Phong Nha Farmstay is the child of Aussie Ben and Vietnamese Bich who have worked tirelessly to put Phong Nha on the tourist trail. As the national park has grown in popularity and the town has prospered, so too has their farmstay, the first foreign-run guesthouse in a region that was once off-the-radar.
Located eight kilometres from town, the farmstay (which is not actually a working farm but is surrounded by miles of paddies) has gone through various changes of style, finally settling on one that suits the flashpacker crowd and families – independent travellers willing to spend more for experiences, excellent service and private rooms. Gone are the days of dorm rooms here. Like most of the backpackers we spoke to, we felt it was a bit of a splurge, especially since a two-night consecutive stay is mandatory, but it was worth the leap in budget based on the reputation. We were not disappointed.
The service is stellar: prompt email replies, excellent English, confident staff who deliver personalised service — which can make up for the small, basic and frumpy rooms. Money has been put into key things such as piping hot water for both the sink and shower (lasting eight minutes – scrub fast!), comfortable mattresses, fluffy white towels, a hair dryer, fridge, WiFi and reverse cycle air-con – trust us, you’ll be forever grateful for that heat during Phong Nha’s chilly winter months of November to February.
But what kind of room you get is the luck of the draw as the rooms vary so much and the hotel is usually full. One room we stayed in was very small and narrow, barely fitting two twin beds and with no natural light, but it had a fantastic brightly lit modern bathroom. On our second visit, the room we stayed in was more spacious, had a desk but the bathroom was dark, had a makeshift roof and an indoor garden that was more a nuisance than an attractive feature as it had an odour and drew insects. You could also hear the neighbour’s loud water pump in the middle of the night. Also, all the different signs about various rules feel a little weird and overbearing.
What you are really paying for is the communal areas – hammocks on the porch with great views over some seriously spectacular rice fields, a swimming pool, the cosy fireplace, lively common space and the entertainment, from live music nights to outdoor movie theatre showing the classic films about Vietnam. Breakfast is included in the rate, and you’ll likely have more than a few meals from their kitchen as you are far from town. There are salads, sandwiches, pastas, Western comforts like bangers and mash and wood-fired pizza. You can also look forward to the daily specials. Food is okay, portions are hearty.
When you arrive or depart, someone always walks out to greet you or to see you off. It’s those little touches that you remember, and hopefully not the barking dogs waking you up at four in the morning or the dog “present” left on your front porch. This is very much a rural experience.
The staff are a minefield of information about the area, and they are happy to supply guests a free map with routes and information on the region’s highlights — some of which the owners have helped pioneer — along with free city or mountain bike hire. Phong Nha Farmstay is a well-oiled machine and a one-stop shop for transport and national park tours. Book well in advance as it’s popular.
By Cindy Fan
Last updated on 15th February, 2016.