Trekking to Hang En Cave: An Adventurous Experience in Phong Nha, Vietnam

by Jackie
Published: Last Updated on
When doing the Hang En Cave tour, a beam of sunlight may shine inside the cave and over the campground

Trekking to Hang En Cave (Hang Én in Vietnamese or Swallow Cave in English) in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park is one of the most exciting things to do in Vietnam! Recognized as the third-largest cave in the world, it’s an incredible hiking adventure to experience when visiting Phong Nha in Central Vietnam

While the largest cave is Son Doong (Sơn Đoòng) which is only 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) away from Hang En is on the bucket list, we couldn’t pass this opportunity to explore a unique cave in one of Vietnam’s UNESCO World Heritage sites and also stay overnight in the cave. We had the opportunity to stay here at the end of December 2020. 

If you’re hesitant about the intensity of this adventure, don’t worry! This 2 days/1 night tour, organized by Oxalis Adventure, is doable for all skill levels and has tons of support along the way.  

Continue reading more about our Hang En Cave adventure and why it’s an awesome tour to take in Phong Nha. We’re sharing our experiences and insider tips on what to expect and how to prepare for this tour. 

**Note: This is not a sponsored post as we paid for our experience and genuinely had an amazing time during this tour. 

*Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. If you click on them and make a purchase, we receive a small commission. There is no additional cost to you. Appreciate the support.


Overview of Hang En Cave Trek

Trekking to Hang Cave is very doable for beginner hikers. The only challenge is at the beginning of the course when the trail is downhill and will be slippery due to the mud. (You’ll also do the same route returning to Phong Nha and will need to go up this same part.) Otherwise, the hiking trail is easy to complete. 

  • Challenging level: Easy to Moderate 
  • Distance: Each day is between 5.5-6.5 miles (3.4-6.5 kilometers) per day. On the second day, hike/scramble about 1.9 miles (3 kilometers) inside the cave, plus the hike back to the starting point. The hiking distance will vary depending on the weather as the route can be changed. 
  • Time to complete: Expect to trek for 4-5+ hours per day, including many breaks
  • Helpful tip: If you need help, ask one of the guides or support team members. There are at least two guides and two support members along the trail. 
View of the trees and mountains from inside the Hang En Cave entrance in Phong Nha, Vietnam

A different perspective of Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park from inside the Hang En cave entrance


How to Get to Hang En Cave

Head to Phong Nha by various transportation ways. The nearest city is Dong Hoi, which is 30 miles (48 kilometers) away from Phong Nha. Take a flight to Dong Hoi Airport (airport code: VDH) and take a taxi for 50 minutes or the local bus from the Dong Hoi bus station for 1-1.5+ hours to get to Phong Nha. 

Once you’re in Phong Nha, you’ll go on a tour with Oxalis Adventure Tours to get to Hang En Cave. They are the only tour company who can go to this cave. Otherwise, there isn’t any other way to trek to this cave as this place is an offbeat location


When Should You Visit Hang En?

The trek is available from December to September. The rainy season is from October to the end of November and there are heavy floods so the city is closed during the two months. 

We did the trek at the end of December and didn’t encounter any rain. Although, it was misty/rainy for a few days before the trek so the hiking trail was muddy. Otherwise, it was comfortable hiking weather around 18°C (64°F) (although, slightly colder than what we’re used to in Ho Chi Minh) and not too hot.


How Much Does the Hang En Cave Tour Cost?

The Hang En Adventure Tour is for 2 days and 1 night at a cave and costs 7,600,000 VND ($330 USD) per person. We paid 6,000,000 VND ($260) per person since there was a promotion for 2020. 

Register for the tour ahead of time via Oxalis’s website as each day has a limit of 16 trekkers. 

If there are any dietary restrictions, please list them in the registration form. I requested a vegetarian meal and the Oxalis team didn’t disappoint with the food offerings! The vegetarian food was healthy with fresh vegetables and tasted delicious and even restaurant quality level!

Payment is done online over a secured site via credit card.  

The tour includes English speaking guides, support members, porters, cooks, camping set up (tent, pillow, and sleeping bags), meals (1 breakfast, 2 lunch, and 1 dinner), reusable water bottle (to use during the trip only), hard hat, gloves, headlamp, luggage storage at the Oxalis Headquarters, bus transportation, and tons of support and fun from the Oxalis Hang En team. 

The cost of the tour does not include tipping. It’s up to you whether you want to give a tip as tipping is not expected or required. Tips are placed in a box along with a feedback form when you return to the Oxalis Headquarters at the end of the trip. We recommend that you give a small amount since the porters and team deserve something extra for their hard work. 

If you have other questions regarding the trip, feel free to use the chat function to talk with a Sales Representative on the Oxalis website. 


What to Wear on the Hang En Trek

  • Long-sleeve technical shirt – Wear a moisture-wicking shirt to absorb sweat and dry quickly.
  • Hiking pants – Long pants are a must for the trek to prevent leeches and exposure to poison ivy. You’ll need to tuck the pants leg into your socks and/or boots before trekking.
  • Hiking boots or trail running shoes with drainage –  Do not use waterproof or Gore-Tex hiking boots or shoes as water will collect inside and it won’t be a comfortable walk. 
  • Calf length hiking socks

Should you use the boots that Oxalis offers? 

The easy answer is YES! I was hesitant about using the Oxalis’s boots since there wasn’t much information regarding them. Yet, they’re a lifesaver! 

Oxalis offers boots in European sizes 36-46. Choose a size that is one size higher than your current shoe. You’ll need the extra toe space for trekking downhill. 

Camouflage printed boots on shoe racks at Oxalis Headquarters

Try these boots that Oxalis provides for your trekking adventure.

The boots look like Converse shoes with the high ankle covering and camouflage print canvas material. They have a sturdy rubber bottom and a hole at the bottom of the shoe. The drainage hole is key! You’ll cross at least 25 rivers per day and need to have shoes that’ll drain the water. While your boots and socks will be wet, at least your feet won’t be submerged in water all day. 

Tip: You should bring your own insoles to put into the boots as they do not have any cushion. Or, you’ll star getting hotspots and nasty blisters. Don’t forget to take them out when you return from your trip!

At the end of the trip, you’ll notice the caked-on mud and dirt on the boots. You’ll be glad to give them back to Oxalis so they’ll be cleaned. 

Two pairs of camouflage boots with the river view in the background

These hiking boots offered by Oxalis have drainage holes!


What to Bring on the Hang En Cave Day Hike

  • Daypack – You’ll need to have a backpack that is large enough to carry a hard hat and your personal items. Here are our favorite Osprey men and women backpacks that we use on all of our travels. 
  • Camera – You’ll need to bring a dry bag if you have larger photography gear. 
  • Sunhat – Once you leave the forest area, there isn’t much shade. Protect your head with this hat.
  • Sunglasses – Here are our favorite sunglasses for hiking!
  • Sunscreen 
  • Insect repellent – The forest area has mosquitoes so you may want to have insect repellent. 
  • Snacks – The trek has several breaks for you to enjoy snacks. Oxalis provides snacks but feel free to bring your own. 
  • Rain jacket or poncho (optional)While we didn’t encounter any rain, it would be helpful to have a rain jacket just in case. Here are some options to consider: men/women
  • Travel insurance or health insurance identification – This is needed when you sign the release form. Buy travel insurance before your trip and get it here.

**You do not need to bring water with you as you’ll receive a 1-liter plastic bottle from Oxalis. They will use a portable filtration system to periodically filter water for you during the trek.


What Items to Give to the Porters

Luckily, you don’t have to carry everything with you to the cave. Porters will carry up to 3 kg (6.6 pounds) per person and will take them directly to the cave. You will not have access to the items. 

Here are the items to give to the porters:

  • Extra set of clothes, warm jackets, and socks
  • Sandals / flip flops / light pair of shoes – The cave area is sandy. 
  • Towel – The camping towels are the best since they’ll dry faster.
  • Swimsuit – If you want to swim in the cave’s lake. 
  • Headlamp – The Oxalis team will provide headlamps to attach to your hard hat. You can also bring your own headlamps to wear around the campsite if you don’t want to use Oxalis’. We love and use these headlamps.
  • Earplugs – If you’re sensitive to noise at night, then these are a must-have!
  • Other personal stuff that you won’t need immediately.

You’ll place all items in a dry bag and then the porters will place the dry bag in a double layer dry bag. Your stuff will not get wet!

Five porters pack supplies and gear into their backpacks to bring on the Hang En trek

Huge thank you to the porters for carrying our stuff!


Hang En Cave Trekking Schedule

Day 1

  • 7:30am to 8:00am- Pick up from your Sapa hotel to Oxalis Headquarters
  • 8:15am to 9:15am – Orientation and packing
  • 9:30am to 10:15am – Bus ride to the starting point 
  • 10:30am – Start the trek to Doong Village (Bàn Đoòng in Vietnamese)
  • 12:30pm to 1:15pm – Lunch 
  • 1:15pm to 3:30pm – Trek to the Hang En cave
  • 4:00pm – Arrive at the Hang En cave camping area
  • 4:00pm to 6:00pm – Relaxing time
  • 6:00pm – Dinner

Day 2

  • 6:30am – Wake up call
  • 7:00am – Breakfast
  • 7:45am to 10:20am – Explore Hang En Cave 
  • 10:50am to 11:30am – Lunch
  • 11:45am to 4:00pm – Trek back to Phong Nha, includes a stop at the Doong Village and a few more rest stops
  • 5:00pm – Arrive at Oxalis Headquarters by bus. Complete the feedback form, pick up luggage, and return equipment.

Our Hang En Tour Experience – Day 1

MORNING

We started the day with a filling breakfast of omelet with baguette and hot tea at our guesthouse, Areca Bungalow. In the Oxalis confirmation email, it mentioned having breakfast before the start of the hike.  The hotel pick up was at 7:30pm, yet, we didn’t need to travel far as the Oxalis Headquarters was two houses down from the guesthouse. 

The Oxalis Headquarters has a patio area that overlooks the Song Cong River (Sông Côn in Vietnamese). The white signs of “Oxalis” and “Phong Nha – The Adventure Capital of Asia” on two small islands in the middle of the river is a key landmark of Phong Nha. 

Once everyone arrived, we listened to the orientation from one of our tour guides, Vương. The orientation included an overview of the trek, how the tour is set up, what to bring to the trek, how to use the portable toilet at the campsite, and more. Afterward, we signed the release form with emergency contact and health insurance information, passport, and started packing gear to give to the porters. 

Groups of people listen to the tour guide to discuss the Hang En safety tips

The safety information is discussed during the orientation.

As stated above, the porters carry items that you do not need during the trek. They will not get wet as you place your items in a dry bag and then the porters have a double layer dry bag. 

Now it was time to ride the bus! The 45-minute bus ride through the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park went by quickly as Đức, the second tour guide, did an ice breaker where the group introduced themselves. 

Our group was at the maximum capacity of 16 trekkers with 8 local Vietnamese and 8 expats. It was a coincidence that all the hikers live in Ho Chi Minh City! It was exciting to see a diverse group of people participating as many said that this was their first trek ever.  

As a heads up, the road had a lot of curves so those prone to motion sickness may get carsick. The road conditions weren’t great due to the October floods and landslides so parts of the road were in the process of getting cleared. The bus passed by other fun attractions in Phong Nha such as the Botanic Garden and Ozo Treetop Park.

Note: Cell phone service is not available once you enter the National Park. 

At the starting area, everyone received a hard hat and a pair of gloves to place inside the backpacks. These would be used during our time in the caves. 

The trek started in the forest area which had plenty of shade yet it went downhill. It was a muddy mess so we had to go down carefully. 

Tip: If you need help with going down a steep part of the hill, ask one of the Support team members.

Group of hikers climb down the muddy hill to go to Hang En Cave in Phong Nha, Vietnam

Hike carefully along the muddy paths and do not rush!

There were a couple of rest stops on the way down the mountain. It’s a good opportunity to check pants and shoes to see if any leeches crawled through. 

At the bottom of the mountain, we finally crossed the first river (by the end of the day, we crossed over 25 rivers). The feeling of wet socks and shoes initially shocked us since everything felt squishy. At least the water drained from wearing the Oxalis boots! Once we crossed one river, it felt like second nature to constantly have wet feet and shoes throughout the day. 

Jackie Szeto, Life Of Doing, cross a shallow river in the forest area of Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, Vietnam

Your feet will get wet with crossing over 25 rivers each day.

AFTERNOON

We finally arrived at Doong Village for lunch. The porters and chefs arrived at the lunch spot early and already prepared a healthy spread of fresh spring roll and bánh mì (sandwiches). The fillings included pork, eggs (for vegetarians) cucumber slices, tomatoes, lettuce, and Laughing Cow cheese. To conclude lunch, we snacked on enjoyed tangerines and other packaged snacks. 

Fresh spring roll ingredients of pork, lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, and baguette

Lunch is served!

On our way out, we passed by the locals’ houses and saw children playing. The houses are built on stilts due to the annual floods. Therefore, the sleeping areas and kitchen areas are on the upper level. 

The second half of the hike didn’t require any hills so it was a flat path. The challenging parts were crossing the larger rivers that had faster currents. The trick was to link arms with another person or hold a hand of a Support team member. Some of the river crossings were deep and water went halfway up our thighs. 

Groups of 3 to 5 people link arms to cross a river during the Hang En cave trekking

Crossing the rivers are not easy!

Compared to the first half of the trek, the landscape changed. Plants and trees were more sparse along the river.

We finally made it to the cave entrance in the mid-afternoon! We placed a headlamp on the hard hat and started the hike through the dark cave. Gloves are required in this section as everyone scrambled down the sharp rocks to reach the lake area. Since the cave is HUGE, the tents and cooking area in the campground looks so tiny from afar. 

Jackie Szeto and Justin Huynh, Life Of Doing, wearing hard hats with a lake and Hang En campsite in the background

We made it inside the Hang En Cave!

It takes a minute to cross the river by the inflatable raft and then we reached our camping grounds. Hooray! 

We love how the tents were set up upon arrival. There were single and double occupancy tents, depending on what was requested at registration. Each tent had a thick sleeping pad, pillow, and two sleeping bags per person. The sleeping bags are made from thin polyester, so doubling the sleeping bags provided extra warmth. 

After collecting our items that the porters carried, the rest of the afternoon was at our leisure. Swimming in the cave’s lake or just hanging out drinking tea and coffee were the only agenda items. It was a relief to take off the soggy socks and shoes and wear flip flops.

The cave wasn’t too cold in the afternoon yet the temperature dropped in the evening. It’s recommended to wear a warm jacket and long pants. 

EVENING

Dinner was a HUGE feast. Vương, the tour guide, mentioned in the orientation that the food was delicious, and he was right. Each table fed 4-5 people and had plenty of food. The main dishes included chicken, BBQ pork, beef stew, tofu with tomatoes, green beans, bok choy, french fries, soup, and a mountain of rice. 

As the only vegetarian in the group, the chef and team made an additional 3 dishes. There was stir-fried eggplant with mushrooms, eggs, and squash soup. Loved the variety of vegetables! The dishes were so delicious, especially the eggplant and mushroom. 

Dinner spread of eggs, mushrooms and eggplant, vegetables, BBQ pork and chicken, french fries on the Hang En Cave tour

You’re fed very well during your tour!

After dinner, we said a thank you to the porters and Support team and cheered with “happy water” (rice wine with 45% alcohol). There were about 20 on the team. They deserve the thank you since they did so much work for us already! 

One of the memorable aspects of the trip was the evening photoshoot of the cave. (You may have seen the photos in the Oxalis’s marketing materials too!) Everyone turned on their headlamps to shine in their tents and one of the team members stood on a pier overlooking the lake with a giant spotlight. It was a cool experience to see and take photos. 

Shadow of a man standing on a pier in front of lit tents in Hang En Cave, Vietnam

This evening shot is one of the top highlights of the Hang En Cave.

Everyone went back to their tents after 8:00pm as the cave was pitch black. 

While the tent and floor mat were super comfortable, it was a bit hard to sleep due to the noise from bats chirping and the constant river flowing. This is where the earplugs would be helpful. Other hikers had difficulties sleeping. 


Hang En Experience – Day 2

MORNING

The wake-up call was around 6:30am for breakfast at 7:00am. The morning was a bit chilly yet breakfast was a hot bowl of instant ramen with egg and deep-fried French toast to warm us up. The french toast was a winner with the crunchy texture and honey.

A bowl of instant noodles with fried egg and plates of french toast and banana

Breakfast time

After breakfast, we packed up our personal belongings into the dry bag and then started the caving adventure. We put on our hard hats and gloves and scrambled our way up the top of the cave. 

We were lucky as the morning wasn’t foggy and had the sun shine into the cave. The sunbeam was unbelievably gorgeous. Vương mentioned that out of his five years of doing this tour, this was his fourth time seeing the sunbeam. As we stayed longer the sunbeam’s intensity grew. It was an epic way to end 2020 and to give hope and optimism for 2021. 

Jackie Szeto and Justin Huynh, Life Of Doing, is at the top of the cave with the Hang En sunbeam in the background

The Hang En sunbeam is such a magical experience.

A beam of light shines into the Hang En Cave in Phong Nha, Vietnam

We waited a little longer to see a stronger sunbeam in Hang En Cave. What a beauty!

While we could have stayed at that spot longer, we continued the trek into the pitch-black cave. Compared to Phong Nha Cave, there weren’t many stalactites and stalagmites in Hang En. Đức explained that since the cave floods every year, they get washed away every time. 

We made it to the back of the cave area that connected to a valley and took some photos. When standing outside of the cave, it’s incredible to see the height of the cave. Continuing just 1.2 kilometers through that valley would take you to Son Doong, the largest cave in the world. Hang En and Son Doong were actually connected in the past and the collapse of that connecting point led to the formation of the valley.

Justin Huynh and Jackie Szeto, Life Of Doing, pose inside the Hang En Cave which leads to a valley.

Here is the exit of the Hang En Cave, but we do not use this one to go back to Phong Nha.

Unfortunately, our caving exploration came to an end and we returned to camp. We had half an hour to rest and grab tea and coffee before another feast for lunch. 

Lunch was served promptly at 11:00am. We had deep-fried egg rolls, eggs, BBQ pork, stir-fried cabbage, soup, and rice. The extra vegetarian dishes were vegetarian egg rolls, broccoli with mushroom, and squash soup. It was a lot of food considering that we had a huge breakfast. The food was tasty once again, especially the vegetarian egg rolls!

Table of food - eggrolls, broccoli with mushroom, stir-fried cabbage, beef with onions, eggs, and soup

Here is another delicious lunch courtesy of the Oxalis cooks!

AFTERNOON 

After lunch, it was time to say good-bye to the cave and return to the trails. The route back was the reverse of the previous day’s path. The only difference was the weather on the second day was a lot warmer than the first so the muddy paths dried up. It felt refreshing to walk through the rivers to cool us off.

We went back to Doong Village for a break. The group met the leader of the village and there was a brief Q&A with the leader. With the help of Vương’s translation, we learned that he has managed the village for over 32 years. Currently, there are 11 houses and 45 people living in the village. One of the issues that keep him up at night is having enough food for villagers as farming is restricted in the National Park. So he works closely with the government to ensure that there isn’t a shortage. 

The last stretch of the trek was back up the hill in the forest area. It was a slow and steady pace up the muddy paths. We think that this is one of the harder parts of the trek so there are many breaks included in this section. 

SURPRISE!

We received a surprise which is not typical on a trek. Once we reached the top of the mountain, the Oxalis team cheered and congratulated us on finishing the Hang En trek. We felt like we just crossed the finish line of a marathon race as we received high-fives from the team. 

The celebratory drink was a bottle of cold Son Doong craft beer. This craft beer isn’t anywhere so it’s a unique drink to try.

After two people gave speeches on their experiences and thanking the crew, we received surprising news. Our trip was chosen to help celebrate Oxalis’s 10th anniversary. The only thing that we knew before the trek was that there was a videographer recording footage. (We have yet to see a video on Oxalis’s social media sites at the time of this blog release.) 

Yet, there was more! The Porters and Support Team who carried our stuff, cooked, and supported us through the journey are the current Oxalis upper management and leadership team, including the CEO, Chau A Nguyen – who, during our trip, worked as a porter, toilet cleaner, and did various other jobs. Đức, our Assistant Guide, is also normally the head of the tour operations and hasn’t been leading tours in years. They also had other staff such as the HR Leader and IT Manager participate.

How cool is that?! It’s like we were on an episode of the reality TV show, “Undercover Boss.” It’s a show where the CEO is in disguise and works in an entry-level role to discover opportunities for improvement in the company. 

To be honest, we would have never known if they didn’t share the news. Everyone was professional and supportive during the trekking and caving experience. We were told that it took the leadership team one month of preparation and training for this event. 

We continued the celebration by enjoying pork and vegetable skewers, meeting the Oxalis staff and our sales coordinator, Ty Na, and taking photos. 

A hand holding a bottle of Song Doong craft beer

Once you finish the trip, you’re rewarded with Son Doong craft beer.

EVENING

Once the celebration ended, we boarded the bus and headed back to the Oxalis Headquarters. We grabbed our luggage and passports, completed a feedback form, and returned the boots, water bottles, hard hat, and gloves. It felt great to wear our flip flops again! We didn’t receive any blisters, although some heat spots started to form on the pinkie toes. 

We said our goodbyes to the team and boarded the bus to head to our guesthouse, Funny Monkey Homestay. It was such a fun experience to trek and go caving through the third largest cave in the world! What a milestone!

FYI, Oxalis sells hiking gear such as technical shirts (in bright orange and yellow), windbreakers, and pants if you’re interested in buying one as a souvenir. All the funds support the Oxalis Foundation to support the community in the Quang Binh province.


Final Thoughts

Would we go on another cave tour? Absolutely! 

We would love to try other adventures with Oxalis such as Tu Lan Cave or Son Doong. They’re a professional company and provided a fantastic service. Everything was organized so we pretty much just needed to bring ourselves. Many thanks again to the Oxalis team for a fun adventure! 

If you plan to visit other areas of Phong Nha, check out our experience of visiting Bong Lai Valley.

If you’re interested in other places to hike in Vietnam, here are some recommendations:

Would you like to visit Hang En Cave? If you have questions about the tour, ask a question in the comment box below.

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A light beams into the Hang En Cave's camping grounds in Phong Nha, Vietnam

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2 comments

Kristina January 22, 2021 - 1:12 am

Oh my goodness, Jackie, this looks INCREDIBLE!!! What a great post with so many useful tips.

Reply
Jackie January 25, 2021 - 4:09 pm

Thank you Kristina! We had such an amazing time on our Hang En Cave tour. We want to return to Phong Nha in a few months to see more caves.

Reply

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