Hoi to Paradise Cave in Vietnam

Getting to Paradise Cave.

I travelled by bus from Dong Hoi on a service organised by Nam Long Hotel. First up was Paradise Cave, known in Vietnam as Dong Thien Duong. It took us around 1 hour 30 minutes to reach the cave’s entrance from the hotel in Dong Hoi. Some of the roads were a bit too twisty for my liking, but there was plenty of gorgeous scenery en route to distract me from my carsickness.

Entrance to Paradise Cave in Vietnam

Paradise Cave, Vietnam.

Inside the entrance chamber our guide gave us an overview of the cave’s fascinating history. Amazingly, these 360 million year old rock formations remained completely hidden until 2005. That’s when a local conservationist by the name of Ho Khanh discovered the cave during a bamboo research project.

Paradise Cave & Phong Nha Cave.

Visit Paradise Cave in Vietnam.

Paradise Cave, Vietnam.

Before long a team from the British Cave Research Association arrived to carry out a professional exploration. And they were certainly impressed by what they saw! So enamoured, it turned out, that it was their suggestion to name it Paradise Cave. Initially they believed the cave was just five kilometres long. But later investigations actually revealed it to stretch on for a wondrous 31 kilometres!

Paradise Cave Dong Thien Duong.

Paradise Cave.

Today visitors get to walk down the first kilometre. It might not sound like much, but it’s definitely enough to see why the cave is held in such high regard. Indeed I remember letting out an audible gasp as I descended the long wooden staircase into a cavernous chamber. In truth my camera struggled to catch the cave’s beauty. How I wish I could go back and photograph them all again with my current camera.

Visiting Paradise Cave in Vietnam.

Paradise Cave.

They’ve done a really good job presenting Paradise Cave. Visitors follow a boardwalk path right through the centre, which gets you up close and personal with many of the stunning stalactites and stalagmites. Here and there info boards give you the crazy names of all the formations. Much of this went over my head to be honest.

Exploring Paradise Cave Vietnam.

Paradise Cave.

Rather, it was enough to simply breathe in the silence and coolness. To admire the amazing scope of the place. Gaze up at the ceiling, for example, which is 72 metres at its highest point, and you’ll see the most incredible hanging spears of rock. They’re like chandeliers, which I think adds nicely to the cave’s cathedral feel.

Adventures in Vietnam.

Paradise Cave Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

Paradise Cave.

Other formations seemed positively terrifying. The one pictured below brought to mind the snarling mouths of the beasts in Ridley Scott’s Alien.

Amazing rock formations Paradise Cave Vietnam

Paradise Cave.

I was also interested to read that the cave team found a brand new species of scorpion in the cave! It’s called Vietbocap thienduongensis. Try saying that with a mouthful of marshmallows.

Son River Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park

The Son River, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.

From Paradise Cave it was a one-hour drive to Phong Nha Vllage and this lovely section of the Son River. Jumping out of the bus, I immediately came face to face with a line of blue motor boats. All with a local captain patiently awaiting the arrival of visitors keen to reach Phong Nha Cave.

Son River cruise in Vietnam.

Cruising down the Son River.

It only takes ten minutes to reach Phong Nha Cave by boat from the village. But what idyllic scenery we enjoyed along the way, including thick forest, more of Vietnam’s signature limestone hills and even a few churches nestled in the greenery.

This was the first of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park’s many caves to open to the public. Accessed through the river itself, it stretches for a staggering 44 kilometres, so even longer than Paradise Cave. And just like the first cave, tourists can only see a short section.

Phong Nha Cave.

Phong Nha Cave Vietnam.

Entering Phong Nha Cave.

A French Roman Catholic priest by the name of Leopold Michel Cadiere was the first person to professionally investigate the cave in 1899. It was he who first documented its many grottoes and beaches, in addition to several sections of ancient Cham script on the walls.

Inside Phong Nha Cave Vietnam.

Cruising through Phong Nha Cave.

Cadiere, a respected historian, declared Phong Nha “Indochina’s number one cave!” As a result, all manner of experts began arriving to see it for themselves. Eventually, in the 1990s, a team of cave specialists revealed its full length, leading to its opening as a public site.

It was very cool to get a sense of what it must’ve been like for them as we cruised through the dimly lit entrance cavern, our guide’s voice bouncing playfully off the ceiling and rattling around the walls.

Boat cruise through Phong Nha Cave Vietnam

Phong Nha Cave.

During The Vietnam War the Northern Vietnamese Army (NVA) used the cave for shelter and as a weapon storage warehouse. Much like the amazing cave I’d seen on Cat Ba Island, they also employed it as a hospital.

Phong Nha Cave.

Phong Nha Cave.

Phong Nha Cave.

The highlight was getting to jump off on a narrow beach, right in the middle of the cave. With the shifting colours, spooky echoes and dripping rocks, it almost felt as if I’d been transported to another planet. A magical experience from start to finish.

Inside Phong Nha Cave in Vietnam.

Phong Nha Cave.

While I undoubtedly didn’t stay long enough in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, I’m so glad that I got to see these two fantastic caves. Apparently there are over 300 caves in the park, with a dozen or so championed as among the most beautiful in the world.

Nam Long Hotel offers various options, where you can mix and match caves as per your preference. I paid 1 million VND (£37/€42/$48) for my day trip, including transport, entrance fees and a basic but tasty lunch at a restaurant between Paradise and Phong Nha. 

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  • 100 Country Trek

    That would be a place I would love to see… looks similar to the cave we saw in Bermuda. But is a beautiful site to see.

    September 30, 2021 - 12:26 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for dropping by! It was kind of tough choosing which two caves to do, as there are so many to explore in the park.

      September 30, 2021 - 12:27 pm Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    Paradise Cave and Phong Nha Cave look beautiful with all those interesting formations. Who would have thought you’d have such lovely views even underground!?

    September 30, 2021 - 12:42 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey guys, thanks for reading. It was virtually impossible to decide if one was more beautiful than the other. Especially as they are so different. Both were so tricky to photograph, not helped by my average camera and underdeveloped photography skills.

      September 30, 2021 - 12:51 pm Reply
  • travelling_han

    Those caves look INCREDIBLE. I always find taking photos in dark places like caves, or salt mines etc impossible – the camera can never do them justice. Despite that, they still look beautiful so I can only imagine in person.

    September 30, 2021 - 1:04 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading Han! They were really special, as of yet I haven’t seen a cave that lives up to them. But I know there are plenty out there. One day…

      September 30, 2021 - 1:54 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    Paradise indeed. Spectacular. I hear you on the regrets that we did not have a good camera on a trip. Oh to go back and do it all again with a good camera. Thanks for sharing Leighton. Hope all is well. Allan

    September 30, 2021 - 2:30 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for visiting Allan! It took a lot of work to get these photos up to some sort of reasonable standard. And all the while I was thinking, ah nuts.

      September 30, 2021 - 3:15 pm Reply
  • Memo

    You certainly selected two spectacular caves! Your “old” camera did an amazing job. Did the river run into or out of Phong Nha Cave? Not that it makes a lot of difference but I was wondering about the source. Paradise Cave was discovered in 2005. Does that mean that it wasn’t known to any locals or were there no locals to know it? These are always fascinating days. Thanks for going and taking us with you.

    September 30, 2021 - 2:49 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Memo, as far as I know yes, completely hidden from unaware locals. Which is amazing when you think about it. The river, I believe, runs into the cave. A day really isn’t enough to see anywhere near all this park has to offer.

      September 30, 2021 - 3:42 pm Reply
  • Lyssy In The City

    What a cool experience, I have yet to visit any caves. I’m a bit claustrophobic but those look massive!

    September 30, 2021 - 3:23 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Lyssy, yes they are colossal so that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Perhaps just a few narrow tunnel paths here and there. Thanks for reading!

      September 30, 2021 - 3:43 pm Reply
  • Monkey's Tale

    These both look like amazing caves. We didn’t have time to see any caves in Vietnam. Paradise does look like it lives up to its name and I’d love to take the boat ride through Phing Nha. Maggie

    September 30, 2021 - 4:39 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers Maggie, if I ever make it back to Vietnam I’d definitely consider a return to the park to cross off a few more caves.

      September 30, 2021 - 5:04 pm Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    Those two caves both look incredible Leighton thanks for bringing them to my attention, Paradise is certainly a good name for one of them.

    September 30, 2021 - 6:10 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Marion, the park is definitely a must for anyone lucky enough to spend a longer period of time in Vietnam.

      September 30, 2021 - 6:20 pm Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    Definitely a good option to visit these two caves – they are both quite amazing. The first cave (Paradise Cave) reminds me a bit of our own Cango Caves here in South Africa. And it’s hard to believe that it was only discovered in 2005! I had to look twice at the trip’s price – I just saw “million” … Vietnam will have me look twice at their prices 😅.

    September 30, 2021 - 9:03 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha rest assured I was only “a millionaire” in Vietnam. Yeah, it’s pretty confusing in those first few days as you get to grips with the currency. I am going to have a quick look online about the Cango Caves. Cheers!

      September 30, 2021 - 9:06 pm Reply
      • wetanddustyroads

        In our post – Karoo Trip (3) – we’ve visited the Cango Caves … was earlier this year and great to see the caves again after more than 25 years!

        September 30, 2021 - 9:13 pm
      • Leighton

        Ooooh yes, I think I remember this post. There was a “very dangerous road” sign if I recall?

        September 30, 2021 - 9:16 pm
      • wetanddustyroads

        You absolutely remember 100% correct! The road to “The Hell” followed after our visit to the Cango Caves 😊.

        September 30, 2021 - 9:25 pm
  • grandmisadventures

    You got some incredible pictures of the caves! I always love cave tours like this…at least until they turn off the lights to show you just how dark it gets in there then I just feel anxious. Another great read!

    September 30, 2021 - 10:22 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Meg, I’m delighted to hear the photos aren’t as bad as I thought. You must have some stunning caves in Tennessee and beyond.

      September 30, 2021 - 10:38 pm Reply
      • grandmisadventures

        We’re only a couple hours away from Mammoth Cave National Park which is amazing but not nearly as photo worthy as these caves 🙂

        September 30, 2021 - 10:44 pm
  • Rebecca

    Caves are certainly wondrous, eh? It’s really true that cameras just can’t do justice to the dark, underground beauty of such places, let alone capture the details of the walls inside (unless you’re willing to shell out hundreds of dollars for super high-quality lenses…thank you for taking us along your journey through Paradise Cave and Phong Nha Cave!

    October 1, 2021 - 4:56 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Yeah, capturing caves might be one of the toughest kinds of photography there is. Glad you enjoyed the trip!

      October 1, 2021 - 9:46 am Reply
  • ourcrossings

    There’s nothing more exciting than exploring a fascinating, natural underworld of rivers, waterfalls, winding passages and lofty chambers. Thanks for sharing, and have a lovely day 🙂 Aiva

    October 1, 2021 - 10:50 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading Aiva!

      October 1, 2021 - 2:42 pm Reply

    Wow those look like fantastic places to visit. The formations in that first cave are incredible. Awesome experience by the sound of it.

    October 1, 2021 - 5:35 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading! I’m guessing there must be a wondrous cave or two peppered around your travel route in Greece.

      October 1, 2021 - 5:38 pm Reply
  • rkrontheroad

    Such dramatic underground structures! Other-worldly. The Son River shot of the boats lined up against the mountains is lovely.

    October 3, 2021 - 6:19 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Glad you enjoyed the tour! Wish I’d taken at least an extra day to see a few more caves. The Dark Cave, for example, looked amazing though obviously even worse for photographs.

      October 3, 2021 - 6:28 pm Reply
  • Toonsarah

    Paradise Cave looks stunning, but to cruise through Phong Nha must have been even more magical!

    October 14, 2021 - 10:10 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Sarah, thanks for checking this one out. The cruise was special for sure. There are so many caves in this park and really I just scratched the surface with these two.

      October 14, 2021 - 10:17 am Reply

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