The Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is home to the biggest cave in the world. Son Doong is a challenge for most travellers, as it is a four day/three night trek to be able to visit it, and it costs around $3000USD. A good alternative experience is instead visiting Paradise Cave. This cave was only discovered in 2005, and was opened up to tourists in 2010. I visited by doing a Paradise Cave tour from Hue in central Vietnam.
Where is Paradise Cave, Vietnam
Paradise Cave (called Thiên Đường in Vietnamese) is located in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. The National Park is around 450km south of Hanoi, and about 210km north of Hue. The closest town to Paradise Cave is the small town of Phong Nha. From Phong Nha, it’s another 20km to the entrance to Paradise Cave.
Paradise Cave Tour from Hue
I had tried hard when working out our itinerary in Vietnam to fit in some time in Phong Nha because I had heard some good things about the area, but unfortunately I just couldn’t make it work. Instead we decided to at least have a small taste and do a one day Paradise Cave tour from Hue.
We booked a tour the evening before through our accommodation, and were up bright and early for our 6:30am pickup. This is a long day tour, so be prepared to be up early. Our tour was in a large coach, and it was completely full, so clearly this day trip is very popular.
After driving around Hue and picking up at various locations, we were on the road. About two hours into the journey we stopped at the La Vang church. I was surprised to see that this was a large Catholic Church. The services were being carried out in the open air when we were there, but a big new church was in the process of being built.
This area is particularly important because it is said that in the time of Catholic persecution during the years of 1792 – 1802 a group of people were hiding out here in the La Vang forest. One day when they were praying, an apparition of Mary carrying the baby Jesus appeared to them at the foot of a banyan tree. She helped them, and is said to have declared “I have answered your prayers. From now on, I will fulfil the entreaties of those who come here to implore me.”
The Lady of La Vang is said to have appeared to other people since, and now the banyan tree is an important pilgrimage location.
After about half an hour to stretch our legs, we were back on the bus for the next leg. We passed through the DMZ, and our guide provided commentary and pointed out significant landmarks from the bus. I think I will be putting a full DMZ tour on my list for my next trip to Vietnam. Soon we had driven through to the town of Phong Nha where we dropped off some people, and pick up others. The town looked like it would be a decent place to stay on a future visit.
Lunch was next, at a place that was clearly set up to cater for tour buses just like these ones. We were seated at tables of about ten people, and various Vietnamese dishes were placed before us to share. It was the usual arrangement where food was provided as part of the tour, but drinks were not and had to be purchased. This is common on many of these long day tours, and it always pays to be aware as drink prices are often exorbitant. Always ask for the prices before ordering if budget is important to you.
After lunch it was finally time to make our way to Paradise Cave. From the entry gate, there is still a bit to go until arriving at the entrance to the cave. The first section is a nice flat walk, about a kilometre long, on good pathways. If you do not wish to walk, for an extra fee starting at 100000VND ($6AUD/$4.30USD) for four people, round trip, visitors can get a buggy to take them along this path.
The path then starts to go uphill. It’s now a narrow path up steps and slopes for the next 500 metres. This path everyone has to climb if they want to visit Paradise Cave. It is steep in parts, and I was puffing a bit when we reached the top, but we did go quite quickly (I was in training mode for climbing Mt Kinabalu in a few weeks time).
Finally it was time to enter Paradise Cave. The entrance way is quite unimpressive, down a small set of steps. Once inside the cave, the cave opens up into a huge cavern, with towering ceilings and wide expanses. The whole cave is around 31km long, with the far end of it actually extending into Laos. We, of course, did not get to explore the whole cave. For the average visitor, there are just over 1km of walkways that have been constructed to make viewing easy.
Unlike other caves I have visited, this one does not feel cold and damp. The temperature inside sits at around 20 degrees celcius year round. We had approximately 90 minutes to explore and admire the cave, and I felt that was a perfect amount of time.
The cave was spectacular! I don’t know all of the technical terms to describe what I was seeing, so I think the best thing I can do is share a selection of photos that will give you a great idea of what to expect.
At a round 3pm we made our way back to the bus for the long return trip to Hue. We were dropped back to our hotel at around 7:30pm. It had been a long day.
Final Thoughts on our Paradise Cave Tour
I enjoyed the tour, and if you have limited time and this is the only way you are going to be able to see a small slice of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, then I absolutely recommend it. Click through the links to take a look at two tours that are similar to the one we did
It’s a very long day, and you will spend most of it in the bus driving too and from Phong Nha. There are also a lot more things to do in the Phong Nha area. If you have time, I recommend spending a day or two in the area and exploring more.
Below is a little information to help you if you choose to stay in the Phong Nha area longer.
Getting to Phong Nha
The nearest airport and train station to Phong Nha are both located in Dong Hoi. It is about 40km from Dong Hoi to the township of Phong Nha. From here there are a few different options
- hire a motorbike and drive yourself to the cave
- catch the local DMZ bus from Dong Hoi bus station to Phong Nha. This will cost about 35000VND and take about 90 minutes
- private transfer to Phong Nha can be done by taxi or ask your accommodation to arrange. It is usually around 400000-500000VND per car.
Where to Stay in Phong Nha
Here are a couple of suggestions for places to stay in Phong Nha that I have seen recommended by other people I know. Accommodation is generally homestay style, and really cheap. Good accommodation can be found for around $30AUD/$25USD per night for a private room with ensuite with breakfast included.
- Phong Nha Farmstay – For a long time this was the only place to stay in Phong Nha, but with the discovery of the cave has come many more options. Also runs many of the tours in the area. Is now on the higher end of the scale in regards to price, but is lovely and has great facilities.
- Nguyen Shack – Phong Nha Eco Resort – this place looks amazing! Lovely rooms, breakfast included, a swimming pool, what more could you want?
- Hugo Homestay – Another place to stay with all the facilities you could want. The rooms here are basic but huge, so if you are after some space, this looks to be a good option.
Visiting Paradise Cave
Many of the places to stay in Phong Nha offer free bicycle rental, so look out for that when booking as that could be an option for getting around the area.
Keep in mind though that the caves are 20km out of town, so hiring a motorbike could be a better option. They can be found all over town for hire, or your accommodation may also have some available.
Below are the parking and entrance prices for Paradise Cave if travelling independently.
Another option is a local tour from Phong Nha to visit Paradise Cave. There will be many available, and some will visit other caves in the area too. Dark Cave is another one popular on tours. Click through the links below for some ideas
- One Day Caving and Trekking Phong Nha – Ke Bang
- Paradise Cave and Phong Nha Cave
- Hang Tra Ang and Paradise Cave Tour from Phong Nha
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