The springboard to Vietnam’s caving adventure playground
The city of Dong Hoi, the capital of Quang Binh province, is a small, sleepy place – the main draw is the fine, white sand beach that lies just 2km away. For many years it flew completely under the tourist radar, but that has all changed in the last few years with the discovery of one of the world's largest caves, Son Doong, in the nearby Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.
The small, peaceful riverside town of Phong Nha lies just a 45-minute drive from the airport, and it's here that most visitors choose to base themselves. There is plenty to do, with eco tours in the national park, jeep tours to the de-militarised zone nearby and cycling on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
Things to do
If you're lacking the time (or funds) to visit the mighty Son Doong cave but you still want to get a taste of the massive caverns in the area, head for Paradise Cave. Also colossal in scale, Paradise Cave has been tastefully lit, affording those who enter breathtaking views of gigantic stalagmite and stalactite formations.
Adventurers and spelunkers can take a multi-day expedition to explore the incredible cave systems of UNESCO-listed Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Tours cover all levels of difficulty, but you’ll need to be fit to tackle Son Doong, discover its jungle, swim in its river and camp inside the cave. Oxalis opens in new window runs high-end tours in conjunction with members of the original British team to map Son Doong, the world’s largest cave.
Based out of Phong Nha, Hai’s Eco Tours opens in new window takes guests on a unique tour of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, leading visitors truly off the beaten path in the jungle to give an insight into the area’s flora and fauna. Tours support the Wildlife Rescue Centre and provide sustainable jobs for local people who live in the park.
Just 2km outside the heart of Dong Hoi, Nhat Le beach is a beautiful stretch of white sand fronted by clean and often calm waters. Popular with locals on weekends, it often remains quiet during the week. It's possible to stay right next to the sand at the Sun Spa Resort opens in new window, which also offers good dining deals.
Take the bike
The small roads around Dong Hoi and Phong Nha are fantastic for some off-the-beaten-path cycling. It’s possible to hire a bike and head off alone, but it’s better to join a tour with the Phong Nha Adventure Cycling opens in new window. See small villages, ride the Ho Chi Minh Trail and get clued up on local culture, all on two wheels.
Distance to city centre 6km
Taxi A taxi will take about 15 minutes and cost around VND 100,000.Back to top
When to go
The weather is cooler from December to February and some of the nearby caves are inaccessible due to higher river levels. From March to June, the weather is fine and the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is alive with butterflies. From July to October the temperatures are hotter.
During the Tet festival (Lunar New Year), the city almost closes down for over a week as people take holiday to spend time visiting family members and pagodas. Accommodation and restaurants will also be thin on the ground in Phong Nha at this time of year. Tet falls within the first three months of the year acceding to the lunar calendar.Back to top
Dong Hoi is a relatively small city so much of it can be seen on foot. Taxis and xe oms (motorbike taxis) are widely available. Meter taxis are easier to use as the fee is always clearly displayed – look out for the reliable Mai Linh brand. You’ll need to negotiate the fare with for motorcycle taxi rides, short trips around the city shouldn’t cost more than VND 20,000.Back to top