Caving in Phong Na, Vietnam

Phong Nha national park, in the central to northern areas of Vietnam, is said to be one of the most prestigious in South East Asia. This is probably because of the fact that here you will also discover the world’s largest cave. Son Đoòng cave runs 5km deep, 200 metres high, 150 metres wide and has a total volume of 38.4×106 m3. In this area of Vietnam you can find around 300 grottos and caves, plus you can also find the world’s longest underground river. Yes I know, this place is full of record holders. That’s not all, I almost forgot to mention Phong Nha cave. It is regarded by the British Caving Association as the top cave in the world due to its top four records: the longest underground river, the highest and longest cave, broadest and most beautiful fine sand beaches inside the caves, and the most spectacular stalagmites and stalactites.

Going into the national park kind of feels like a take from a Jurassic Park movie because of the massive Hollywood sized sign mounted on the side of a mountain. However, the caves aren’t everything in this park and there is loads of room for exploring. Either grab a scooter or a bicycle and you can be on your way to a full day’s activity.

Getting to this National Park is no major mission; for those on a budget just catch a bus from any major town in Vietnam or any town close by. If you up your budget then you can either hire a minibus or taxi to take you there, or you can fly into Dong Hoi and then take either a bus or a taxi.

Within the national park itself you will have to pay a number of entry fees. There are separate fees for fresh water pools and caves found outside the main park area and another fee for the inner park. All you need to budget for then is your accommodation, which is abundant in this area and the majority of them are well-kept. Renting a motorbike or a bicycle would be an added bonus to the park’s enjoyment.

Activities will vary from kayaking to caving, zip- lining, climbing and air ring rafting. Caving would undoubtedly be the most costly since it includes guides, equipment, meals etc. However it is something that I would not suggest that you leave Phong Nha without doing. With regard to all the activities to do outside the inner entrance of the park, you can reach every destination by bike. Some of the top caves to see and explore in Phong Nha are Phong Nha cave itself which is popular for all the reasons mentioned above, Son Doong cave which is the world’s largest known cave and therefore the longest expedition of adventure caving, the Vom cave systems known for their underground picturesque scenery, and the most recently explored and opened to the public cave systems of Hang Va and Hang Nuoc Nut which are known for their vast calcium pools and underground rivers mixed with a selection of rare calcium tower cone formations found at the end of the Hang Va cave system.

These expeditions should be the priority for exploring this area. They are specifically tailored for the adventurer, explorer, photographer and videographer. Only the company Oxalis have been granted permission to carry out expeditions and every expedition is tailored to suit your ambitions and your skill level. Everything is monitored and has been laid out in a joint effort by the Oxalis team and the British Caving Society, who up until this day remain in the area exploring and discovering new cave systems. In all my years of taking on tours, expeditions and treks, I have never come across such a well-organized expedition. Time to get your boots dirty and your clothes wet, Phong Nha is waiting for you.

Marc Casolani is a freelance photographer and a chronic traveler. Bitten by the travel bug several years ago he has failed to recover. –