From enormous caves to serene lakesides to stunning mountains and vibrant wildlife, the national parks of Vietnam has a wide array of nature sights and activities for your guests to partake in.
Starting in the north with Ba Be National Park, this stunning area is centred on Ba Be Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake in the country. Staying at a homestay by the lakeshore is an incredible experience, and provides a great mix between natural beauty and authentic Vietnam. Out on the lake is the lonely Widow Island, a great place to enjoy sunsets. There are also two spectacular waterfalls, Dau Dang and Thac Bac, that make for great day-treks. The caves in the area are also amazing, with Hua Ma and Na Phong long being staples for any visitor to Ba Be. The more recently discovered Lo Mo is exciting as it hasn’t even been mapped by geologists yet, making you feel like an explorer delving into the unknown depths.
Kayaking in Ba Be National Park.
While the caves in Ba Be are great, nowhere in Vietnam, or even in the whole world, can compete with Phong Nha National Park when it comes to spelunking. The largest cave in the world is located here, large enough to fit an entire Manhattan city block, both in height and width. Unfortunately the cave only accepts 10 visitors per week, requires booking more than a year in advance, and is incredibly expensive (3000USD).
If, like most people, your guests aren’t prepared to blow thousands of dollars in a single day, then fear not, for there are still some amazing and affordable caves to visit. Designated a UNESCO World heritage site in 2003, it houses some of the oldest karst mountains anywhere in the country.
A boat carrying people into the mysterious caves of Phong Nha.
First up are the caves of Phong Nha and Tien Son, often paired together due to their proximity. Here a small boat carries your group into and through the cave, letting you sit back and relax while you take in the sprawling spaces.
Paradise Cave is also amazing, with an astonishing length of 31 kilometres, though only the first kilometre is accessible for visitors. The geologists who first mapped the cave were especially impressed with the numerous stalagmites and stalactites, far outstripping anything found in the previous two caves.
For a bit of a silly time, take the time to visit Dark Cave, which is unsurprisingly (given the name) dark, with the only illumination provided by torches. Here the main activity is the shallow pool of mud where you can lie down and relax or play around with the mud.
Hang En rewards those who choose to take the trek to reach it.
While all of the former caves are quite easy to reach, Hang En requires a bit of a trek. It takes about a day to cover the 13 kilometre hike, which means that you get to spend a night camping inside the cave, on the shores of the underground river that runs through it. This is perhaps the most memorable and unique experience you can have in Phong Nha, and if your group has the time and energy required to reach it, it’s a must-see.
While most tourists stay on one side of the river and only see that part of the park, a day spent on the other side in Bong Lai valley offers some spectacular views rarely seen by foreigners. Beware that the park sees a ton of rain between September and November, so this is not a great time to visit.
Walk amongst the verdant jungle of Cat Tien.
Cat Tien National Park meanwhile, is an animal lover’s paradise. This park is almost entirely dedicated to the preservation of its wildlife, and with some careful planning; a sunrise tour can be taken where you get to observe a family of gibbons as they enjoy their morning meal. Bear in mind that these groups are limited to four visitors at a time, so careful planning is required for larger groups. If getting up before the sun with no guarantee of seeing any animals (they’re wild animals, so it all depends on your luck) doesn’t appeal to your guests, then there’s also two fantastic preservation projects you can visit. These are the Dao Tien Endangered Primate Species Centre and Cat Tien Bear Rescue Centre, focusing on primates and bears respectively, as the names suggest. Mid-December through February is the best time to visit the park, as the temperatures are less extreme during this time of year.
The largest and yet one of the least visited National parks in the country is Yok Don. Popular activities here include boat rides and hikes, and it contains the last wild elephants and leopards in Vietnam, though sightings of these are incredibly rare. Since it’s not on many itineraries, the park feels wonderfully off-the-beaten-track compared to almost any other National Park in Vietnam.
While there are many other National Parks you can discover, these are what we consider the highlights, and no nature itinerary in Vietnam can be complete without at least one or two of these.