The remarkable Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, located in central Vietnam, is often missed by travellers that prefer to fly or take a night train between Hanoi and Hue or Da Nang. The closest city is Dong Hoi (3 hours by train from Hue), from where it takes another hour by road.
The park is characterised by its stunning 400-million-year-old karst system, featuring hundreds of caves and underground rivers. While the caves are the region's main highlights, the above-ground rural landscape, surrounded by forested karst peaks, is worth some additional time to experience the Vietnamese countryside and the soul of riverside villages.
A spectacular boat trip through the park is an enjoyable experience that begins in Son Trach town. Boats cruise past buffalo, limestone peaks, and church steeples to reach the cave's gaping mouth. The engine is then cut, and the boats silently navigate through beautifully illuminated cavern after cavern. In November and December, seasonal floods may mean Phong Nha Cave is closed.
Paradise Cave is a magnificent natural wonder that leaves visitors in awe. Surrounded by forested karst peaks, this staggering cave system stretches for an impressive 31 kilometers, although most people only explore the first kilometer. Its colossal dimensions, and mystical atmosphere make it a must-visit destination for anyone exploring the park.
As you approach the cave, you'll be struck by its breathtaking scale. Wooden staircases plunge into a cathedral-like space, revealing vast stalagmites and stalactites that resemble otherworldly formations. The sheer size and grandeur of the cave create a truly mesmerising experience.
Hang Son Doong, known as the Mountain River Cave, is a breathtaking natural wonder, recognised as the world's largest cave. Discovered in the early 1990s, the principal cavern stretches over 5 kilometers in length, towering to heights of 200 meters, and boasting widths of up to 150 meters in certain areas.
To explore this remarkable cave, one must embark on a specialised expedition typically spanning four days and three nights, with a limited number of participants accompanied by experienced guides and porters.
The My Son ruins, located just a short distance from the charming town of Hoi An, make for a delightful half-day trip. Situated in a serene valley surrounded by mist-covered mountains, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a captivating archaeological site that showcases the remnants of an ancient Hindu temple complex. From Hoi An, you can embark on a scenic journey through the countryside, passing picturesque landscapes and rural villages, before arriving at the archaeological site.
Dating back to the 4th century and reaching its peak between the 7th and 13th centuries, the complex consists of a series of intricately carved red-brick temples dedicated to various Hindu deities, primarily Shiva. As you explore the site, you'll be captivated by the elaborate architectural details and exquisite sculptures that adorn the temples, offering a glimpse into the Champa's remarkable craftsmanship and spiritual devotion.
The tranquil atmosphere of the My Son ruins, coupled with the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape, provides a serene and contemplative setting. Walking among the ancient ruins, you'll feel a sense of awe and reverence, immersing yourself in the history and cultural heritage of the Champa civilisation.
Regrettably, numerous buildings at the My Son ruins fell victim to the destruction of the Vietnam War. During August 1969, the temples became part of a base area for the People's Army of Vietnam and Viet Cong, resulting in targeted bombings by United States aircraft. As a consequence, the surrounding area remains hazardous due to the presence of unexploded landmines.