What makes Dark Cave, Phong Nha so exhilarating?
Dark Cave is whole different creature from your average tourist cave experience and we couldn’t wait to try it out!
We thought the weather was going to spoil our fun again this time round. We woke up to a wet and cold day, doubting our decision but opted to stick it out and stoked we did!
Sure, Paradise Cave has the beauty, the awe-inspiring landscape and easy access but nothing screams ‘awesome’ like flying through the air, taking a dip and hitting Dark Cave barefoot!
Photos, what photos?
Okay. This is where I admit that I don’t have any photos from my camera because it’s in my phone and there was NO way I was taking that out in the wet and mud.
Luckily, we had our trusty Olympus Tough with us which we used for shooting our vlog and I’ll try and snaffle some footage from that.
Apologies for the inconvenience, and we appreciate your patience during this blog.
Dark Cave as part of the 'Tour of the Caves' experience
Phong Nha sports three massive cave systems;
Phong Nha Cave, Paradise Cave and Dark Cave.
They are open to the public and tourists on pretty much any given day, weather permitting of course.
Now these three have a famous big brother called Song Nha. If that rings a bell it will because you might know as the second largest cave in the world.
We did consider a guided tour of Song Nha, but it’s harder and waaaay more expensive to book, though not entirely impossible either.
Instead, we opted for a tour that allowed us to visit two of the three caves of our choosing. Few tour operators are that flexible, so check tour details and itineraries before you lock it in.
While Paradise Cave was a delightful bonus, Dark Cave was the real reason we came to Dong Hoi. What makes it special?
It offers a very different and unique visiting experience. One where you can get down and dirty as well as clean and fresh, all while having the time of your life.
What is the best way to get to Dark Cave?
Almost everything you read will tell you to stay in Phong Nha because it’s closest to the caves, but we beg to differ.
Dong Hoi isn’t that much further out and most tours are happy to pick you up from your hotel in Dong Hoi, as was the case with Tour to the Caves.
You don’t have to be in Phong Nha or Dong Hoi as there are a lot of tours available from Hanoi too.
If you prefer to do the caves on your own then a taxi (from Phong Nha or Dong Hoi) or private transfer (from anywhere) is your best option. Private transfer possibly being the cheaper of the two options. Most hotels and/or hostels can hook you up with private transfers too.
What to expect from your visit to Dark Cave
After our visit to Paradise Cave, we sat down to a share lunch. On offer was a great selection of goodies that was both filling but not stodgy or heavy, making it perfect for our next activity.
Does anyone not like Dark Cave?
Unlike Paradise Cave, Dark Cave is not for everyone.
If you’re not great with heights, water or the dark, then Dark Cave will definitely not be your thing.
In saying that though, if you’re on the fence and feeling brave, then it’s tame enough to still be a great experience. So, why not give it a go?!
Is Dark Cave affected by weather?
It definitely is affected by weather and not just during the wet season.
It’s surrounded by water, so it doesn’t take much for it to flood.
Thankfully local operators have a finger on the pulse. If at any time it looks like the caves may flood, then the operator won’t hesitate to cancel tours and close the caves immediately.
Again, check with your tour operator or hotel/hostel before you set out.
What’s best, a guided tour or a DIY tour?
We did Dark Cave as part of the ‘Tour of the Caves’ two cave tour and it worked out perfect for us because it included everything. Even a hot lunch.
You can go to Dark Cave without having to be part of a tour. We saw a few people do this cave only as it is the most adventurous. It’s also a good option if you’re short on time.
How long does a visit to Dark Cave take?
The two cave tour was a full day option with pick up at 8AM, starting at Paradise Cave, followed by a lunch break at 12PM, then Dark Cave before being dropped back off at 5PM.
The Dark Cave experience took about an hour, maybe a little more. This cave is tiny in comparison to Paradise Cave so you won’t need nearly as much time here.
Dark Cave entrance fee
The two cave tour with Tours to the Cave cost us VND 1,350,000 (~USD20.00 / ~AUD27.00).
Tickets are available at the entry gate or if you are travelling with a tour group, then just stick with your guide. They’ve got you covered.
What to take with you
As you can tell, it’s not your average cave experience so we thought we give you a quick list of what to take with you.
Included in the activity is;
- Insurance (for the caving and zip lining only)
- Safety equipment (harness, hard hat, headlight, life vest)
Things to take with you that are not included in the activity ;
- A small towel that you don’t mind throwing away after as the mud is impossible to get out (Our tour had towels available as well but don’t bank on that happening with them all )
- Bathers (swimsuit, togs, cozzie)
- Spare set of clothes
- Floating devices for your cameras/gear that you’re planning on taking with you (it’s compulsory). If you don’t have any you can buy them before you gear up.
The Dark Cave Experience
Getting geared up for the adventure!
The first order of business was signing and paying for additional insurance. Our hosts were giving us (and them), a bit more piece of mind, considering we were about to embark on an adventure sport.
The second order of business was making sure no one took their phone and we all had floating devices on all our cameras.
We’re guessing a few peeps before us lost their gear so now it’s compulsory to have floating devices for your gear. Not a bad thing really.
If you don’t have any, don’t stress, they do offer some simple solutions to buy right next to where you sign your insurance form. We had to buy one for the Canon and it only cost VND10,000 (~USD0.45 /~AUD0.60). Best part is we’ve added it to the kit for future use. Cue big grins!
Flying across the river
We were pondering our sanity, standing in line, in our bathers, on a wet chilly day waiting to have a harness fitted. The idea of zip lining in nothing but a bikini on a rainy day seemed ridiculous, lol, but exciting too.
The safety equipment included a harness and proper hard hat with headlight, which left me wondering what the light might be for.
I was in for one heck of a surprise! We were also given a life vest each and it wasn’t until we slid them on that we realized they were satch’ed and cold!
All part of the experience, right?
The zip line from the tower across the river towards the mouth of Dark Cave was short, cold but exhilarating! The stop at the was a whole different story but i was sporting the biggest grin ever!
It wasn’t the best part of the adventure either.
Didn’t dodge the cold river
This was the teeth-chattering part of the fun. We had to swim 10 meters from the end of the zip line to the mouth of the cave and it was COLD!
On a hot day it would be heavenly but when it’s already wet and chilly, all you can do is swim faster and that was exactly what everyone did!
We’re going dark!
The adventure continued with a walk into the cave, wading through thigh deep water to a beach well into the dark cavern.
By this time, it was clear what the headlight was for, LOL! It was so dark inside that even the light from 12 other people wasn’t enough to light the whole space around us!
On the beach toke off the life jackets and waded through more water to another beach. This one had a narrow pathway leading into a dark abyss.
Getting down and dirty
The narrow pathway led us up and down a slippery passage until we hit a large pool of red, viscous liquid that looked very sus.
We were the last of the group to get in and all we could hear were nervous giggles and reluctant chatter, wondering what was waiting for us.
Turned out it was a mud bath!! Or rather mud pool?
Pick a spot, any spot
Everyone picked a spot and gingerly lowered into the mud to cover most of their bodies, some even daring to coat their faces.
We were warned not to get the muck in our eyes at any cost as it would be hard to wash out given that we had nothing but more mud around us.
Oh man! The texture under my feet was insane!
It felt like what I imagine guts feel like squishing between your toes and slippery, far out it was so slippery!!
At first it was horrible but the longer we stayed the better it got. The muck warmed up the slightest bit and by then everyone was having a blast.
Lights out…wait, what?!
Our guide checked to make sure we were all comfortable with the dark before telling us to turn off our lights.
Fourteen people gasped in awe, surrounded by an utter black space and not a peep from anything anywhere. It was the eeriest experience.
That was until the first person fell victim to the slippery surface under foot and then a few more went down.
We turned the lights on after that and headed back to clean water to rinse the mud off and continue the adventure!
Heading back out into the world
When we reached the first body of water, we all rinsed off the excess mud and headed back towards the mouth of the cave.
Again, we were the last four of the group and the tour guide told us to hang back a bit, watching the others go, then asking us to turn our lights off.
This time we had to navigate the waters without light and it was hilarious!
We had to try and stick to single file but we couldn’t do it to save ourselves. We were all too busy laughing and falling over.
Row your boat
When we came out of the cave, we waved goodbye to the hard hats and hit the paddles and two-man canoes. It was time to head back to base and have some more fun.
It’s a short seven or so minute row and when we got back to base there were a few fun water activities to do.
I opted for a shower and my clothes as I was pretty cold but Leon stayed behind and enjoyed a few more zip lines and laughs with the others.
Would we recommend Dark Cave?
Absolutely! Even on a cold, wet day we had the time of our lives and stoked we finally got to do Dark Cave.
If you’re travelling on a tight itinerary and looking for one fun thing to do in Dong Hoi, then we highly recommend a visit to Dark Cave!
Hope you guys enjoyed our visit and the info was of use but if you’re looking for more, then hit us up in the comments.
And if this is your first visit to our site, welcome! Head on over to our Things to do in Vietnam Page where we tell you about more things you should add to your Vietnam itinerary.
Thanks for reading guys and we’ll see you in the next post…