The coastal city of Dong Hoi, long overlooked by visitors, is an up and coming destination and the gateway to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. A small city, it makes a relaxing place to spend some time outside of the busier cities in Vietnam. Very much off-the-beaten-path, visitors should not encounter many other foreigners, and will attract more attention than usual from the friendly locals.
It’s certainly a pleasant, quiet city, but the main purpose to visit is of course to explore the beautiful national park, which formed a vital link in the famed Ho Chi Minh Trail, and boasts an impressive system of over 300 natural caves, many of which are completely enormous, and some of which feature turquoise pools, creating wonderfully stunning vistas. A great number of the caves are easily accessible to visitors including Dark Cave, Paradise Cave and Swallow Cave. Paradise Cave is arguably the highlight and main attraction in Phong Nha. ‘Discovered’ in the early 1990s by British researchers and only open to the public since 2011, the cave is reached by over 700 steps from the entrance to the cave bed. Once inside there are a number of viewing platforms to take in the impressive stalactites and stalagmites. This is still a largely undiscovered area which offers those with a sense of adventure the chance to explore nature’s mystical wonders. If on an extended tailormade tour of Vietnam, and want to experience somewhere truly off the beaten path, Dong Hoi makes a perfect stop for a couple of days, and would combine well with seeing the Imperial City at Hue, further south, or for those interested in war history, closer by is the former DMZ, marking the pre-reunification divide between north and south Vietnam.
Central Vietnam is best avoided during September and October, when heavy rains often lead to coastal flooding. The best time of year for a visit to Dong Hoi is between January and August when rainfall is minimal meaning the spectacular caves will be most accessible.
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- Jaime Benitez, South India
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