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Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

By Josh Band

What is Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park? 

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is, as the name suggests, one of the 34 National Parks in Vietnam. It’s most known for the jungles, rivers and caves in the area. The area is really well-preserved and unlike other parts of Vietnam, it hasn’t become overrun with tourism (just yet).

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Text: Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Vietnam. Images: two views of the river and mountains inside the park.

Why is Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park a UNESCO World Heritage site?

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its extraordinary natural beauty and environmental diversity. It meets three criteria (8,9,10) to become a UNESCO World Heritage site. The complex limestone landscapes in the area are one of the main reasons Phong Nha has become protected by UNESCO. 

To quote UNESCO, its “outstanding geological and geomorphologic values” are worth protecting, and if you visit for yourself, you’ll likely agree, as the National Park is breathtaking. 

On the road that enters Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park: karst mountains in the distance, one with a sign with the name of the park. Vietnamese flags along the road.

What can you expect on a visit to Phong Nha-Ke Bang? 

When visiting Phong Nha-Ke Bang, you can expect an incredible amount of views which will make you go “wow”. I stayed in Phong Nha for five days, and I took over 500 photos. It’s such a scenic area and no matter which direction you look, you’ll have a pretty sight. 

There are lots of things to do in Phong Nha too, the most common of which is to explore some of the caves. The most popular caves are Phong Nha Cave, which you can go into by boat; Paradise Cave, which is part of the largest cave system in Asia; and the Dark Cave which also has a lot of water activities. 

I spent two months in Vietnam and Phong Nha was one of my favourite places I visited. It was so relaxing and peaceful. I would describe it as an “inland Ha Long Bay” as there are opportunities to go kayaking and other things that are also offered in Ha Long Bay, another of Vietnam’s UNESCO sites.

If you’re interested in history, Phong Nha also has some points of interest from the Vietnam-America War. The Botanic Gardens, for example, have some bombs which were dropped. During the war, Phong Nha experienced a lot of bombing, and had a lot of Agent Orange sprayed on it too (possibly another reason it is a UNESCO World Heritage site – to prevent further damage). 

On a riverbank, karst mountains across the way and a row of boats waiting for customers on the river. A sign reads "Dangerous area no swimming."

Is Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park worth visiting?

Yes, Phong Nha is definitely worth visiting. It is paradise on Earth. If you are travelling throughout Vietnam or Southeast Asia, it is a must-visit, especially before it becomes more popular. You can easily spend a few nights here to take a couple of rest days. It would be possible to visit the National Park in a day trip, but there aren’t really any places nearby which would be worth staying in. It’s best to spend a few days in Phong Nha town.

Use the map below to find accommodations in the town of Phong Nha.

If you are travelling across Vietnam, you might be visiting Ninh Binh too. Both Ninh Binh and Phong Nha are similar in the fact that they are full of limestone formations with lots of greenery, but in my opinion, Phong Nha has the edge. And to make it even better, it’s way less popular, meaning there are fewer crowds.

Looking across a river: a small village with karst mountains behind it.

What sorts of travelers would like Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park? 

This National Park is perfect for those who love the outdoors. Whether you want to relax by the river with scenic views in the distance, or get active by kayaking down the river, you can do both. But the best part about Phong Nha is the nature, so it’s best suited to outdoor-lovers.

Tips for visiting Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park 

You don’t need to take a tour: Most people will visit Phong Nha’s caves and most popular sites by taking a tour. While it’s good for convenience, you can still visit the attractions on your own. Another option is to hire a bike and DIY it.

Bring your swimwear: At the Dark Cave, you have the opportunity to do a number of water activities such as kayaking, paddleboarding, swimming into the cave, and even taking a mud bath.

Pay as a group for Phong Nha Cave: When visiting Phong Nha Cave, you get a boat from Phong Nha Town. The price is the same regardless of the number of people on the boat. Speak to the people around you in the queue and fit as many people as possible to save money.

Bring your hiking boots: There are some good trekking opportunities in Phong Nha National Park. Make sure you bring suitable footwear.

Consider a trip to the Duck Stop: While it’s not one of the “typical” things to do in Phong Nha, the Duck Stop has risen in popularity thanks to viral TikTok and Instagram videos. You can have a personal experience with hundreds of ducks, feeding them and becoming their “duck leader” for less than $5.

Leave nothing, take nothing: As a UNESCO World Heritage site, and as an area which is simply beautiful, make sure you look after the area and don’t leave any litter behind. 

On a river, the point of a kayak in the foreground; mountains on either side of the water. A sign on the hill to the left reads "zipline dark cave" and people baord canoes on the right.

Where is Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park? 

The park is in the Quang Binh Province of Central Vietnam, not too far away from the border with Laos. The capital of the region is Dong Hoi. It is about 40 minutes away from Phong Nha town (where the accomodation options are) by car.

You have two options for getting to the National Park. From Hue, Hoi An, Da Nang, Ninh Binh or any of the major cities, you can get a bus straight to Phong Nha Town. The other option is to get a train to Dong Hoi and make the 40 minute journey by taking a Grab (Vietnam’s version of Uber).

For more information about Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, its opening hours and admission fees, see its official website.

Text and photos provided by Josh Band of A Backpacker’s World. He is a full-time traveller currently on a mission to visit every country in the world.

Have you been to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park? If so, do you have any additional information or advice about this UNESCO World Heritage site? Please add your comments below!

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