Rolling through the countryside
Published/Last edited or updated: 15th February, 2016
The Phong Nha region’s quaint and pretty pastoral scenery is fantastic for exploring on two wheels, be it by motorbike or sturdy mountain bike. The vast, unwaveringly flat rice fields are sharply contrasted with rolling hills and towering karst. A great ride for fresh air and countryside is through the Bong Lai Valley, which has several charming, rustic watering holes along the way. Credit goes to Phong Nha Farmstay for putting this valley on the map and for encouraging tourists to come here.
The road to Bong Lai Valley runs south off Ho Chi Minh Highway East. The turnoff is six kilometres east of town – if you’ve come to a petrol station and the road for Pepper House Homestay, you’ve gone too far.
The dirt road flirts with the edges of a river and offers lovely views of farmland, the river valley and rolling hills.
After two kilometres on your left is the utterly charming Duck Stop, belonging to the family of Mr Quynh (pronounced “Queen”), an entrepreneurial 16-year-old. Though his English is limited, he’s very proud of his farm and wants travellers to come sample what’s in season. If he’s home from school, he’ll happily show you the pepper plants that the region is famous for or explain how rice is grown. He has high hopes for creating a place travellers can enjoy, so stop in, help him practise English, buy some local fruit, a drink or a packet of good black pepper.
Continuing on another kilometre is Pub with Cold Beer – you can’t miss it, as signs herald its eminent arrival the whole way. Once upon a time, Ben of Phong Nha Farmstay rode through the Bong Lai Valley and stopped at a hut with a pool table. He jokingly asked for a cold beer (a cold drink was unheard of in the province back then), and to his surprise Mrs Nhat actually served him a chilled beer. From then on it was christened “Pub with Cold Beer.” After some serious scientific research, we can confirm that they do indeed serve cold beer.
Perched on a rise in the land and with a picturesque vista of the river valley, the pub is a great hangout spot. Pass the hours in a hammock or swimming in the river (they rent inner tubes) while waiting for your lunch — a delicious whole chicken. Fresh chicken is killed to order and should you wish, you can do the entire process yourself: killing, plucking and eviscerating — there’s no other daintier way of describing it. If you’ve never seen a chicken slaughtered, it’s a real opportunity to learn what it takes for wholesome food to reach your plate. Whether you choose to try your hand at it or want to leave it up to the professionals, keep in mind the whole process takes 1.5 hours, so don’t arrive starving.
Finally, continue down along into the valley for Wild Boar Eco Farm, another rustic river spot serving freshly cooked pork and cold drinks. When we visited Bong Lai, rain in the night meant the road was a slick muddy mess and it was too treacherous to get there. We’re told in dry season the water is a gorgeous blue-green ideal for swimming and there are plenty of hammocks to laze in at the river’s edge.
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you’ll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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