Once called Son Trach (Sơn Trạch), Phong Nha began as a rural commune before becoming a township in Vietnam. Rural even today, the township sits on the bank of the Son River and is the closest community to the renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site, Phong Nha-Ke Bang (Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng) National Park.
Although compact, Phong Nha has greatly expanded in recent years as it is the only place in the national park where visitors may access tourist service facilities.
Township near Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
The Phong Nha Township is in the North Central Coast Region of Vietnam. With a small governing body, the township is part of the greater Bo Trach (Bổ Trạch) District in Quang Binh (Quảng Bình) Province. Covering around 99 sq km (38 sq mi), most of Phong Nha’s main tourist area stretches along the riverside for less than 3 km (2 mi).
Boats on the water in Phong Nha. Photo: #keeptravelling™
Apart from the Phong Nha Township, many national park tourists will stay overnight or travel from Dong Hoi (Ðồng Hới), which is the capital of Quang Binh Province. The distance between Dong Hoi and Phong Nha is about 45 km (28 mi). Buses, taxis, and motorbikes are common methods of transportation with the drive taking about 1.5 hours.
Dong Hoi is the closest major urban area to Phong Nha and many travelers will use the city as a transportation hub because Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, is nearly 500 km (310 mi) to the north.
Phong Nha Township’s History
Human civilization in the area around Phong Nha has existed for hundreds of years. Once inhabited by small groups of locals, the first written recording of Phong Nha came in 1550 when a painter named Dương Van An used Phong Nha Cave as a subject in his paintings. Depicted on 9 urns, this recording of Phong Nha dates back to Vietnam’s Nguyen (Nguyễn) Dynasty.
Since then, numerous communities have thrived in Phong Nha, making a living off the land by developing local agriculture. It wasn’t until recently that Phong Nha Township began to rely on tourism fueled by the national park. BPrior to being an attraction, Phong Nha Cave had long been important to the local community.
Overlooking the main tourist area in Phong Nha, Vietnam. Photo:
During the Vietnam War, the area around Phong Nha saw heavy fighting, causing locals to take shelter in the numerous nearby caverns. Used as a safe harbor, Phong Nha Cave expanded to house storage facilities and a hospital, which were used throughout the Vietnam War.
In an effort to preserve the country’s past and educate others about wartime history, the Vietnamese government opened Phong Nha Cave to the public. And in response to the number our guests coming into the area, the township of Phong Nha was developed.
While Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is very large, parts of it are contained in the Phong Nha Township. Being a walkable distance away, the township is a popular attraction for its accommodations, restaurants, and various tourism-related services. In addition to the cave, tourists can also explore the Nuoc Mooc Ecotrail and Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center.
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park
Inside Hang Son Doong. Photo: Brian Hancill
Protecting some of Vietnam’s most densely forested jungles, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is the main attraction for tourists in the Phong Nha Township. Showcasing verdant limestone karsts on the surface, the national park’s most beautiful scenes happen to be underground.
With 300 cave systems, Phong Nha-Ke Bang is most famous for being home to some of the world’s largest caverns including Hang Son Doong (Hang Sơn Ðoòng) and Hang En (Hang Én). Most are drawn to the national park because of the caves, but tourists should know that access is strictly controlled.
Although many of the smaller caves have guides stationed at the entrance, a few, including Hang Son Doong and Hang En, are more difficult to access. Oxalis Adventure is the only authorized tour company that has been granted access to Hang Son Doong and Hang En. While everyone hopes to see Hang Son Doong, the reality is that few will ever get the chance.
With a waitlist of more than 2 years and a $3000 USD price tag, only a limited number of people have ever seen the world’s largest cave. Much more accessible and affordable is Hang En has overnight tours of Hang En that can be booked through Oxalis Adventure. Additionally, there is a long list of equally impressive caverns that are easier to access.
Inside of Paradise Cave. Photo: Edgardo W. Olivera
Other noteworthy caves in the national park are Hang Toi (Dark Cave), Hang Voi (Elephant Cave), Hang Vom, Hang Gieng Vooc, Tra Ang Cave, Tu Lan Cave, Hang Va Cave, and Son Trach (Paradise Cave).
Phong Nha Cave
Although not the largest, nor second or third largest cave in the area, Phong Nha Cave has earned a stellar reputation due to its unique rock formations. Boasting nicknames like “Lion, Buddha, Royal Court, Unicorn, Elephant, and Fairy Caves”, the stalactites and stalagmites in Phong Nha Cave make it one of the national park’s “can’t miss” attractions.
In addition to the formations, Phong Nha Cave flashes titles like having “the longest underground river”, “widest entrance”, and the “most beautiful underground lake”. Easy to access on foot from Phong Nha’s main tourist area, the cave has about 1500 m (5000 ft) of underground cavern space that is open to the public.
Entrance to the Phong Nha Cave. Photo: Mr & Mrs Backpacker
Tours by boat are popular because of the underground river, however, tourists may also explore dry caverns on foot. Similar to most of the caves in the national park, visitors will need to be accompanied by an official tour guide to enter Phong Nha Cave.
Nuoc Mooc Ecotrail
Above ground, the Nuoc Mooc Ecotrail is one of the most popular hiking areas in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Perfect for ecotourists, travelers can book a tour of the trail which winds through the thick jungle vegetation. Crossing bamboo bridges, tourists will be led to beautiful scenes with freshwater springs, a small lake, and open-air gazebos.
Other trail activities include swimming and kayaking. Covering a distance of 1 km (0.6 mi), the eco-trail is easy to complete and ideal for a half-day excursion.
Phong Nha Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is a treasure trove for biodiversity. With dozens of endemic and rare species, the national park strives to protect its flora and fauna in various ways including at the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center.
Green karsts and forests in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Photo: Mr & Mrs Backpacker
Housing unique patients like the slow loris, Southern pig-tailed macaque, and on occasion a saola, the rehabilitation center helps injured and sick animals recover before being released back into the national park. Many tours of the area include a visit to the rehabilitation center where tourists can learn more about the park and its various species.
Recent developments in the Phong Nha Township have all been geared towards expanding its tourist services. As the popularity of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park has grown in the last decade, so has Phong Nha. With a thriving tourist area, travelers can rest assured that they’ll have no trouble finding quality accommodations when visiting the national park.
There are dozens of hotels packed into Phong Nha Town and many of them come highly rated and well-recommended. Some of the best accommodations in Phong Nha are the Son Doong Riverside, Thuong Hai Hotel, Phong Nha Coco Riverside, Song Toan Hotel, and the Phong Nha Farmstay.
Hotels on the main street of the Phong Nha Township. Photo: Edgardo W. Olivera
Son Doong Riverside – One of the larger properties in Phong Nha, Son Doong Riverside features a restaurant, bar, lounge, casino, fitness center, garden, and 24-hour front desk. Moreover, there is a shared kitchen and free bicycles for guests. All of the rooms at Son Doong Riverside have a private bathroom and AC. Included with the reservation is a continental or buffet-style breakfast.
Thuong Hai Hotel – With a smaller property and large guest rooms, the Thuong Hai Hotel is popular for traveling families. Offering spaces that can sleep up to 6 people, guests will have access to plenty of in-room amenities like air conditioning, a TV, fridge, a private bathroom, toiletries, and linens.
An on-site restaurant and bar provide meals throughout the day as well as nighttime entertainment. The front desk is happy to assist guests with additional concierge services and they can also help travelers book a local tour.
Phong Nha Coco Riverside – Located in town, Phong Nha Coco Riverside has one of the best properties where guests can relax by the river or the property’s luscious garden. With an on-site restaurant, bar, and shared lounge, guests can conveniently eat at the hotel for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Phong Nha Coco Riverside room. Photo: Phong Nha Coco Riverside
Guest rooms are spacious and come with a seating area, private bathroom, air conditioning, and access to free Wi-Fi. For guests that want to cook their own meals, there is a shared kitchen too.
Song Toan Hotel – At the base of the mountain, the Song Toan Hotel is a quiet property that sits on the fringes of Phong Nha’s main tourist area. On the property, shared spaces include a garden, restaurant, lounge, and kitchen. Provided by the hotel are room service options, currency exchange, and free Wi-Fi.
Guests have highly rated this hotel for its modern and clean rooms, which include features like AC, a TV, a private bathroom, a desk, linens, and towels. Family rooms are available too and there is a children’s playground in the garden.
Phong Nha Farmstay – Outside of the Phong Nha Tourist Area, Phong Nha Farmstay is a small resort near a local lake. Guests staying at the property love the restaurant, which uses fresh ingredients grown in the hotel garden. On the property, shared facilities include an outdoor swimming pool, bar, billiards, spa, garden, and terrace.
Phong Nha Farmstay. Photo: V.T. Polywoda
All rooms including family units at the hotel have AC and a seating area. Depending on the room you’ve booked, some rooms have a private bathroom and patio space.
Often boasting a rustic aesthetic and laid-back atmosphere, Phong Nha’s local restaurants are great places to socialize and chow down on delicious meals. Using ingredients sourced from nearby farms, tourists can get a taste of staple dishes like Northern Vietnamese sausage, homestyle baking, fresh fruit bowls, and sticky rice.
While most of the popular restaurants are right in town, a few of the lesser-known places are up the dirt roads and tucked into the mountains. The best places to eat in Phong Nha are Capture Vietnam, the Wild Boar Eco-Farm, Veggie Box, Moi Moi, Bamboo Cafe, Mountain Goat Restaurant, Omar’s Namaste, D-Arts Zone, and the Pub with Cold Beer.
The proximity of the Phong Nha Township to the national park makes it a tourist destination that’s dependent on the weather due to many of the attractions being in the great outdoors. Even in the caves, rainy weather can be dangerous as caverns may be prone to flooding.
The least popular times to visit the park are during the months of June, July, and August. This is when the weather is at its wettest and hottest. Instead, tourists should visit the park from December to May, which is after and just before the rainy season. During the dry season, less rain and lower temperatures turn Phong Nha into an ecotourist’s paradise.
The Son River flowing through Phong Nha. Photo: Tam Ta
Sitting on the doorstep of the famous Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, the Phong Nha Township may be small but it’s mighty. With plenty of tourist services, travelers can sleep, dine, and entertain themselves. Spending the day exploring some of the world’s most amazing cave systems, Phong Nha Town is the perfect spot to rest and recuperate.
Address: Phong Nha Township, Bo Trach District, Quang Binh Province, Vietnam
Season: Year-round | Best during the dry season
Keyword: Phong Nha Township, Dong Hoi, Vietnam