Hang Pygmy: The 2-Day Vietnam Cave Trek You Should Not Miss
Hang Pygmy was a hike that was not even on my list until I had to move on to Central Vietnam.
In Vietnam’s breathtaking Phong Nha region, the Hang Pygmy takes you through deep jungles, river crossings, and caves. This comprehensive guide will be your trusted companion, equipping you with all the information you need to see if this is the trek for you.
Throughout this trek, you’ll have the chance to explore Hang Over and Pygmy Cave—two caves intricately connected to Hang Son Doong, one of the world’s largest caves. Additionally, you’ll be surprised by how massive Hang Pygmy is. It is ranked as the fourth largest cave in the world, and it has a thriving tropical jungle concealed within its depths.
IMO – a cave trek is one thing that any person should put on their list when visiting Vietnam, and Hang Pygmy is one I would highly recommended.
Let’s get started!
Why visit Hang Pygmy?
Hang Pygmy, a part of the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, is a unique and relatively unexplored cave system. This trek offers a chance to witness the beauty of a rarely explored subterranean cave and rich biodiversity.
This hike will take you through underground rivers, stalactites, and stalagmites, making it a perfect adventure for those looking to disconnect from the outside world.
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Is Hang Pygmy worth it?
Without a doubt, Hang Pygmy is worth the visit. It’s a challenging but rewarding trip that allows you to explore one of the most untouched and extraordinary places on Earth.
It’s not everyday that you can spend a couple of days literally inside the earth. There’s a sense of awe from experiencing something new, and the Hang Pygmy trek made think of how much more there is to experience.
How difficult is Hang Pygmy?
The Hang Pygmy trek is physically demanding and requires a good level of fitness. The journey includes steep ascents, river crossings, and uneven terrain, making it unsuitable for those with mobility issues. However, if you’re reasonably fit and up for an adventure, the challenging aspects of the hike is more of a bonus than a deterrent.
Hang Pygmy Experience
The Hang Pygmy trek is a two day, one night trek.
It kicked off with excitement as we were picked up from our spot in Phong Nha at around 8:00 AM. After a meet-up with fellow hikers at the Jungle Boss headquarters, we received a briefing on the hike and got equipped with the necessary gear. There was a convenient option to leave our belongings at their headquarters.
Following an hour of instructions, we set out through Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park’s trailhead to commence the hike. First impressions? The humidity was off the charts. Even in February, it was a sweaty affair as we trekked through streams and muddy paths.
Our expert guide enlightened us about the local plant life. He also provided insights into the Ruc Ca Roong, the local people who call the jungle home.
Around noon, we reached Wind Peak, where we enjoyed a Banh Mi lunch amid the fresh air and stunning views. It was amusing to find cheese in our spread, even though Banh Mi is traditionally cheese-free. Apparently, tourists often request cheese, so they added it as a special treat. Oreo cookies were a sweet dessert surprise.
After our meal, we descended to Eel Fish Slope, which proved to be steep and slippery, adding an extra layer of excitement to our adventure. Along the path, we spotted an old rifle from the Vietnam War era, rusting away.
We took a break at 2:00 PM before heading to Hang Over Cave. Standing at the entrance, you couldn’t help but feel small in the grand scheme of things. This cave wasn’t even the largest (that title goes to Hang Son Doong).
At 2:30 PM, we ventured into Hang Over Cave, exploring its narrow passages filled with remarkable cave formations. The Massive Attack grotto, adorned with impressive stalagmites and stalactites, caught our attention. Our guide emphasized the importance of not touching the stalagmites, and it was here that we learned the difference between stalagmites (those that grow upward from the cave floor) and stalactites (those that hang from the cave ceiling). We were advised not to touch the stalagmites because they form slowly over thousands to millions of years as minerals from water dripping from the cave ceiling accumulate. Touching them with natural oils and dirt from our skin can disrupt this delicate process and potentially halt or slow their growth. Damaged formations might take a very long time, if ever, to recover. So that’s one new thing I learned that day.
From there, we enjoyed our lunch. Our journey resumed at 4:00 PM, leading us into the doline, a unique cavity formed when the cave ceiling collapsed, effectively separating Hang Over from Hang Pygmy. It was a fascinating, almost surreal part of our trek.
At around 5:00 PM, we arrived at the vast chamber of Hang Pygmy. Inside, the view resembled washed-out tree trunks turning to pulp, and darkness set in quickly. As we proceeded along the path, water dripped from above.
After everyone safely reached the cavern floor, we walked a bit more and arrived at the enormous entrance of Hang Pygmy. At this point, it would have been pitch dark if not for our headlights. We were given a quick lesson on abseiling. We were tied to our harnesses as we started the path down towards the deeper parts of the cave.
At the end of it, we had the option to swim which we all did. We changed into our swimsuits (swimming inside a cave is now off my bucket list) and took a dip in the cold cave water. In the absence of any light, it was complete darkness. There was also an option to swim in the cave pool. The water was chilly, and the buoyancy wasn’t as good as in saltwater, so I opted for a life vest. The tour guide mentioned that they have many vests because Vietnamese people rarely swim.
After our swim, we made our way to the campsite. The porters efficiently set up our tents, and we gathered around a fire to warm up and have tea as they prepared supper. From where we sat, it seemed like the forest overflowed into the cave’s interior. There was a clear demarcation where it suddenly stopped, and the terrain became barren.
Above us, we spotted ladder strings that crawled from the ground to the cave’s high ceiling. Locals used these ropes to climb up and harvest bird nests, a prized delicacy in Southeast Asia. The climb was no easy feat, considering the height and the difficulty of ascending rope ladders, making it quite dangerous. You could also see white streaks, which were the nests that may have spilled as they were harvested.
By 6:00 PM, our campsite at the entrance of Pygmy Cave was fully set up. As the sun dipped below the horizon, casting a veil of darkness, the cave came to life with an eerie, haunting beauty. It was a place where you could sit in silence, soaking in the sounds of the cave and the fluttering of bats above.
When supper was ready, we were called in. We had a delicious Vietnamese meal of rice, vegetables, soup, and meat. We also tried Vietnamese rice wine, which was quite strong, so I opted out. We shared stories and laughter as the darkness started to set in.
The cave’s cold interior prompted me to join the porters by the fire, where I had the chance to pick up a few Vietnamese phrases. They found my attempts at pronunciation quite amusing, and it highlighted the challenges of mastering this complex language. Ultimately, it became clear that trying to speak it, while well-intentioned, could sometimes create more confusion than assistance.
We didn’t need to put the lights out, it was very dim and the only light then was the moonlight. I felt grateful for the day’s adventures. It was a day full of firsts, from swimming and abseiling inside a cave to observing delicate cave formations up close. As I drifted off to sleep, the squeaking and fluttering of bats became a comforting background noise.
The second day was easier. Before leaving, we explored the Hang Pygmy cave, climbed its hills, and had fun with the water dripping from the ceiling. Then, we started on our trek back, encountering terrain similar to the previous day with a muddy path throughout. Leeches were everywhere, so I’d advise against going off the trail if you need a bathroom break in the bushes. Doing so led to me catching at least five leeches at once.
In the hike back, we were given an option to do an extension where we hiked up to a dried up waterfall and crossed some streams. There wasn’t really much of a path but our guide knows it like the back of his hand.
By midday, we made it back to the van, successfully and happily completing the Hang Pygmy trek. We were greeted with cold drinks, which of course, we all gladly took in.
Can you DIY Hang Pygmy?
While it’s possible to do Hang Pygmy independently, it’s strongly recommended to join a guided tour for safety and convenience. Local tour companies are familiar with the terrain, provide necessary equipment, and ensure your safety throughout the trek. They also arrange transportation to and from the starting point.
How far in advance should I book?
Book your Hang Pygmy tour well in advance, especially during the high season (from December to August). Popular tour companies tend to fill up quickly, so securing your spot at least a few weeks prior is advisable. I booked mine a week before the tour when I visited in February.
How do we get water?
You’ll need to at least bring a water container. I would recommend a hydration bladder here just so it’s easy to drink while hiking. Before the tour, you’ll have the option to fill your water container. If you run out midway through the hike, the tour company will provide.
How were the equipment and campsite?
The tour companies typically provide all the necessary equipment, including camping gear, helmets, headlamps, and life jackets. Campsites are basic but functional, allowing you to rest comfortably before exploring the cave. The equipment provided is of good quality and well-maintained.
How were the restrooms?
The restrooms they’ve set up near the camp were very clean, and nicely set up. there’s a pop-up tent where a bucket with a seat was set up. the bucket was filled with litter material, which seemingly looked like dried seeds and straw. and you can cover up your “load” because they provided a second bucket with the litter material and a scoop.
I would still recommend bringing essential hygiene items like toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
When to do the Hang Pygmy trek?
The best time to do on the Hang Pygmy trek is during the dry season, from December to August. The caves are more accessible, and the weather is generally favorable, with warm temperatures and minimal rainfall. Avoid the wet season (September to November) as heavy rains can create hazardous conditions, including rising water levels in the cave.
I did the trek in February and the trail was still fairly muddy despite it being the dry season, so you can just imagine how high water can get during the rainy season
How to prepare
The Hang Pygmy trek was moderately difficult. I consider myself to be fairly fit so there was no special preparation was done, but it is recommend to engage in regular physical exercise, swimming, and hiking will help you build the necessary stamina.
Additionally, mental readiness and a willingness to be in a tropical jungle would be useful. There will be leeches on the trail so going out of your comfort zone may be needed
The pre-trek orientation and safety briefings from your tour company will also help you prepare adequately.
Must-Have Packing List for Hang Pygmy Trek
- Sturdy hiking boots with good grip
- Comfortable and moisture-wicking clothing, preferrably long sleeved shirt and trousers to avoid poison ivies, leeches, and mosquitoes
- Rain jacket and extra clothes
- long socks
- dry bag (optional)
- Swim wear (optional)
- Backpack with rain cover
- Water purification tablets or filter
- First aid kit
- Insect repellent
- Snacks and energy food
- Camera for capturing the breathtaking scenery
- Personal items like a small towel, toiletries, and swimwear
How much does it cost?
The cost of the Hang Pygmy trek varies depending on the tour company and the inclusions. On average, you can expect to pay between $300 to $500 for a two-day trek, which typically covers transportation, meals, equipment, and guides. .
What to Consider When Choosing a Tour Company
When selecting a tour company, consider factors like reputation, safety record, and the experience of guides. Reading reviews and seeking recommendations from fellow travelers can help you make an informed choice. A reputable company will have well-trained guides, a good safety record, and reliable equipment.
How to get to Phong Nha
Phong Nha is accessible by bus or train from major cities in Vietnam like Hanoi and Hue.
I traveled from South to North, and to get to Phong Nha, I booked a bus that dropped me off right at the town.
Most tour companies offer pick-up services from the Phong Nha town center, making it easy for those interested. It’s advisable to coordinate transportation with your chosen tour company, as they often provide transfers to and from the starting point of the trek.
The Hang Pygmy trek in Phong Nha is an amazing chance to dive deep into the heart of nature in one of the most extraordinary places on Earth. If you’re in the mood for an adventure that pushes your boundaries and leads you to a destination unlike any other, this trek is an absolute must-try.
It’s not an everyday thing to find yourself staying in one of the world’s largest caves, gazing at rock formations that have been standing for thousands of years, and even taking a swim in a cave pool. It’s one of those treks that makes you forget how annoying humidity can be or how long the hike has been because there’s just so many things to see and admire.