Phong Nha ke Bang is hands down my favourite place in Vietnam so far. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013, the park is home to the oldest Karst mountains in Asia and is crawling with magnificent cave systems that stretch for miles. Most of the caves have only opened to the public within the last five to ten years, which means it’s still largely unexplored. A far cry from the hectic streets of Hanoi and a rare find in the well-trodden region of South East Asia. I suspect it’s unlikely to stay that way for long but they do seem to be at least trying to keep a lid on things.
We stayed at the Phong Nha Farmstay, the area’s first ‘international hotel’ and largely responsible for kicking off tourism in the area. We’d heard great things before we arrived but they didn’t even do it justice. This place is easily one of the best places I’ve ever stayed in.
As we made our way from Dong Hoi (book a taxi, the bus is impossible to track down), it was clear that the Farmstay isn’t exaggerating when it describes itself as ‘remote rural Vietnam’. Rice paddies stretch for miles around, buffalo are almost more common on the roads than cars or bicycles and I gave up counting chickens when it passed 50.
The Farmstay was full by the time we got around to booking (definitely book in advance, this place is extremely popular) so we were staying in the Farmstay Village Villas, a house just down the road which shares the Farmstay’s facilities. It was set up by Ben and his family as a way of getting the local people involved in running their own hospitality services.
As much as I loved Vietnam, it definitely feels like some areas are on the verge of being spoilt by tourism (Hoi An, Halong Bay and the Cu Chi Tunnels in particular).
The Farmstay has the balance spot on. You have access to all the facilities you need – excellent home cooked food, beautiful scenery, free bicycles, fantastic tours – but it still allows you to experience the ‘real’ Vietnam and it’s clear to see how much good the farmstay is doing in the local community.
The staff are all local and are so incredible attentive. They know every guest by name and make a real effort to help you make the most of your time in Phong Nha – we had excellent tips for our cycling adventure, motorbike trip round the park and trek of the Ho Chi Minh highway.
Just incredible and an absolute highlight of our travels so far.