The easiest way to travel the 400km distance from Ninh Binh to Phong Nha is by bus. This direct bus journey takes at least 7 hours and costs $13. The other option is to go by train, which takes around 9 hours and costs $26.
We recommend taking the bus because this is the fastest way to get from Tam Coc or Ninh Binh to Phong Nha. Another advantage is that the bus drops you off right at the main street of Phong Nha. The bus leaves between 20:00 to 20:30 in the evening and arrives between 3:30 to 5:15 in the morning in Phong Nha.
When you travel by train, this will only bring you up to Dong Hoi. From Dong Hoi, you can take a public bus or taxi to Phong Nha. The journey by train takes about 2 hours more compared to taking the bus.
Most bus companies leaving from Hanoi make a short stop to pick up passengers in Ninh Binh or Tam Coc. You can easily book a ticket online or you can ask your accommodation or a local agency in Tam Coc or Ninh Binh to book you a ticket. Tickets cost at least 220,000 THB ($9.50) for a sleeper bus from Ninh Binh to Phong Nha.
There are four companies that operate on this route: Camel Travel, Hey Travel, Queen Cafe and Hung Thanh. None of them receive good reviews, but keep in mind that most people only leave a review with bad experiences.
Own experience: I traveled this route with Queen Bus and had a very comfortable ride. However, the two travellers who entered the bus as the last person had to sleep in the walkway, even though they booked their tickets from their accommodation. And as always, travelling by bus in Vietnam is not as safe as in Western countries. Traveling by train is safer, but comes with more hassle.
If you can choose, we recommend Hung Thanh (Long Travel) as they receive better reviews than the others.
The Hung Thanh bus leaves at 21:00 from Kinh Do Hotel in Ninh Binh. If you stay in Tam Coc, they pick you up at The Long Hotel. They also provide pick-up service for an extra 93,000 VND – 115,000 VND ($4-$5). The bus arrives around 4:00 (7 hrs) at the main street of Phong Nha.
Queen Cafe bus departs from Ninh Binh city or Duc Tuan restaurant in Tam Coc. Expect to pay 395,000 VND ($17).
Book online with BookAway
You can book with Camel Travel and Hey Travel online with BookAway.
Both bus companies depart from Ninh Binh city center. Camel Travel leaves Ninh Binh Central Hotel at 20:30 and arrives at Phong Nha Backpackers Hostel around 3:30. Hey Travel departs from Ninh Binh Train Station at 20:00 and arrives at Nam Anh Hotel in Phong Nha at 5:15.
If you want to save a few bucks and are flexible with your travel dates, you can also buy your ticket at a cheaper price in Ninh Binh or Tam Coc. Ticket prices will vary from 220,000 VND ($9.50) to 350,000 VND ($15.50).
Hung Thanh and Queen Cafe are currently not available for booking online, but you can still try booking them through your hotel or local agencies.
Tip: Let your accommodation know when you expect to arrive and which bus company you booked with. When the luck is on your side, you can check in early and enjoy your room straight away!
Ninh Binh to Phong Nha by Train + Taxi/Bus
Duration: 9 hours Cost: 470,000 VND ($20)
Want to travel by train to Phong Nha? Book a ticket to Dong Hoi station and continue from there by bus or taxi to Phong Nha. Make sure you book your train ticket to Dong Hoi station and not Dong Ha!
Dong Hoi railway station is 40km south of Phong Nha and it takes about 1.5 hours by bus or taxi to Phong Nha.
Step 1: Ninh Binh to Dong Hoi by Train
Duration: 8 hours Cost: 410,000 VND ($17.50)
Since the train journey takes roughly 8 hours, it is better to travel by night so you don’t waste a day travelling. This leaves you with one of the two options below. Just click on your preferred train to book.
We recommend booking a sleeper berth in the SE19. Expect to arrive past 6:00 in the morning in Dong Hoi. When you take an earlier train, you will still have to wait for the same bus from Dong Hoi to Phong Nha, which leaves at 07:10.
Tickets for a 6-person sleeper berth start at 410,000 VND ($17.50) with the SE19 and from 420,000 VND ($18) for a 4-berth sleeper with the SE3. Choosing a seat doesn’t make much sense and in that case, you will be better off taking a bus.
PRO-TIP: Use the free N26 debit card to avoid the extra fees charged by your bank. This N26 debit card is becoming very popular among travellers, because they don't charge any fees on payments in foreign currencies (most banks charge 3%-5%). New members can order one for free on the N26 website
Step 2: Dong Hoi to Phong Nha by Taxi/Bus
Duration: 1-1.5 hours Cost: 60,000 VND ($2.60)
The earliest bus from Dong Hoi to Phong Nha leaves at 7:10 from the bus station, which is a 15min walk from Dong Hoi railway station.
Another option is to take a taxi from the railway station to Phong Nha.
Thanks to the great hospitality of the family, this homestay will feel like your home. After a day of trekking you can take a dive in the pool or sit back and relax with a Netflix movie. The homestay is located right in front of the bus stop in the center of Phong Nha. Rooms with mountain views already start from $21,- including an outstanding breakfast!
Bonus: Free cancellation policy till the last day!
Want a more unique experience? The interior of Phong Nha Rustic Home creates a real rustic feel which makes you feel one with nature. It's located outside the city center, but you can use their free-bicycle rental to explore the National Parks or get to the center. Rooms start from $24.