Frequently Asked Questions – Son Doong expedition

We have collected many questions asked by our customers from time to time. Maybe your question was already asked. Please feel free to message or email us in case of any other questions.

Caving & Camping questions

Questions related to caving and camping during our tours

What is the difficulty level of the expedition?

Son Doong Cave Expedition is considered difficult (highest level) and you must be physically active with regular trekking experience. Please check the Adventure Level section in Son Doong Expedition page for more detailed information of what you will have to face during the trip.

What is the weather like in the cave and jungle?

Never forget you are deep in the jungle and the difficulty of this tour is also very dependent on the weather. It can get very cold here during January to March (8 – 15 degrees Celsius) and very hot during June to August (32 – 40 degrees Celsius), not to mention anytime it rains the jungle becomes very slippery and muddy. However, in the cave it usually ranges from 18 – 23 Celsius in the winter (when a fleece and extra warm clothes are necessary) to 22 – 25 Celsius in the summer, when shorts and t-shirts will suffice around camp.

How can I best prepare for a tour during winter?

Winters here (mid-November to mid-March) are not extremely cold but have an average temperature ranging anywhere from 8 – 15 degrees Celsius.  It’s important to know what the weather will be like in advance of your tour so that you can be the best prepared and have the most enjoyable experience.

Check weather conditions carefully via http://www.accuweather.com/en/vn/dong-hoi/355698/december-weather/355698 in advance to get the best idea of what the weather will be like during your tour.

Keep your head warm with a beanie (hat) and scarf while trekking and especially while sleeping, and please try to keep your hair dry when swimming in Hang En or washing in the rivers. Beanies, scarves, socks, and gloves can be purchased for a fair price in the Phong Nha local market.

Change into dry clothes immediately upon reaching camp and take a hot drink from the porters to warm up your body once getting to the campsite.

Let your tour guide know if you feel cold or unhealthy, and don’t hesitate to ask for more sleeping bags.

How can I best prepare for a tour during summer?

Summers here are hot… very hot. Average temperatures range from 32 – 40 degrees Celsius. There is a high level of humidity as well so please be prepared ahead of time.

Check weather conditions carefully via http://www.accuweather.com/en/vn/dong-hoi/355698/december-weather/355698 in advance to get the best idea of what the weather will be like during your tour.

Plan to drink lots of water before, during, and after your tour. Consider bringing rehydration tablets with you to help keep your salts balanced as you sweat; your tour guide will also carry some for emergency situations. Also, reduce the amount of alcohol you drink (go easy on the rice wine we provide!) because alcohol can increase dehydration. Finally, don’t forget to pack a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, and also long sleeves can be helpful to protect your skin from the sun. We recommend wearing long sleeves and long pants even in the summer. While it may seem counterintuitive, it can actually help to keep you cooler and pants especially are a necessity to protect against elements like sharp rocks, prickly plants, insects, etc.

Do I need to know how to swim?

Swimming is not a part of the Son Doong tour. You will have the option to swim in Hang En Cave, and to splash in the rivers on certain days when you’re washing up. However, there are no required swimming sections on the tour.

Do I need to know how to rappel/abseil for the expedition?

Our expedition does not involve any rappelling or abseiling so it is not necessary to have any rappelling or abseiling experience. There is an 80 m descent into the cave. The descent is completed with a careful hike down, along with small portions of rock climbing (a couple meters at a time) in a zigzag fashion, with appropriate ropes and harnesses. The descent is not an 80 m vertical descent so technical rappeling/abseiling is not necessary.

There’s a famous photo online where a man is rappelling/abseiling into the cave, isn’t that how we enter?

That picture (while breathtakingly beautiful) was set up only for National Geographic, and it took several days to set up the shot. You will not abseil into the cave as such. Also, that photo is taken at one of the dolines, not the entrance to Son Doong. The entrance to Son Doong is a darker and more mysterious-looking place, but equally beautiful.

Do I need to provide my own helmet, harness, rope, or caving equipment?

We will provide for you all necessary caving equipment, including helmet, harness, and rope where necessary. We will also provide for you a high-powered head torch for your caving throughout each day, but please bring a small head torch that would be appropriate for around the campsite each night. Please check itinerary and packing list for your tour clearly to know what to bring. Regarding helmets, please do not place any GoPro mounts on our helmets as they cause wear and tear and void the manufacturer’s warranty.

How many miles or kilometers will we be walking on the trek?

The entire trek is about 50+ km, but it’s impossible to answer exactly how much will get covered each day due to the many mountains and boulders that you must scramble over and around in the cave.

What is the cave floor like? Is it flat?

The cave floor is anything but flat. It is very uneven, covered in giant boulders, and very rocky. Please expect to be traveling on this kind of terrain. Only the campsites are flat.

What are the sleeping / bedding conditions like on the expedition?

You will be provided with an individual tent (unless you indicate you wish to share with your traveling companion), a sleeping mat, and a sleeping bag (you may choose to bring your own sleeping bag liner if you wish, but rest assured that we wash all sleeping bags and tents between each tour). The tents are spacious, with a fly/mosquito net. Floors are sandy (but not soft) and the mat is made of closed cell foam (similar to a Karrimat). You may wish to bring your own inflatable mat such as a Therm-a-rest mat for the most comfortable sleep. These are not available in Vietnam. The sleeping bags are fine for all conditions, and in the summer are generally not needed. We will provide a small inflatable pillow for you. You do not need to bring a mosquito net with you.

Do I need to bring my own water pump or water purification tablets?

No, your guide will have a high quality expedition water pump on him at all times for filtering water for you. Multiple water pumps are sent on each expedition. Please do not dunk your water bottles directly into a river for water! Instead, inform your guide when you need more water. No water purification tablets required unless you really want them. Water pumps are always set up at camp so there is as much filtered water as you would like to drink there for you.

What kind of food will there be in the cave? Do I need to bring my own snacks?

There will be a wide variety of different types of food served in the cave, and plenty of it. We are able to accommodate those with most dietary restrictions or preferences, but please notify us ahead of time so that we are better able to make accommodations for you in advance. Most nights, you’ll have pork, beef, chicken, fish, rice and vegetables available.

For those who are vegan or gluten-free: we are able to quite easily accommodate your eating restrictions at mealtimes, however it is much more difficult during snack breaks. Please bring your own snacks (trail mix, nuts, protein bars, etc) to make sure that you have snack options on hand for extra energy when needed. If you’d like to bring a lot, please note that you can just carry the amount you’ll need on you each day, and you can place the extras in the bag which the porters will carry for you.

 

For those who eat Kosher/Halal, we are unfortunately unable to provide Kosher/Halal meat. If either of these dietary restrictions apply to you, please let us know. Most Kosher/Halal customers would choose to eat vegetarian for the duration of the tour.

 

If you have any issues with the food we provide while on tour (too spicy, etc), please inform us during the tour and not after the tour.

 

What if I am a solo traveller, can I join a group?

Solo travellers are most welcome and make up a large percentage of most groups. You’ll find that most people in the groups form a pretty close bond spending a week together underground and with the addition of the guides / porters / cave experts, you will have a wonderful time getting to know each other and having fun together.

What happens if I begin the tour and then find that I am not fit enough to continue?

Anyone who is unable to comfortably complete any stage of the first day trekking will be turned around to Phong Nha and will not be permitted to continue the expedition. If you or a member of the cave expert/tour guide team decides that you are physically unable to continue at this or any point, you will be escorted back to the trailhead at the top of the road and your tour will be considered concluded. Your accommodation on the last night and your transfer to Dong Hoi will still be provided for, but any costs of extra accommodation will be your own responsibility. We also cannot provide an alternate tour free of charge should you need to return to Phong Nha earlier than scheduled, but we would be happy to give you recommendations for what to do in the area. We hope you understand, and we encourage you to be in your best physical condition to enjoy the entirety of the tour.

Packing

Questions related to packing, necessary items, luggage, etc.

What sort of clothing should I bring on the expedition?

We recommend as a general rule to bring at least 3 complete sets of clothes (these should be lightweight and quick-drying). This would allow 2 sets for caving/jungle walking and 1 for camp. Your clothes for caving/jungle walking should be long-sleeves and full length pants. These will get wet. Your camp clothes can be shorts and a t-shirt in summer months (or a sundress), but you’ll want pants and a warm, light jacket at camp in winter months.  You’ll absolutely need a fleece or windproof jacket for the colder months of February – early April. A hat such as a beanie and warm socks are also recommended in cooler weather. You do not need to bring any type of waterproof jackets or ponchos from May – August. “Breathable” membranes/ waterproof clothing does not work well in high humidity.

Regarding pants, thick athletic leggings/running tights/yoga pants are acceptable if they are full-length and not see-through. Jeans are not acceptable attire.

You will sweat each day and may be more comfortable in a fresh set of clothes for each day of the expedition but that is at your discretion as long as you keep within the 7 kg weight limit of what you may bring for the porters to carry. Alternatively, you may choose to re-wear your trekking clothes or camp clothes on multiple days.

To be easily visible in your photos within the cave and jungle, consider packing bright colored shirts (other than white). Dark greens and black also do not show up well in cave photos.

Please bring enough underwear and socks for a 5 day tour.

As a reminder, Phong Nha has a limited selection of trekking gear. Long trekking pants and long sleeved shirts are for sale at Oxalis office but we cannot guarantee a wide range of sizes. Trekking clothes are also available for purchase within Phong Nha town.

What sort of boots/shoes should I bring on the expedition?

This is an extremely important consideration. The going underfoot is tough. The boots will get totally submerged many times a day. There is a lot of scrambling over boulders so good grip and comfortable footwear is essential. It’s best to find a shoe/boot with the softest and stickiest rubber possible, as this ensures the best grip. Some of our team use Five-Ten Canyoneer boots on our caving expeditions which are brilliant for grip, using soft sticky rubber. These boots are around $140 a pair so they are not cheap but if you have the money they are great for Son Doong. When we take film crews down we insist they buy some of these boots because they do make a considerable difference. If you go with Five-Ten, we suggest either the Canyoneer 3 or a runner-up choice is the Camp Four boots. Please do not purchase the orange “Search and Rescue” Canyoneers. They have a reinforced steel toe which can be extremely uncomfortable if the fit of the shoe is even slightly off. Other than Five-Tens, another top choice our team uses is the Adidas Terrex Stealth shoe, which sports an excellent grip. Other good quality boots/approach shoes/trail running shoes such as La Sportiva/Salomon (particularly Salomon Speedcross 3 or Salomon Speedcross 4) will also be fine.

 

Gore-Tex or waterproof boots are NOT recommended. Since your footwear will be submerged often, Gore-Tex or waterproof boots will not suffice to keep water out; contrarily, they will keep water in because they do not drain well. That said, if you have a comfortable boot with a good grip and it happens to be Gore-Tex or waterproof, they are still acceptable (they will just be heavier and stay wet longer). If you prefer a high-quality off road running shoe instead of a boat, those are fine. The most important quality when choosing footwear is grip/traction. Whichever shoes/boots you choose, you’ll need to have them broken in prior to the tour. Please do not show up having never worn your boots before. Also, make sure your footwear has enough life left in them for 5 days and do not fall apart on the first day as happened to at least one guest!

What kind of backpack do I need to bring for the expedition? What do I put in my backpack?

A medium-sized (approximately 25 L) backpack, rucksack or daypack will be suitable. You only need to carry personal items on you (camera/tripod, water bottle, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, any personal medications), plus the helmet and caving head torch which we will provide for you. Your daypack must have room to accommodate this helmet and it cannot be strapped to the outside of your pack. The porters will carry your main gear in their bags. You can leave the rest of your luggage at our office.

Do I need a drybag?

A drybag is always a good consideration because you will never know when there could be surprise showers during your tour, regardless of the month of the year. It’s a good idea to have a drybag for your camera at least, due to the humid conditions in the jungle and cave. The river crossings are generally only knee-high, but if you are clumsy, you will be glad you’ve put your camera in a drybag. Although a waterproof backpack is not a necessity, it’s definitely a good idea to have a rain cover for your pack in the rainier months of February – early April, as showers are most common during that time.

Should I bring a swimsuit?

Please bring swim wear for Hang En, when you will have the opportunity to swim in two beautiful campside lagoons. We request that you do not wear your swimwear (especially bikinis) as you walk or lounge around camp, for the respect of our porter team.

Will I need trekking poles?

If you usually hike with trekking poles, please bring them with you. You will be able to use them on Day 1 and Day 5 on your way to and from Hang En. We do not recommend trekking poles for those who have never used them before. Poles must be able to fit inside your daypack or be strapped to the outside.

What items do I give to the porters? How do I get it to them?

The porters will carry your extra clothes, extra boots if you have them, and your toiletries. You should have this packed in time for the briefing, and our staff will deliver it to the porter team that night.

The stuff I leave behind, where does it get stored?

Anything that you choose to leave behind (extra backpacks or large suitcases) will get tagged and placed securely in our locked storage room. Any small valuables can be labeled and placed directly in our safe.

Will I be able to change my footwear for river crossings? Can I pack two pairs of footwear?

You cannot change your footwear for river crossings. Please expect your feet to be wet for almost each day of the trek. We do recommend that you bring two pairs of shoes. Firstly, it is good to have a backup pair and secondly, there may be one “dry day” in the middle of the expedition, so if you have a second pair of footwear with you, your feet can stay dry on that day. If you don’t bring a backup pair, you can borrow a pair of our jungle boots as the backup pair.

Please note that your footwear will not dry from day to day after it gets wet, due to damp conditions in the cave. Approach/trail shoes often accumulate gravel and sand during the river crossings, so we recommend ankle gaiters if you are using shoes rather than boots.

Should we bring our own water bottle?

Yes, bring your own water bottle, and when travelling in the jungle and through the cave, a bottle of at least 1.5 liters is a good option. Camelbak pouches are popular, but we have had a few problems with infections caused by dirty tubes, especially if sugary drinks are added. Infections are also caused by mouthpieces getting dragged in the dirt when backpacks are placed on the ground. Please use these with caution if you choose to bring one (keep the mouthpiece out of the dirt and don’t add sugary drinks). If you arrive in Phong Nha without a water bottle for some reason, a 1.5 L cola bottle is the perfect water bottle – tough, good seal and cheap and comes free with 1.5 L of coke (which Howard will happily drink for you!). We have water filters with us on the expedition so that fresh water pumped from the river can be accessed often throughout the day. There are jugs of filtered water at camp at all times.

It says in the packing list that I need a headtorch for camp, can you be more specific?

Please bring with you a headtorch to be used around camp. It does not need to be expensive or too bright, just enough to read in your tent and make your way around the campsite. The caving head lamps we supply you for the day must not be used around camp as they are far too bright and we have limited battery power. Please note that a handheld torch/flashlight does not take the place of a headtorch.

What can I buy in Phong Nha?

Long-sleeved trekking shirts, short sleeve cotton shirts, trekking pants, and bandanas can all be purchased at the Oxalis office (subject to availability). We don’t recommend relying solely on our merchandise in case we are out of your size or low on inventory. Some trekking equipment can now be purchased from a trekking gear and outdoors shop near the center of town. Otherwise, we have only a simple market here. Items you can find at our local market include things such as baby wipes, baby powder, the above mentioned cola bottle, socks, flip-flops, and hats. Please shop and pack accordingly prior to your arrival here.

What can I specifically not buy in Phong Nha?

Trekking shoes, specific personal medications, quality batteries, rechargers, and proper-sized backpacks all top the list of things that cannot be purchased here. Do not rely on buying anything here.

Can I leave my luggage somewhere while I’m on expedition?

You can store your luggage and any small valuables such as phones, laptops or wallets in our secure storage room at the Oxalis office in Phong Nha. However, do not bring with you anything of major value such as expensive jewellery as we will not be responsible for these items.

What do I need to bring with me to the briefing?

Please bring a copy of the Son Doong itinerary, a signed copy of the Release Form, a copy of your insurance information, your packed plastic bag of extra items which the porters will carry for you, the footwear you plan on wearing on the tour, and any questions that you may have for your guide team.

Can I bring my own alcohol with me?

We don’t encourage bringing your own alcohol because it’s heavy to carry, and also because the tour is quite enjoyable without alcohol. If you do bring alcohol, you will either need to carry it yourself in your daypack or it will need to fit within the 7 kg allotted to you which the porters will carry.

We don’t condone excessive alcohol consumption and if you are found to be drinking heavily, a member of your guide team will ask you to slow down. If you continue to consume alcohol irresponsibly, you may be removed from the tour at the discretion of your guide team. We have a strict no-tolerance policy for recreational drug use.

Do I need to bring my own sleeping mat?

We will provide 2 sleeping mattresses for you, but if you would like to bring your own mat such as a Therm-a-rest, you may do so. If you bring your own mat, it must fit in your plastic bag which the porters will carry for you. Your plastic bag may not exceed 7 kg.

If I wear contacts/glasses, which should I bring on my tour?

If you wear contacts or glasses, please plan on wearing whichever you are most comfortable in on the tour, and bring the other as backup. Glasses can fog up in the humidity of the jungle or cave so some people prefer contacts for this reason.

Hygiene & Bathroom

Questions related to hygiene during the tours

How will we go to the toilet in the cave?

We will provide for you a “compost” toilet at each campsite for you to go to the bathroom in (somewhat) comfort. There are also toilets at lunch stops on Days 2, 3, and 4 of the tour. The toilet has a western-style toilet seat atop a frame over a bucket, with a large tarp around it for privacy, and some of the most beautiful views in the world! The compost toilets work with the aid of dried rice husks. After doing your business, you will scoop rice husks into the bucket, and the rice husks serve to compost everything and eliminate any smells. Please be generous with the rice husks and scoop enough to cover all waste (don’t put anything but toilet paper in the compost toilets!).

At meals and at the toilets in the camps, an antiseptic hand gel will be available and you must use it to avoid getting sick! We also advise bringing your own antiseptic hand gel (preferably ethyl alcohol level of 70% or above, since this is not available to us here). Soap and water are also available outside all compost toilets.

Note: If you go to a bathroom and find that either the rice husks, toilet paper, hand gel, or soap and water are low or out, please notify your tour guide immediately.

How will I go to the bathroom if I’m not at a campsite?

If you cannot hold it until you reach a compost toilet, you may go to the toilet in an area of the jungle where no one can see you and far away from the river. Please do not leave behind any toilet paper that you use (we can provide you with sanitary bags at the start of your trek). Please place any other feminine hygiene products in these sanitary bags as well. The sanitary bags must be disposed of at the rubbish bins at the campsite.

What kind of toiletries should I bring?

Only the necessities please. These include toothbrush, toothpaste, sunscreen, bug spray, deodorant, baby powder, anti-fungal/medicated powder, necessary medications, and biodegradable, eco-friendly soap so that we can limit any adverse effects on the environment (you can donate extras to our team afterwards if you don’t want to lug it home). Ladies, please bring any feminine hygiene products that you may need on the tour with you from home. There are VERY limited options in the local market here and almost no option while on tour. Please pack accordingly for emergencies!

 

Will there be places to take a shower?

There will be places to take a wash on a number of days during the trek, but you will not always have the opportunity to wash at the campsites. Therefore, we recommend you bringing a lot of wet wipes to clean yourself at camp (a lot = no more than 100). Also, we require that you only use soap/shampoo which is biodegradable & environmentally friendly.

Travel & Transportation

Questions related to travel matters and transportation to/from Phong Nha

I do not have much time and will arrive directly from an international flight; does this present a problem?

Yes; if travelling from US/Europe, you should spend at least 2-3 days getting acclimatized and overcoming your jetlag prior to your trek. This is especially true if you will be arriving in the summer months, as it takes some time to get used to the intense heat here from May – August. We have seen in the past that those who arrive directly from an international flight are very tired, unaccustomed to the humidity, and quite slow for the first few days. In order to get the most out of your trip, please arrive into Vietnam several days early. This is also helpful in case of international flight delays, which has caused customers to have to cancel their tour last minute. There’s plenty to do in Phong Nha if you arrive early and would like to proceed directly here.

What do you recommend anything for me to do if I arrive into Phong Nha early?

There are lots of fun things to do, including kayaking at Oxalis headquarters, going for a swim in the river, checking out Phong Nha Cave, Paradise Cave, or a few of the other more touristy caves in the area.
You can of course up the ante by visiting our other main jungle and cave destination, Tu Lan. Check out our website – www.oxalis.com.vn – for a full list of choices for Tu Lan, and our blog for suggested places to visit in Vietnam.

 

Note: You must be extremely fit to join Tu Lan prior to Son Doong, and we ask that you schedule accordingly so that you have a day’s rest between the two tours. Also, if you join a tour to Tu Lan or anywhere else prior to your Son Doong tour, you must still be at the mandatory Son Doong briefing or risk losing your space on the expedition.

Is there any possibility that the trek may be delayed due to weather and I would miss my outgoing flight?

This has never occurred before but you must accept the possibility that it could happen. If extremely heavy rains cause the river to rise, you could get delayed in the cave up to 24 hours (don’t worry, we have emergency supplies). For that unlikely but possible reason, we suggest at least a few days extra in Vietnam prior to an international flight in case the trek is extended/delayed due to adverse weather. Since domestic travel is generally less costly to cancel or rearrange, you can have your outgoing domestic travel scheduled for any time after the end of the tour (however we take no responsibility if you need to rearrange travel plans for any reason).

Is there somewhere to change money in Phong Nha? Is there an ATM?

If you need to change money in Phong Nha, you can try visiting AgriBank, located near the center of Phong Nha Town, only a few minutes away from Easy Tiger. Their hours are 8 – 11 am and 2 – 4:30 PM Monday-Friday (closed on all public holidays). They can only exchange USD, and the USD bills must be in perfect condition.
Your other option is to visit the ATM in town. Please note that power outages are common in Phong Nha and at these times, the ATM will not be in service. It is best to plan ahead and bring some VND with you prior to your arrival in Phong Nha. Most places in Phong Nha do not accept credit cards.

 

Your tour will end in Chay Lap Farmstay. The closest ATM is in Phong Nha, over 20 km away, but it is possible to receive a cash advance via your credit card at Chay Lap Farmstay. The fee for this transaction is 3% for foreign cards.

Do I need a visa for Vietnam and can you provide an invitation letter?

It is mostly likely that you will need a visa to enter Vietnam. However, there are some countries do not need visa to enter to Vietnam for less than 15 days; if you have the time though, we highly recommend obtaining a 30 – 90 day visa so you have time to enjoy the beautiful country of Vietnam. There is so much to see and do!

Ultimately, please check with your embassy to see if Vietnam requires you to have a visa upon entrance to Vietnam. You will need to have the visa (or visa on arrival letter) ready to show to customs agents at both your departure and arrival airport.

We do not provide visas, invitation letters or visas on arrival (VOA), so please plan for this in advance independently. There are many online services available for a VOA. Oxalis has had good experience with or received positive feedback from the following services:

Visa To Vietnam: http://www.visatovietnam.com/
My Vietnam Visa http://www.myvietnamvisa.com/

Vietnam Visa https://vietnamvisa.govt.vn/

VietNam Discovery Travel https://www.vietnam-visa.com/

Please note that if you go with a VOA, you may have a long wait at the airport to pick up your visa, depending on how many other international flights land at the same as yours. The wait may be anywhere from 10 minutes to hours long. However, the VOA may be cheaper than mailing your passport off to your country’s embassy, which is why many choose this option.

How do I get to Dong Hoi/Phong Nha?

Dong Hoi can be reached by plane with Vietnam Airlines from either Ha Noi or Ho Chi Minh City (other carriers are available on flights from HCMC). Y

ou can also take an overnight train or bus from Ha Noi which are both quite convenient, though it can be difficult or more expensive to arrange train tickets before arriving in Vietnam. If you choose to book train tickets in advance, we recommend the following websites:

  • DSVNhttp://dsvn.vn(Official Vietnamese railway website; however not all pages of the website are translated into English. This website is the best reference for updated train schedules and ticket prices.)
  • Vietnam Railwayshttps://vietnam-railway.com(Not the official Vietnamese railway website although it appears to be. Tickets will have a higher surcharge when purchased through this website.)
  • Baolauhttp://www.baolau.vn(They have great customer service via email and offer good prices but sometimes the system will not easily accept foreign credit cards.)
  • Vietnam Impressive: http://www.vietnamimpressive.com (Also good customer service but at a very high surcharge on tickets.)

 

You also have an option to take the train, bus or private car from Hue, Da Nang or Hoi An. You should be in Dong Hoi no later than 2:00 pm on the start date of your tour. We provide transportation for you from Dong Hoi to Phong Nha, and from Phong Nha to Dong Hoi at the completion of your trek. We will also transfer you to the airport/train station from Chay Lap Farmstay when you depart. You may refer to our Arrival & Departure Guide online at Arrival Departure Guide for more information regarding travel to our region.

Can I book my departing transportation after I return from the trek?

We highly recommend that you book your departing transportation prior to your arrival here with us. It is very difficult to book buses, trains or planes from within Phong Nha as travel agency businesses are transient here. Furthermore, many times of the year, transportation books out weeks in advance and we cannot book anything for you directly. Please have your departure booked or plan on being very flexible about your onward travel plans.

I’ll be traveling around Tet Holiday, will this have any effect on me?

Yes! Tet is the most significant holiday in Vietnam. Transportation will be shut down for about 5 days during Tet Holiday, and transportation for about a week on either side of the holiday is often booked out months in advance. If you are traveling at this time, please book your transportation as quickly as possible or you may get stuck with no way to reach us or no way to depart. Also, the market will be shut for up to one week around Tet Holiday so you will not be able to purchase anything whatsoever in Phong Nha. Please plan appropriately if you choose to join us for a Tet Holiday tour.

Medical & Fitness

Questions related to fitness requirements to join our tours as well as medical issues during the tours

I have a medical condition that I’d rather not tell you. What if you don’t accept me based on my condition(s)?

Most medical conditions will not exclude you: please be completely upfront about whatever condition(s) you have so that we can be best prepared to accommodate you. Please, do not lie on your medical form. If you have a condition that’s possible to accommodate, we will do everything we can to do so. If you have a medical condition that might preclude you from our tour, then we need to know that ahead of time so that we can make the best decision as to whether or not we think you’d be able to complete the tour, before you arrive here. We are days away from any hospital and we need to know your accurate situation. If your health status changes between when your booking is approved and when you join us here, it is your responsibility to advise us of that so that we can review your booking if necessary. Be advised that this tour is not for those with limited outdoor/trekking experience, those in poor medical condition, nor is it for children or expectant mothers.

Is malaria a concern in your area? Or do you recommend any vaccinations?

Malaria is extremely rare here; the only vaccinations that we would advise you obtain before your travels to our region would be typhoid and hepatitis A. However please consult a travel doctor in your area before joining us for final advice on appropriate medical preparation for your trip, especially if you are traveling to other areas in Vietnam.

What are the biggest medical concerns that I will face?

The top two concerns are dehydration and foot rot, a painful fungal infection. Regarding dehydration, please make sure to drink enough water while on tour, especially when under the hot sun. Rehydration tablets are a great idea to keep your sodium and electrolyte levels stable. Regarding foot rot, please take good care of your feet. It is important to dry your feet off when you get to camp and to apply anti-fungal or talcum powder. It’s best to wear flip flops or sandals around camp to let your feet dry. Foot hygiene is very important as foot rot can be very painful and debilitating. If you feel any blisters or sore spots developing on your feet, please ask for help before they spoil your tour.

Do you carry a first aid kit with you on the expedition?

We will be carrying a comprehensive first aid kit. The most commonly used item is Iodine for minor cuts and abrasions. We suggest that if you have any cuts, grazes or leech bites, that upon reaching camp you use the Iodine antiseptic on all the above to stop any chance of infection.

If you have any personal medication you must be responsible for it yourself but we would suggest giving us any spare in case yours is lost/damaged. If you carry an Epipen or any serious medication(s), please advise us in advance so that we can put you in touch with our Safety Expert Team prior to your tour. They will be able to further discuss health & safety measures with you.

Some people choose to self-medicate themselves on tour. If you choose to do so, we ask that you tell one of your guides what you are taking. We need to know in case we need to treat you in an emergency situation.

Should I bring any of my own medications?

Please bring any prescriptions or over-the-counter medications with you. Ours are just for use in emergency situations or if you run out. If you know that you need an anti-histamine or you regularly take an anti-inflammatory, please bring it with you. You should inform your guide team of any medications you are taking/carrying. If you are on any serious medications, please bring a set of spares and give one to a member of the cave expert team in the event that you lose or damage your first set during the tour. Also, please pack any vital medications with you in your check-on/handbag luggage when you travel, and keep your main set on you while on tour (instead of giving it to the porters to bring ahead to camp).

Do I need to bring my own water pump or water purification tablets on tour?

No. You do not need a water pump or purification tablets; your guide will have a high quality expedition water pump on him at all times for filtering water for you. Please do not fill your water bottle directly from the river! Instead, inform your guide when you need more water.

Can I drink the tap water in Phong Nha?

It is not advisable to drink the tap water here. In any restaurants, if you are served water, you will be served filtered water; ice will be made from filtered water as well. While out and about or in your hotel room, please only drink filtered or bottled water, and do not drink directly from the tap.

Can we try some kinds of jungle food/fruit while on tour?

We actually won’t be sampling any foods or fruits directly from the jungle because we cannot predict if anyone may suffer from any allergies of wild jungle fruits and foods. We can assure you that plenty of delicious food will be provided at camp.

Do I need to purchase medical travel insurance?

Yes, absolutely. You must purchase a comprehensive medical and travel insurance to cover you for any unexpected accidents that may occur whilst on the expedition, and this insurance should cover you for adventure sports including guided caving tours. Your insurance should also cover you for flight delays or trip cancellations should you find that you cannot join us last minute, as we have a strict cancellation policy.

 

We do not recommend any particular insurance provider but the following companies are ones which either customers in the past have purchased policies from or ones we have heard good things about:

 

World Nomads https://www.worldnomads.com/

Global Rescue https://globalrescue.com/

 

Regarding choosing a provider and a policy, you must research what best meets your individual travel needs. You MUST either email your insurance in advance or provide a hard-copy of your travel insurance at the safety briefing or you will not participate on the tour (and your place will be considered cancelled without refund).

What kind of shape do I need to be in physically in order to be able to be prepared for the expedition?

It is very important that you are a very active person and that you are in good physical shape and health condition in order to join us for this trek. You should have recent experience trekking rough trails and camping in basic conditions. Please see our Son Doong Physical Preparation Checklist for more information.

What if I'm not fit enough to complete the tour? What happens if I get turned around?

Customers are expected to make it to Son Doong entrance without assistance. Anyone who cannot do so will be turned around. We maintain the right to turn around any customers who cannot follow safety, conservation, or trekking rules, and anyone who refuses to follow the instructions of the guide team. Customers who are turned around will not a receive a refund of any kind. In the event of removal from a tour, Oxalis will not be responsible for any additional expenses incurred by customers (transportation, hotel, etc).

WILDLIFE

Questions related to wildlife

Will we encounter any dangerous animals in the jungle?

You are unlikely to come across anything too dangerous. The guide will always go first and a guide assistant or porter will always go last, so they would be first to spot any possible dangers.

You may come across a snake, but it’s a very rare chance of you being the first to see it. If you do come across one, do not play with it or attack it. There are poisonous snakes in Vietnam so do not take any chances. Spiders are not known to be dangerous in these parts of Vietnam. Caterpillars and centipedes can be irritating and sometimes dangerous so please do not touch these intentionally.

You are likely to encounter leeches. They are not dangerous, just irritating. We tuck our long pants into our socks and this stops the majority of leeches. If you are unlucky enough to have been bitten by one, you will bleed for a while and that’s all. They do not seem to carry any infections but we always use a precautionary antiseptic after it has stopped bleeding.

Are there bats inside the caves?

Yes, there are bats in all of the caves. Please note however that the bats do not carry rabies or other infectious diseases, and they are harmless. We ask that you respect them (and all wildlife) by not touching them or disturbing them in any way.

Where will I encounter leeches?

You shouldn’t find any leeches inside the caves but they are present in the jungle within Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park. They also may be present in the jungle in Son Doong, and at camp if anyone picks up any on their way in through the jungle. Leeches are harmless and at most will give you an irritating bite. If you get any leech bites, let your tour guide know and he/she will apply an antiseptic once the bleeding stops.

Photography

Questions related to photography and video recording matters

What kind of camera and photography equipment should I bring on the expedition?

Even if you are not an experienced photographer please bring a camera of some kind! We have had a lot of customers get really good results even with a small phone camera. However, if you are an amateur or professional photographer, please bring your awesome cameras! We’ve had people bring GoPros to iPhones to SLRs, and everything in between. Please note that if you intend to bring a GoPro, you will need to bring a strap to attach the camera to your helmet; you may not stick a headmount onto our helmets, as they degrade the plastic and the durability of the helmets. A tripod is essential for anybody who is serious about photography.

Drones/quadcopters/flycams are ONLY accepted on specialized filming tours, photography tours, and private tours.

You will have ample time to take many photographs in this amazing place. It is very easy to obtain quality images in many sections of the cave. This really is a once in a lifetime trip so suggest you bring a camera and tripod and you will obtain some excellent results. Bring plenty of spare batteries as there are no charging facilities in the cave! All the UK guides and Vietnamese guides know the best places for shots. Your camera does not need to be waterproof but some extra housing to protect against sand and dirt would be good.

How do I charge my camera?

The best option to keep your camera charged is to bring extra batteries or battery packs, and make sure that they are fully charged before your tour departure. For many cell phones (particularly smart phones), there are external charger/battery packs/power banks that you can find quite easily online in order to recharge your phone while in the cave. Some power bank brands we’ve seen before include Mophie, Power Monkey, Zendure A2. Many people like to bring their smart phones (even though there is no reception!) so that they can upload a few photos straight to social media or send a few pics to their friends immediately upon their return.

Is there Wi-Fi or 3G in the cave?

There is no 3G or Wi-Fi on any part of your Son Doong expedition. While some people find this unfortunate, we actually think that this is a huge advantage to coming on the trek. You will be off the grid for the entire expedition, so enjoy it! No emails to answer, Facebook notifications to check, or voicemails to return.

Do you have any extra tips regarding cameras for this trek?

The main things we’d like to stress are as follows: make sure you are familiar with any equipment you choose to bring, make sure that you have enough SD/memory cards for all the amazing photos and videos you’ll take, and make sure that you bring sufficient (fully-charged) battery packs for the duration of the trek. Please also bring a back-up SD card in case your first one crashes (it’s happened before). Other helpful items to have with you are lens cleaner, cloths, brushes, etc.

BOOKING, TERMS & CONDITIONS

Questions related to our cancellation policies and other expenses which might arise

Why do I have to sign your Release Form?

We require customers to sign our Release Form to confirm they accept this is an adventure tour and they have to follow our guide’s instructions and safety rules. Customers also accept they have some responsibilities for their own safety. Please bring a signed copy of the Release Form to your briefing.

What is your cancellation policy?

For join-in tours, if written cancellation request is received and acknowledged more than 90 days before tour departure you will be charged a VND 5,000,000 booking processing fee per person for cancellation and the balance will be refunded. If written cancellation request is received and acknowledged less than 90 days but more than 45 days before tour departure you will be charged a cancellation fee of 50% of total booking price and the balance will be refunded. If written cancellation request is received and acknowledged less than 45 days before tour departure, no refund will be provided under any circumstance. Please make sure you have your own travel insurance to cover any unexpected cancellations.

For private tours, if written cancellation request is received and acknowledged more than 90 days before tour departure you will be charged a cancellation fee of 50% of total booking price and the balance will be refunded. written cancellation request is received and acknowledged less than 90 days before tour departure no refund will be provided under any circumstance. Please make sure you have your own travel insurance to cover any unexpected cancellations.
Please note that you are not permitted to resell the join-in tour product under any circumstances. Doing so will void the spot for both you and whoever you are selling the spot to. This applies to independent bookings and group bookings including a party of 10 friends who are on a join-in tour together (at the standard price of USD $3,000 per person). If you are on a private tour (at the booking cost of USD $40,000 per group), you may substitute members of the group up until 1 month prior to tour departure as long as the substitute members meet our medical and fitness requirements.

Outside of the initial tour price, what extra expenses might I incur when I sign up for this expedition?

Extra expenses that you are responsible include the 3% service charge when paying by credit card, international flights, domestic flights/travel to Dong Hoi, any trekking gear you need to purchase, extra hotels, medical/trip cancellation insurance, and any tips you may want to leave for our team.

What is your policy for tipping at the end of my expedition?

Your trip is made possible by a large team, including those you will see on tour such as guides, porters, cooks, and drivers, as well as behind the scenes crew including cleaning staff and stores people. Therefore, a tip would be very welcome. Some customers do not tip, some customers tip 5 – 10%, and some customers tip much more. We will collect any tips you’d like to leave on the return back to the office. The amount you tip should of course be based on the service and experience you receive. Tipping is not mandatory but highly appreciated.