Phong Nha, a region located in north-central Vietnam, beckoned us with promises of scenic rural landscapes and spectacular caves waiting to be explored. This region has recently seen a surge in tourism and been catapulted into the itineraries of intrepid travellers and keen locals alike due to the ongoing discovery of caves in the Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site, including the unearthing of the biggest cave in the world: Sơn Đoòng Cave.
Checking in to the Phong Nha Farmstay
For our base for the three nights spent exploring this region, we chose the Phong Nha Farmstay, a quaint double-storey home that stands innocuously on a quiet dirt path in the village of Cu Nam and located 8 kilometres away from the town of Phong Nha. The building is faded yellow with a welcoming verandah offering a picturesque view of the rice fields. In the early morning and late evening, the seats on the verandah are taken up by guests sipping Vietnamese coffees and watching the locals work in the rice paddies with the hazy mountains looming in the far distance. Occasionally, scooters and cars rumble past, but for the most part, serenity and peacefulness abounds.
The Phong Nha Farmstay has been operating for nearly 8 years and initially started as a way to hold all of the travellers that Ben, the Australian owner of the farmstay, invited to stay in his wife’s parents’ house down the road. It started off as a hostel with dorms for backpackers, but the backpacker arm has since been moved into the main town—renamed Easy Tiger—and the facilities of the Phong Nha Farmstay have been upgraded. Phong Nha Farmstay’s clientele is now a mix of couples, families, flashpackers and smaller groups of friends, rather than groups of backpackers.
Rooms and amenities
Double, twin and family rooms are available on the ground floor, poolside and on the second floor of the homestead. We wanted a room on the second floor to have a view of the rice paddies and mountains, but no second floor rooms were available when we booked, so we stayed in a double room poolside. We had read some online reviews of guests commenting that these rooms were quite noisy as it was right next to the pool, but we didn’t encounter any issues during our stay. The swimming pool is quite small but perfect for cooling down in on a hot and humid day.
The rooms are basic with minimal furnishings but they have everything you need. The beds have mosquito nets, which is useful when you’re prone to mozzie bites like myself. There is no shampoo or other amenities, but there is a small hairdryer. There are more than enough powerpoints to charge all of your electronics: handy for charging multiple phones, cameras, GoPros, laptops, iPads, Kobos, etc.
Laundry services are also offered and charged at 30,000 Vietnamese Dong (approx. AU$1.75) a kilo.
One of the main reasons why we chose to stay at the Phong Nha Farmstay was because of their tours, which includes both day and overnight tours. You don’t need to be a guest at the Phong Nha Farmstay to book a tour. As soon as we arrived at the farmstay, Guillaume, the Client Relations Manager, helped us organise our tours for the duration of our stay.
We wanted to do a customised tour in the Russian Ural motorbike (with sidecar) and Guillaume designed an itinerary which involved heading to Phong Nha Cave, Dark Cave, 8 Ladies Cave and the Botanical Gardens, as well as riding around the countryside and through the town. Guillaume suggested that we do the bike tour on the next day as bad weather was forecasted for the following day.
The Ural tour started at 8 am and Huong, our guide, drove us around for the whole day, explaining the history of the region and providing his own personal perspective on the town’s recent growth in tourism. We were given cans of cold beer throughout the day which were kept in an old-school esky strapped to the back of the motorbike, and we enjoyed a bountiful and delicious lunch before zip-lining into Dark Cave for our mud bath (so much fun; also, don’t wear anything white if you want it to remain white). There is only one Ural car at the farmstay, so you need to book it in advance to secure it for the day.
The following day, we did the Paradise Cave tour which departs at 8 am daily and allows you to go beyond the public boardwalk to do a 7-km trek through the cave. There were parts of the trek that involved wading through water and a small stretch where swimming was required (or if you’re like me and can’t swim, being dragged across the water by the hubby with a life vest on). Spots are limited to 20 people per day, although the day that we went there were only 9 people, and I can’t work out why it wasn’t fully booked as trekking into this impressive cave was a spectacular experience. If you happen to score Dong as your tour guide/comic relief, then you will also be guaranteed a day’s worth of laughter.
Both of the tours that we did were excellent and I highly recommend them if you only have a couple of full days in Phong Nha, as they were a good way to see the main sights within a short amount of time without sacrificing on quality. Although the tours are very expensive by Vietnam standards, they do feel personalised and the guides were fantastic and made the experiences even more memorable.
Entertainment and activities
Evenings at the Phong Nha Farmstay are relaxed and during the time we were there, there were a couple of cinema nights organised with popular Vietnam films being shown on a projector. There was also a night of live music in the dining area performed by a talented acoustic Filipino group.
Guests can also borrow bikes from the ‘toy shed’ out the back. The bikes are quite rickety and heavy and they only have one gear; however, they do the job. Make sure to fill your basket with water if you’re riding on a warm day. We rode to the aptly named ‘The Pub with Cold Beer’, and it started off easily enough as we rode through the local villages on flat roads; however, it quickly became challenging as the recent rain had made some of the roads quite bumpy. We also stopped at East Hill, an upstairs bar/cafe located behind a local’s house, which was a little bit like stepping into hipster rural Vietnam (and, in my opinion, preferable to the Pub with Cold Beer).
Locals in the village are very friendly and wave as you ride past. They seem even more welcoming than people in other parts of Vietnam, and I do wonder if it is because it is only the start of the tourism boom here. Perhaps this will change in a few years time?
There is an outdoor area across the road from the Phong Nha Farmstay, where you can relax and have a drink or a bite to eat. If you can make it back in time to the farmstay for the sunset over the rice paddies, it will be one to remember. Get your time-lapse mode ready to capture the glowing orb in the sky setting behind the hazy mountains.
Food and drink
As the Phong Nha Farmstay is located in the rural village of Cu Nam, it is most likely that you’ll stay at the farmstay to eat and drink, particularly when returning after a full day’s activities. However, you will be well catered for as the menu is extensive with a varied selection of Vietnamese and Western style foods including pho, stirfries, fried rice, burgers and home-cooked pizzas. There are also dinner specials every night, and breakfast is included in the price of the stay.
There is a happy hour every evening between 5.30 and 6.30 pm which offers 2 for 1 gin and tonics and Tiger beers.
If you’re looking for a 3 am pub crawl, the Phong Nha Farmstay may not be right for you. Looking to unwind and relax after a day exploring the surrounding national park? Look no further.
The farmstay was a great base for doing day tours, and the staff were super helpful in helping us plan our itinerary and making sure that we were able to see the sights of the region within the timeframe that we had. From the first point of contact until the moment we arrived, we felt welcomed and taken care of, and after only a few nights, the farmstay really did begin to feel like home. I left wishing that we had a few more days there.
Want to stay at the Phong Nha Farmstay? Make an enquiry or booking via the Phong Nha Farmstay website.
Disclosure: Curated by Cammi received a discount for staying at the Phong Nha Farmstay; however, all opinions and photos are my own. Thank you to Guillaume and the Phong Nha Farmstay team for a truly wonderful stay!