Dark Cave, Phong Nha – What makes it so exhilarating?

Dark Cave Phong Nha national park, things to do in Vietnam, cave tours, dong hoi
Dark Cave Phong Nha national park, things to do in Vietnam, cave tours, dong hoi

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.

Leon and Tash Vlog

Our visit to Paradise Cave, the other half of our Tours of the Cave experience was like.

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.

Leon and Tash Vlog

An epic day of adventure at Dark Cave Phong Nha

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.

Don’t forget to subscribe and join our Tribe!  You’ll find us on Twitter, Facebook , Insta  and YouTube too!

Thanks for reading guys and we’ll see you in the next post…

 

Dark Cave Phong Nha national park, things to do in Vietnam, cave tours, dong hoi

Paradise Cave Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park

Paradise Cave Phong Nha national park, things to do in Vietnam, cave tours, dong hoi
Paradise Cave Phong Nha national park, things to do in Vietnam, cave tours, dong hoi

Seen one cave, seen ‘em all? Not the case at Paradise Cave, Phuong Nha Ke Bang National Park

During our 2016 visit to Dong Hoi, we attempted to visit Dark Cave in the Phuong Nha Ke Bang National Park.

It wasn’t to be as bad weather flooded the cave, foiling both our plans and a second shot at it since our schedule was pretty tight at the time. But not this time!

For this trip we planned things a little differently.

One, we made sure we had amazing accommodation at Au Lac Bar and Hostel. A nice, cozy spot to stay for a few extra days in case the weather got nasty. Two, we had a backup plan this time.

We were ready to get our cave on, no matter what!

What attracted us to Paradise Cave?

Phong Nha is well known for its extraordinary cave systems. Heck, it sports the world’s second largest cave, Song Nha.

But we weren’t interested in big brother. We wanted to see two of the smaller systems, famous in their own right, called Paradise and Dark Caves.

Lucky for us, Au Lac Bar and Hostel had connections to a variety of tours to the cave and we picked one by Tour to the Caves. Best part was we could choose which of the three caves we wanted to do! This was perfect because not all tours offer this option and we specifically wanted to see Paradise and Dark caves.

In this blog we’ll tell you all about Paradise Cave and then more on Dark Cave in a different blog as they were two very differed experiences.

The best way to get to Paradise Cave

Paradise Cave Vietnam Phong Nha National Park cave tour things to do in vietnam

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.

If you prefer to do the caves on your own then a taxi or private transfer 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.

The beauty of Paradise Cave

We opted to do this one first and keep the fun and excitement of Dark Cave for last (wink-wink).

On arrival we made our way to a waiting electric buggy that took us up to the stairs leading to Paradise cave. It’s an approximate 1.2 kilometers ride and you can walk it using the covered walk way provided.

Paradise Cave Phong Nha national park, things to do in Vietnam, cave tours, dong hoi

Good thing is there are plenty of rest stops for catching your breath.

Before entering Paradise Cave

At the entrance to the cave is a visitor’s area with seating, vending machines and an attendee desk.

This is a great spot to grab a seat, catch your breath and revel in the breathtaking jungle covered karts surroundings.

There are boards with basic information on the discovery of Paradise Cave, its layout and basic safety instructions to be aware of.

You can buy water or other cold beverages from the vending machines, but we opted to take our own which you can do too.

Paradise Cave Phong Nha national park, things to do in Vietnam, cave tours, dong hoi

A fun experience for all.

Paradise Cave is a relaxing and fun experience that anyone can enjoy.

The staircase from the mouth of the cave down to the viewing platforms and walk ways might look intimidating but it’s not that bad.

The walk ways are relatively well lit.  Enough to make your way around comfortably but doesn’t detract from the stunning views.

The experience will either leave your jaw dragging behind you or leave a massive smile on your dial.

Is Paradise Cave affected by weather?

It sure is. We weren’t sure whether we were actually going to make it to the caves due to rain the previous two days.

Fortunately, the rain wasn’t heavy enough to affect the cave for our visit but it can and does flood during the wet season, which may affect your visit.

The tourism industry in Dong Hoi is pretty onto too, especially during the wet season!  This means all you have to do is ask your hotel on the status of the caves. We got unprompted updates each morning at breakfast from our hostel hosts.

Another great testament to the amazing customer service you can expect in Dong Hoi.

What’s best, a guided tour or a DIY tour?

It’s a cave, so you have the option of going with a tour or you can just do it on your own.

Pros and cons of a tour depends on your travel needs.  Usually we avoid them but this time round we decided a tour was better and we weren’t disappointed.

We learned things about the area and the discovery of the cave systems in it from a local that we wouldn’t have found by ourselves.

Also, our tour guide, was amazing to interact with. He was not only local but passionate about sharing his knowledge of his home and had some really interesting tidbits to share with us.

Tour to the Caves were great at making sure their guests got the most out of their experience and we thoroughly enjoyed our company!

How long does a visit to Paradise Cave take?

One kilometer doesn’t sound like much but we loved every second of it and almost ran out of time to see the whole thing.

It took us two hours to do Paradise cave but mostly because I was running around taking a million photos and we were shooting for our vlog too.

On your own, you could probably smash it out in 45 minutes to an hour.  Maybe less if you’re just there for a quick look and it would still be worth the visit.

Leon and Tash Vlog

Paradise Cave was the first half of our Tours of the Cave experience and we loved every minute of it!

What to expect of your visit to Paradise Cave

Discovery of Paradise Cave

In 2005 by a local wandering the mountains looking for a specific kind of wood found an entrance to what he thought was a small cave.

Not wanting to get lost, he went home and reported the find. This resulted in the government getting a team together to go in and explore the area to see what turned up.

It turned out to be so much more than they expected!

Once the geologists finished digging around and exploring the cavernous space, they found it was over 30 kilometers in length. Think about that for a second…

Paradise Cave Phong Nha national park, things to do in Vietnam, cave tours, dong hoi

What you can see of it today

The first one kilometer of the cave is open to visitors and is accessible by existing walkways.  The widest section in this part of the cave is about 170 meters across and the deepest spot takes you down 150 meters.

There are many platforms connected by a wide walk way, catering to large crowds making it easy to get around.  You get plenty of opportunities to gawk in awe at the different formations and changing sub terrain landscapes.

The fact that it has sat dormant for so long is extraordinary but then, Vietnam is discovering a lot about herself in a short space of time and we love exploring her!

Paradise Cave entrance fee

Our day tour with Tours to the Cave cost us VND1,350,000 (~USD59.00 / ~AUD82.00) per person, which included entry to both Paradise and Dark Caves.  Lunch was also included in this price.

If you prefer to visit Paradise cave on your own, then entry is VND250,000 (~USD11.00 / ~AUD15.00) and includes the electric buggy ride.

Tickets are available at a stand by the entry gate or if you are travelling with a tour group, then stick with your guide, they’ve got you covered.

One thing that sold us on the tour was the included lunch. There are some options to grab something to eat at the caves but it won’t be cheap and might not be what you feel like.

Our lunch consisted of a share table of different dishes including chicken, pork, an array of veggie and rice dishes. There was plenty to go around and it was nice and filling but not too heavy.

Leon and Tash Blog

You don't need to stay in Phong Nha to see the caves and we tell you why!

Would we recommend Paradise Cave?

We enjoyed our visit to Paradise Cave and if caves are your thing, then Paradise Cave is definitely worth adding to the itinerary.

Note: We’re not able to compare it to Phong Nha cave as we opted not do that one. Two of our tour companions went and they were beaming when they joined us, saying it was well worth the visit too.

Dark Cave is a very different experience all together and might not be everyone’s cup of tea but we’ll tell you more about why in our next blog.

If you’re looking for a fun and relaxing experience with a bit of action to get the heart pumping then we highly recommend a visit to Paradise Cave.

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.

Don’t forget to subscribe and join our Tribe!  You’ll find us on Twitter, Facebook , Insta  and YouTube too!

Thanks for reading guys and we’ll see you in the next post…

Paradise Cave Phong Nha national park, things to do in Vietnam, cave tours, dong hoi