I had read that the caves in Phong Nha were a must see when traveling through the mountainous region in Vietnam. I asked our hotel what tours they recommended to see the different cave networks and they recommended a tour through Discovery Tours. Discovery Tours had a tour package that would take us to the Botanical Gardens, Paradise Cave, and the Dark Cave. It included hotel pickup, entrance fees, an english speaking guide, lunch at the Dark Cave Restaurant, zip-lining, kayaking, and a mud bath in Dark Cave. To top that off, at the end of the tour you receive a free complimentary cocktail. The tour cost Lisa and I 2,781,000d ($122 USD) for the whole package. Discovery Tours would pick us up from our hotel at 7:30 and return us to our hotel at 16:00 making the tour roughly six hours long.
Check out our YouTube post on our Discovery Caves Tour Here.
What To Bring
-Change of Clothes
-Waterproof Camera with floatation attachment (Our tour guide informed us that we wouldn’t be allowed to bring our camera into the dark cave unless it had those two features).
-Comfortable Hiking Shoes
The Botanical Gardens
The tour van picked us up from our hotel around 7:30, just late enough that we could still catch breakfast. After rounding up the other tour guests from their respected hotels, we headed north to our first destination; the Botanical Gardens. The Botanical Gardens offered us a glimpse of the wild life that inhabited Phong Nha. They had a monkey enclosure that provided refuge for local monkeys and protected them from poachers. We were allowed to feed the monkeys fruits that were offered at the general store. Lisa had saved a banana from breakfast and gave it to the eagerly awaiting monkeys. They were stoked for their treat! After viewing the monkey inclosure, our guide took us through a nature trail that cut through deeper into the forest. On the trail, we encountered wooden bridges, streams, and tons of lush vegetation. Watch your step though! Due to the streams and vegetation it was easy to lose your footing or trip on a root. The trail ended at a scenic point that overlooked a beautiful waterfall cascading into the forest below. The whole tour lasted maybe twenty minutes total, making it short and sweet.
The next stop on the tour was the Paradise Cave, one of the longest caves in the world. The cave from start to finish is a total of 31.4 kilometers, but the tour only allowed access to the first kilometer from the entrance of the cave. The stairs leading up to the entrance of the cave was a journey and a half. It took about fifteen minutes for Lisa and I to scale the stairs to get to the front entrance of the cave.. We were allowed one hour and fifteen minutes to explore the cave, which our guide told us was more than enough time to walk the entire length and back. Entering the cave, we descended down a wooden walkway to the floor of the cave which is lined with lights illuminating the vast cavern. The sight was truly one to behold! Enormous stalagmites rose from the cavern that looked other worldly. The only thing to match the size of the stalagmites were the daunting stalactites that converged down from the cave ceiling. What caught my eyes though were the shallow pools surrounding some of the stalagmites that were so calm they acted like mirrors on the cave floor. It took Lisa and I about forty five minutes to walk through the entire cavern, and that included us stopping and taking pictures.
The Dark Cave was our third and final stop of the tour. The shuttle dropped us off in front of the Dark Cave restaurant, where we had our complimentary lunch that was included in the tour. There our tour group was divided into two tables; one dedicated for vegetarians. Servers placed one large serving tray on each table that had enough food to serve 6+ people! The tray included fried pork, grilled chicken, BBQ pork ribs, long white noodles, an array of fruits and vegetables, noodles, white rice and sticky rice. Between the six of us at our table, there was still a ton of food left over.
After lunch, we had the option of either kayaking to the cave entrance or zipline to it. I opted to zipline, because why not? Lisa and I changed into our swimsuits and put our bags back on the van. Once everyone was changed into swimsuit attire, our tour guide then took us to an area where we signed health wavers and got fitted with life vests, helmets, and zipline girdles. There we also had an option to buy a little foam floatation device for 10,000d that we could attach to our waterproof cameras ( they wouldn’t allow us to take our cameras in without one). Once we were all geared up we walked over to a tower by the Dark Cave Restaurant where we would take the zipline to the Dark Cave Entrance. The zipline is 400 meters long and 20 meters at its highest and, according to our guide, is the longest zipline in all of Vietnam. This was my very first zipline ever so I was nervous as hell walking up to it. When my turn came to strap in I took a deep breath, lifted my feet, and held on for dear life. The view was l breathtaking (literally and figuratively) as I zipped down over the river. Coming to a sudden stop at the bottom, I joined Lisa and the rest of the tour group.
There was a wooden walkway just like the one we saw at Paradise Cave that we followed into the Dark Cave. We were instructed to turn on our headlamps and walk cautiously on the walkway. The water from the river had made the walkway so slippery that I was surprised that I didn’t eat it at certain points. The walkway ended just inside the mouth of the cave and we had to wade through water which ranged from knee to ankle deep. About 20 meters into the cave we were solely reliant on the light from our headlamps to see. Eventually we made our way to the back of the cave where we were lead by our guide through a narrow crevice on the cave wall. Be careful when walking through the crevice for there are rocks that protrude sharply from the ground. I learned the hard way when I stubbed my toe on one while I was taking a video. The crevice opened up into a small cavern that was filled with mud (this is the mud bath advertised in the tour). The mud isn’t thick like you would think and makes you very buoyant to the point where you can just lay on your back and float. We returned to the main cavern where our tour guide enticed us to slide down a slope into the water of the cave. I should’ve learned not to do that when I witnessed Lisa going down first and almost flew off the slope. It was fun, but left a bruise or two on my butt. In the water we washed off all the excess mud and dirt from the mud bath and headed to the mouth of the cave.
When we exited the cave we were given kayaks to take back to the landing by the Dark Cave Restaurant. Our guide said we could swim back if we wanted to, but after the long day we opted for the kayak. At the landing most of us just hung out and swam in the river. They also had a small zipline that tour guests can use to jump into the river. Once everyone had their fill of the river we went back to the restaurant to have our complimentary cocktail. Lisa and I talked with the other guests about the tour while we sipped on our rum and cokes. Definitely a great way to end a long day of exploring caves. When the rum bottles ran dry, we loaded up into our tour van and headed back into town.
The whole experience was amazing and I would definitely do it again. It was fun feeding the monkeys at the Botanical Garden and we learned a lot about the wildlife in Phong Nha from our tour guide. The breaktaking views of the cavern in Paradise Cave left us in awe as we snapped off picture after picture. The Dark Cave was definitely the highlight of the tour with the zipline, kayaking, and the plunge into the depths of the cave itself.