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Take a plunge into Vietnam’s most thrilling river caves

Vietnam is a land of breathtaking landscapes, vibrant culture and unlimited adventure opportunities. The Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park in the Quang Binh province of central Vietnam is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is popularly known as the ‘Adventure Capital of Asia’, this is also the home to the mightiest, biggest and most unbelievable caves on our planet, with the most recognized ones ones being the world’s biggest cave – Son Doong, the third largest cave in the world – Hang En, the cave with the rarest cave formations ever seen – Hang Va, one of the most marvelous and extraordinarily mysterious cave systems in the world – Tu Lan Cave System and other magnificent tourist caves like the Phong Nha cave, Paradise Cave and Dark Cave.

The biggest adventure company in Asia – Oxalis Adventure, is based in the Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park and has constantly redefined adventure travel in Vietnam and Asia by offering some of the most unique jungle and cave adventure tours in the world. One of the biggest highlights on some Oxalis tours is visiting a river cave or wet cave and swimming through! Imagine splashing around and swimming under the surface of the Earth, surrounded by complete darkness and only guided by the headlamp on your caving helmet. This is indeed a bucket list experience and the caves of Vietnam and especially Phong Nhabeckon you to be explored.

About river caves 

A river cave or a wet cave refers to any cave that has a cave river flowing inside of it. It is believed that exploring wet caves or river caves is more difficult than exploring a dry cave and yet some of the most renowned early cave explorations were that of river caves.

Exploring river caves is one of the most memorable experiences in the whole world. As you swim inside a river cave, venturing into the mysterious darkness of the underground world and adventurously navigate through the various passages of the river cave, you will feel a sensation of adrenaline like never before!

son-doong
Inside Hang Va (Oxalis Adventure)
Ryan Deboodt

Exploring the river caves with Oxalis Adventure is considered to be one of the top things to do in Phong Nha and will undoubtedly be the most special memory of your travel to Vietnam.

River caves in Phong Nha

1. Hang En Cave

• Cave information:

Hang En, a river cave, is one of the top caves in the world and is the 3rd largest cave in the world by volume after Hang Son Doong and Deer Cave in Malaysia. Hang En is one of the most recognized and stupendous caverns on Earth. Deep in the Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park, Hang En cave has been said to have the one of the biggest ‘wow’ factors in all of Vietnam, as you even get to camp inside this gigantic cave. Hang En stretches for over 2km into the karsts of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park and has three entrances, with the largest and most popularly prominent one being over 120m tall and 140m across. With the dense jungle forming the backdrop on the outside the cave, it is a sight that must really be seen to be believed. In some sections, the chambers are 100m high and 180m wide; so huge that even the beams from powerful headlamps barely reach the edges of the walls. As one of Vietnam’s top must see places, Hang En deserves to be on your bucket list.

• Swimming inside Hang En Cave:

Climbing over one last peak while entering Hang En rewards you with the breathtaking view of your night’s campsite – A wide, sandy beach fringing an aquamarine lake completely engulfed by the enormous cave. Here, you can enjoy a swim like you would’ve never experienced before! Swimming inside the 3rd largest cave in the world, right next to your campsite is an extraordinary feeling and one not to be missed when traveling to Vietnam!

• About the tour:

·     Name – Hang En Adventure 2D1N

·     Duration – 2 days and 1 night

·     Price – USD 327/PAX

2. Son Doong Cave

• Cave information:

Son Doong, a river cave, is the world’s biggest cave and was explored in 2009-2010 by the British Cave Research Association (BCRA). Oxalis Adventure conducts Son Doong Expeditions in partnership with the BCRA, under the permission of the government of Vietnam.

What puts Son Doong at the summit of the top caves in the world is its inexplicably enormous size. With sections reaching up to 200m tall and 150m wide, Son Doong Cave is large enough to house an entire New York City block, complete with 40 story skyscrapers with a total measured volume of 38.5 million cubic meters. Stalagmites up to 80m high have also been surveyed, the tallest ever encountered. Visiting and exploring the Son Doong Cave, is considered a bucket list adventure by adventure enthusiasts worldwide.

• Swimming inside Son Doong Cave:

While you’re on the Son Doong Expedition, you’ll observe that swimming is not a requirement at any point during the tour. Sure, there are sections in the Son Doong Cave where you can swim, but it would only be possible if the British Cave Expert accompanying you doesn’t advise against it. This is primarily due to the fact that Son Doong still holds many secrets inside that the world still isn’t aware of! However, as you get to the Hang En campsite on the tour, you’ll be faced with a gorgeous aquamarine lake inside the huge cave. Here, you can enjoy a swim if you wish to. Swimming inside the 3rdlargest cave in the world while on your exploratory expedition to the world’s largest cave is surely an experience you’ll cherish forever!

• About the tour:

·     Name – Son Doong Expedition 4D3N

·     Duration – 4 days and 3 nights

·     Price – USD 3000/PAX

3. Hang Va Cave

• Cave information:

Hang Va is one of the most treasured river caves in all of Vietnam and the world, home to some of the rarest formations ever seen by humankind. Hang Va is located deep in the park quite close to the Son Doong Cave, and it is thought to be part of the same system. Hang Va’s jaw-dropping beauty makes it one of the most beautiful caves in the world. The entrance of Hang Va is actually a collapse in the floor of a steep valley, and requires a descent of about 15m down to a small stream passage that averages 5m high and wide to reach the cave. At the end of the cave, there are fascinating wet and dry gours (pools) with numerous conical calcite formations that have been named as the Tower Cones. Hang Va is one of the most mysterious and magical of all the caves in Vietnam.

This cave is home to some fascinating cave formations including the tower cones, spread across an entire passage that reaches a width of about 85m. There are more than a hundred calcite cones rising from the Earth in some mysterious way. All this adds to Hang Va being a special member of Vietnam’s best river caves!

• Swimming inside Hang Va Cave:

On the first day of the tour, you will follow a newly discovered cave passage to enter Hang Va and your campsite on the tour. It involves 100m-swimming before using ropes to ascend to the entrance of Hang Va! If you’re early on the second day of the tour, there is a chance to swim in a downstream pool inside Hang Va before heading upstream.

• About the tour:

·     Name – Hang Va Expedition 2D1N

·     Duration – 2 days and 1 night

·     Price – USD 345/PAX

4. Nuoc Nut Cave

• Cave information:

The Nuoc Nut Cave is a river cave located deep in Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park. To get there, adventurers must pass through the thick foliage of a tropical jungle, follow the stream through the slopes and the cave’s entrance will finally appear among majestic mountains. You’ll be in for a thrilling ride as you admire a very large limestone passage containing numerous stalactites off which the light colorfully bounces and these masterpieces of mother nature are sure to leave you mesmerized. The main passage of the cave is as big as a theater, in places 70 meters wide. You will also find surreal stalactites or special tectonics inside the cave.

• Swimming inside Hang Va Cave:

During spring or summer, visitors will be immersed in the cool water, wading around in the magnificent lakes. Swimming and wading in the Nuoc Nut cave is a wonderful experience as the cool water takes away all the fatigue that one might feel during the journey!

• About the tour:

·     Name – Phong Nha National Park Tour

·     Duration – 1 Day

·     Price – USD 71/PAX

You will also get to visit the Nuoc Nut cave on the Hang Va Expedition!

5. Tu Lan Cave System

The Tu Lan Cave System lies in the beautiful Tan Hoa commune of the Minh Hoa district, about 70 KM away from the Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park. The Tu Lan area was the filming location for Hollywood blockbuster movie Kong-Skull Island (2017), and the Vietnamese hit movie – The Immortal (2018).

The Tu Lan Cave System comprises of over 20 caves, some of which were originally discovered and explored in 1992, and some others were discovered in recent years. Out of the 20 explored caves of the Tu Lan region, adventure enthusiasts can visit 10 caves. This cave system has various wet and dry caves. Exploring Tu Lan cave system will see you trekking through remote, untouched jungles; crossing buffalo fields; being surrounded by giant, looming, limestone mountains on all sides; and plunging into deep, cool, underground river caves such asKim Cave, Ken Cave, Tu Lan Cave (wet) and Hung Ton cave, which are all spectacular river caves.

Aside from the beauty though, it’s the adventure of swimming through the river caves that makes this tour unmatchable to anything else around. The Oxalis Adventure campsites in Tu Lan will treat you to some of the most amazing views of nature as you even get to camp facing a waterfall. If you’re truly passionate about adventure, make sure you don’t miss this adventure tour on your Phong Nha travel plan.

Here are the adventure tours where you get to plunge in and swim inside river caves:

·     Tu Lan Expedition (4 days 3 nights)  —  Price: USD 646 

·     Wild Tu Lan Cave Explorer (3 days 2 nights)  — Price: USD 345

·     Tu Lan Cave Encounter (2 days 1 night)  — Price: USD 237

·     Tu Lan 1 – Day Experience  — Price: USD 78

·     Hang Tien Exploration  — Price: USD 366

When you’re swimming through the river caves of the region, Oxalis Adventure will maintain the highest standard of safety by providing professionally trained tour guides, buoyancy aids (life jackets), Petzl caving helmet and headlamp along with other equipment required for the adventure tour.

Swimming underground inside a river cave is one of the most adventurous experiences in the world and you should not miss this chance when you travel Vietnam!