Aug 12 2011
I first met Ben, one of the owners of Phong Nha Farmstay, in Le Pub last December, just after it opened. Hearing about its location among paddy fields and stunning scenery, the swimming pool and the well-stocked bar put it firmly on my must-visit list, and I finally made it last weekend.
Phong Nha Farmstay is located inland in Quang Binh province, around 480km south of Hanoi and 180km north of Hue. It’s easily accessible by motorbike, while those on public transport will need to arrange a transfer from Dong Hoi train station or airport. Its location might put off those on a tight budget or schedule, but if you want to get off the coastal tourist track and see more of rural Vietnam, it’s worth the diversion.
The building itself is a French colonial-style structure with private en suite rooms on the lower and upper floors at $25 to $35 and dorm beds available in an adjacent building at $8 per night. Our room, on the upper floor, was simply decorated but characterful and comfortable, with high ceilings, a mosquito net, good bedding and towels and a view across the fields to the mountains beyond.
The retreat has a vibe somewhere between an oasis of calm and a traveller hangout. Swing in a hammock and savour the scenery or read a book, oblivious to those around you, or mix with other guests in the large restaurant/bar/TV area, where a full-sized pool table awaits competitive sorts and a 42-inch TV is available for sports or movies. I hardly saw the TV on, testament to the lure of the other activities — or non-active activities – on offer.
This vibe is in part due to the management and staff. On arrival expect to be warmly greeted by Ben or Bich, while the other staff are amiable and really make a stay here.
Food is good, with a decent range of Vietnamese and Western dishes and a few Thai favourites thrown in as well. Given there’s not much else around it’s just as well. Chilled Huda beer is the drink of choice — it’s cheap after all — but wine, spirits and soft drinks are also available.
While the farmstay holds many attractions, the real lure is the surrounding area. There are plenty of options if you want to get out and about: motorbikes and bicycles can be hired for trips to Phong Nha Cave, to visit the local villages or just to cruise around. You can also join a day trip out to the national park (more to come on that) or have a go at kayaking along the Son Chay river. Tours can be booked through the farmstay.
We went out to Phong Nha Cave by bicycle on the first day. We were joined by another three guests who, as well as reducing the cost of the boat to the caves, also provided pleasant company. On our second day we went on the national park tour and Sunday really was a day of rest — unfortunately it rained too much to lounge by the pool but we amused ourselves with card games, books and by chatting to the other guests.
So in summary: a highly recommended, off-the-beaten-track escape, providing a real opportunity to see the other side of Vietnam. Don’t just take my word for it: it’s well rated on other travel websites and referred to as ‘the best place in Vietnam’ by a Travelfish.org member’s here.
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