Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is a slice of rural paradise. Heavily bombed during the American war it has suffered more than most as a region, with much of the arable land unusable for a long time due to the amount of still unexploded bombs. Phong Nha definitely wasn’t high on our ‘must do’ list before we arrived in Vietnam. We didn’t find an amazing amount of information and our ‘up to date’ guide wasn’t so up to date after all. However, after a couple of long bus rides it became an almost essential stop for us in central Vietnam on our way south.
We stayed for 4 nights in Phong Nha and for me it was probably my favourite stop. There are many caves you can visit, although out of our budget, and the authenticity of the place makes it a enjoyable place to stay. Still relatively untouched by developers there is plenty to do and see.
For us that meant exploring on bicycles, which we used at some stage almost every day we were there. The first time we were cycling together, we got caught in a massive downpour. A man saw us and waved us into his house, fetching two chairs so we could sit down. He didn’t speak any English, so communication was hard, but we sat with him until the rain passed. His wife gave us some fruit they had picked off a tree out the back (this is what we gathered from the hand gestures) and off we went.
This kindness and friendliness of this place is what really caught me, the reason we loved the cycling so much was the interaction we had with the locals and their kids. When we cycled past they would all excitedly run out yelling ‘Hellloooo’, holding their hands out for a high five.
Phong Nha Farm Stay quickly became our preferred hangout. About an hours cycle from the main town, they offer accommodation and a beautiful bar area that looks over the countryside to where the sun sets.
We watched the sunset here three out of our four nights. The atmosphere is so relaxing and peaceful and they have live music every other night. There are hammocks, lounge chairs and a pool table, with happy hour from 5.30pm – 6.30pm (2 for 1 beers or G&T’s). Honestly, if you are in Phong Nha – this is the place to watch a beautiful sunset and stare down some grumpy buffalo. We did cycle home on one evening but it was a true race against the light and I would recommend getting the shuttle bus back (if you are staying at Easy Tiger).
With the rural setting and time on our hands I had set my alarm every morning we were staying here, in the hope I could catch a good sunrise. I woke up to find far from perfect conditions all mornings but one, but I have to say it really was one of the best sunrises I’ve ever seen.
Golden light lit up the River Son as the fishermen went about their morning chores.
It was early and I was the only tourist around but the river and town were buzzing with locals. If you like to people watch get out early in Vietnam, the locals like to beat the heat.
Beautiful country roads, pubs with cold beer, friendly locals, excitable children and a whole heap of time to chill. Phong Nha is a beauty.
Sam’s weigh in
What he said (apart from the sunrise, cause lets be honest – I hardly ever make it up for one of those).