Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam is famous for its cave and grotto systems, composed of nearly 300 caves. In fact, it is home to the world’s largest cave, Son Doong. For the very unaffordable price of $3000, you can explore this cave for 5 days and 4 nights. If you are interested in big caves, but looking for less of a financial and time commitment, I highly recommend you visit Hang En cave. Like Son Doong cave, Hang En cave can only be reached on tour with Oxalis Adventure Tours, as mandated by the government which helps with safety and conservation measures. Hang En cave is the third largest cave in the world which you can visit on a 2 day, 1 night excursion for 7.5 million dongs. That is a lot of dongs, but it converts to roughly $330.
This tour runs mid-December through August and spaces do fill up, so book in advance! If you are in Phong Nha in September through the beginning of December, don’t feel bad about missing this opportunity. The cave floods during this time and you have better things to do on vacation than drown.
On the day of your tour, the company will pick you up from your accommodation. You will be brought back to the Oxalis headquarters for a briefing and paperwork. They will store any additional luggage and valuables for you in a safe place.
What They Provide
Oxalis provides so much equipment for you which is amazing. It saves a lot of hassle and prevents you from ruining your own gear.
- Camping gear including sleeping bag
- Caving gear (gloves, helmet, head lamp)
- Canvas boots so you do not have to ruin your own (I definitely recommend this. Your feet will get soaked and these boots drain well. Your own boots will never smell the same again after getting so wet)
- Guides and porters
- Dry bag for your belongings to be carried by the porter
- Clean water and water bottle
What to Bring
- Quick-dry long pants and long sleeves
- Change of clothes for the evening
- Change of shoes for the evening
- Bathing suit and towel
- At least 2 pairs of hiking socks
- A small day pack to carry your necessities during the day (plus your helmet)
- Bug spray
Is the Trekking Hard?
In short, no. This is not a difficult hike in the least, especially on the first day as a majority of the walking is downhill. The difficulty arises during river and stream crossings. Depending on time of year, you may be wading in water up your waist. In fact, some of the rivers had such a current that you needed to brace yourself in order to not fall over. This is where your quick dry pants come in. You will be squishing in your shoes for the duration of the hike and your toes will be raisins. Accept these facts from the get go and don’t allow it to bother you. Embrace it as part of the adventure!
The last 20 minutes of the return hike has some pretty steep uphill portions and requires a medium level of physical exertion. Get your head in the game and do it. You will be rewarded with a beer upon completion.
What is the Food Like?
In short, awesome! They will feed you two lunches, one dinner, and one breakfast. They also cater to vegetarians and vegans if that’s your thing. Lunch consisted of make-your-own spring rolls, bread, fresh fruits, dipping sauces, and loads of packaged snacks like Oreos, chips, Choco-Pies (?), and Laughing Cow cheese.
Dinner was authentic Vietnamese cuisine less the French fries that appeared on the table. There was so much variety and it was fantastic. Just get your chopstick fingers ready because there were no forks in sight. Additionally, there was plenty of rice wine to go around. In my opinion rice wine is good for causing hangovers or replacing a bad taste in your mouth (with a worse taste). And possibly warming you up. There was also limitless coffee (well, Nestle 3-in-1) and tea to help with the warming.
Breakfast consisted of the carb-orific combo of pancakes, rice, and candy. A balanced way to start the day. The food was delicious (dinner in particular) and no one felt hungry. It was an impressive output considering this food was all carried in by the porters!
What is the Camping Like?
The porters are speed demons and have the campsite all set up upon your arrival to the cave. There are one or two person tents depending on what you requested when booking. Far, far away from all the tents, they have set up the “facilities.” The toilets are five gallon buckets with a makeshift toilet seat on top. You will cover your business with corn husks so it doesn’t smell. You must also alert authorities if the bucket is getting full. To be honest, it was on the nicer end of bathroom facilities I had used in South East Asia. They also have a clothing line set up to dry your wet clothes.
Once you arrive to the campsite, there is time to go for a swim, or simply change into dry clothes, have a hot drink, and relax. You can take in the last bits of sunlight, because once the sun goes down, it gets very dark. You are in a cave after all.
The next day, I recommend wearing the same clothes as the previous day. You will get wet again so there is no sense dirtying another set of clothes (or even carrying them with you for that matter).
Caving? What’s That?
Essentially “caving” is just exploring a cave, which you will do before the hike back to civilization. The guide will take you to see how massive the thing really is! This is where some physical ability and overall stability come into play. You will be climbing up and down potentially loose rocks and boulders, while avoiding deep crevasses. While you will exit the cave the way you entered, the guide will take you to another cave entrance on the other side. It is truly spectacular how far the cave spans.
Is it Worth it?
Exploring Hang En cave was one of my favorite things I did in Vietnam. Caves are cool, but camping in one is even cooler! It was nice not to have to wear my sleep mask for once as I have never experienced such darkness. There was an interesting mix of people in the group, primarily couples, maybe 14 of us in all. I was the only solo traveler in my group (aside from one lady who left her kids with her husband so she could do this!) The adventure, the scenery, and the people made this a very worthwhile trip that I highly recommend.