One of our favorite destinations in Vietnam was Phong Nha with its famous caves. After we arrived really early with our overnight bus we were not really sure what and how we can see with our limited budget. Luckily we found out that the Easy Tiger Hostel has a free chat every day at 9 am where they explain the main sights and the best way to see them. The guide told us that it’s not worth booking a tour. You loose all the flexibility and will pay a lot more. If you have two days and are not constrained by your budget you could do the following:
Day 1: Phong Nha Cave
After the information talk you can sign up for a boat trip to the Phong Nha Cave. This place is not only beautiful but has also a historical significance. During the Vietnam War the caves riddling the limestones were used as bomb shelters, hospitals, ammunition dumps, as supply storage, etc. The boat costs approx 16USD and the entrance 7USD. You can only visit this cave by boat and it’s quite a relaxed trip. From here you also have the option of climbing the 300 steps up to Tietsen Cave, which costs another 3.50USD and an additional 1.70 for the boat. The cave is similar to Paradise Cave, but the views are incredible.
Day 2: Paradise Cave and Dark Cave
In case you are not going around Vietnam by motorbike you will have to make the same decision as us. How to visit the caves? As mentioned above do NOT book a tour, they are totally overpriced. Other options to get around is renting a motorbike (6.60 USD including fuel), share a car with other people (8.80 USD per person if you are six people) or get a motorbike driver that chauffeurs (they call them easy rider) you around all day (15.50 USD per person). Since we are not that experienced in riding motorbikes and the info guy also suggested that you should be confident if you want to hire one, we didn’t know what to do.
In the end, we decided to rent a bike because it would save us a lot of money and give us independence. We were really happy about our decision and recommend everyone to do the same. The roads are good and there is not that much traffic, so the ride is no problem. If you want to do the whole circuit make sure you have enough fuel, around 3.5 to 4 liters.
In the end, the day cost us 6.60 USD for the motorbike, 11 USD per person for Paradise Cave and 19.8 USD for Dark Cave. Paradise Cave was really impressive and beautiful, Dark Cave a lot of fun and the scenery on the ride made this a perfect day. If you get up really early you could even squeeze in the Botanical Gardens.