The best way to experience Phong Nha in its true essence is to set off travelling on two wheels, be it a bicycle or a motorcycle. There are bicycle and motorbike rental services provided almost all over town. While in most cases, the staff at your accommodation will help you out in this regard. If you are interested in exploring the national park by motorbike and do not have any previous riding experience, it’s easy to hire a local guide who can take you around (with you riding on the back of his bike). We highly recommend Thang’s Phong Nha Riders: +84 (0) 164 659 0719 – Thang. You also have the option of booking a bus or a cab if you wish to travel to any of the nearby towns or cities like Dong Hoi.
The most common form of taxi in Phong Nha is a “xe ôm”, or motorbike taxi. Most hotels and hostels know the number of a “xe ôm” driver if you are in need of a local taxi. Most drivers do not speak English.
The speciality of Phong Nha, in terms of food, is Thit Nuong (barbeque meat). You can find it almost anywhere in Phong Nha, with choices between chicken, beef and pork. It is served with local flavoured chutney and the taste is absolutely lip-smacking! Apart from Thit Nuong, you can find almost every Vietnamese dish and plenty of options of Western Food, thanks to the numerous restaurants and hotels in the area.
It is not advisable to drink tap water in Phong Nha. Along with the common risks of drinking tap water in a third world country, tap water in Phong Nha contains high amounts of limestone, calcium, and other minerals. Please drink bottled water or boiled water.
NIGHTLIFE & ENTERTAINMENT
The people of Phong Nha are big into entertainment and have a massive Karaoke culture. It’s a unique experience to be part of a Karaoke party, after returning from a tiring adventure tour in one of the caves. This is an amazing way to let loose and end your day with fun and frolic! Phong Nha also has various hostels, bars and it even has two cool nightclubs, namely the Andy’s Disco Bar and Hair of the Dog, should you wish to put on your dancing shoes after taking off your trekking boots. Everything is quite cheap and you can expect to spend about 80,000 VND ($4 USD) per hour (excluding drinks).
Travelling to and spending some days in Phong Nha is relatively easy on the pocket, considering the kind of exquisite experiences you’ll have here. That being said, you’ll find ATMs here, namely the Sacombank ATM, Agribank ATM and the Vietinbank ATM. These ATMs accept all international cards, so don’t sweat it. Some shops or restaurants accepts card payment and they might not have change for the big note, 500,000 VND; try carrying small denominations of money while you’re out and about.
The market in Phong Nha is located along the main road, just between the Best BBQ Pork & Noodle Shop in the World and the Phong Nha Tourism Center. The market can seem a little chaotic but it’s worth checking out, especially if there’s anything you need.
Bring small bills with you, and don’t expect anyone to speak English. Everyone in the market is very friendly, but you can expect stares if you are a foreigner. Unfortunately you can also expect that in some places you will receive a “foreigner price”.
Feel free to bargain in the market, and enjoy winding your way through the back of the market where the freshest fruits and veggies lie. The market is best visited around 6 – 9 AM. It is open until about 11 AM, and then closes for a few hours until the afternoon. It opens again around 2 PM and goes until about 6 PM (hours vary at different times of year and at shop vendors’ discretion). You will be able to find basic things such as hats, socks, flip-flops, raincoat, snacks, etc but not proper trekking clothes.
Do yourself a favor and pop into one of our Oxalis Adventure offices (downtown or by the riverside), where you can pick up a decent map of the area. Our friendly staff will be happy to point out to you popular places to eat, what to do, and can explain to you more about the must-sees of the area.
Phong Nha is unlike any other place and your travel experience here will be the safest you ever had. The whole of Phong Nha lives like one big family and are extremely respectful and friendly towards tourists. The locals have your back at all times and they’ll go to any extent to protect you and your interests in all kinds of ways. Here are the emergency telephone numbers (the country code is +84):
113 – Police 115 – Fire 114 – Ambulance
Phong Nha Police Station: +84 (0)232 3677009
Đồng Hới Police Station: +84(0)232 3822142
Quảng Bình Immigration Office: +84(0)232 3828648
Only very basic medical care is available in Phong Nha, mostly for common ailments. There is a small medical clinic located near the entrance of the town (no English spoken at the clinic). If you are in need of more serious medical care, you will need to move to Dong Hoi Cuba Hospital (1 hour transfer) or even Hue International Hospital (4 hour transfer). The locals would not let you feel alone in a time like that and they’ll make sure you get medical attention as soon as possible.
Phong Nha Hospital (more like a medical clinic) phone number: +84 (0)232 3677047
There is several pharmacies located near the market, just off to the left. It is open from 7:00 AM – 7:00 PM and sells basic medicine for flu, headache, stomachache, iodine, but very little for urgent or serious medical care.
Rainy season usually starts around mid-September and persists until mid-November every year and extreme weather might happen especially floods. Floodwaters remain high for up to a week at a time. Some of the tourism activities are closed in this time of the year so make sure to check the weather forecast and the tour operators prior to traveling to Phong Nha at this time. There are some tour operators that run tours even during this season. We, however, don’t recommend it at all and will not be running any adventure tours during this time.
There are several major holidays in Vietnam:
February 2 – 10 February 2019: Tet Holiday 2019 (varies from year to year depending on the lunar calendar)
April 30: Reunification Celebration
May 1: Labor Day
September 2: Independence Day
Please note that transportation is extremely difficult to arrange around major holidays, especially Tet. You must arrange up to one month in advance or you will be paying premium prices for private transfers or possibly end up getting stuck in town if you don’t have any transport arranged. There are plenty of accommodations and shops open around town during Tet Holiday and you’ll have an unforgettable experience if you are lucky enough to be invited into the home of a local family, which is quite likely to happen!