Just outside of the sleepy — but waking up — town referred to as Phong Nha is one of our favorite places in Vietnam: Phong Nha Farmstay. It’s one of the old guard establishments in Phong Nha. And, has long made a name for itself as one of the premier places to stay in the region.
As the name implies, rather than a homestay, hotel, or hostel, Phong Nha Farmstay is, well, on a farm. And not just a for-show farm but a real, working farm. It’s one of the best ways to get immersed in the ‘real’ Vietnam and see what traditional life was like for many around the country not too long ago. And many still live this more bucolic, traditional lifestyle currently.
Phong Nha Farmstay is a perfect jumping-off point to explore the spectacular scenery and outdoor activities the region has. Vietnam motorcycle tours often rely on this spot to be a consistent highlight of any journey through the region. In addition, the farm itself offers a great deal of fun stuff to do on-site that will make sure visitors aren’t bored.
We had a chance to speak with Ben, the founder and owner of Phong Nha Farmstay, to get his take on how things got started — and much more.
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Phong Nha Farmstay had a rather simple beginning, on the surface at least. The man in this story is named Ben Mitchell. Man meets woman, man falls in love with woman, man moves to woman’s hometown. The end, right?
Except the move to this hometown was in 2006 in rural Vietnam. The 13 years between 2006 and 2019 have seen wild changes in Vietnam’s development — a westerner moving to the countryside was a truly adventurous move back then. It’s hard to overstate how much things have changed recently. Back then, finding another foreigner in Quang Binh province was rare indeed — in Ben’s own words, it was a bit lonely at times.
But Ben saw the potential of Phong Nha: “I had a feeling of discovery,” he says, “A feeling that this was a place one could have an interesting life.”
And to call Phong Nha interesting we find entirely correct. The park has a landscape straight out of Jurassic Park, the world’s largest caves, wild jungles, historical sites like the Ho Chi Minh Road, and — our favorite — some of the best roads in the country.
When Ben got there, little of the park had been explored or developed. But he reached into his past and pulled out an idea of his father’s: creating a Farmstay. Ben’s father, it turned out, had owned a farmstay in New South Wales, Australia, to supplement the family income. Thus, the idea wasn’t born so much as it was passed down from one generation to another.
As you might guess, one of the main amenities of the Farmstay is being on the farm. Peaceful rural Vietnam is right outside: rice fields, water buffaloes, conical hats — the works. You’re out of any variety of hustle and bustle and can spend the entire day relaxing in a hammock if you feel like it.
Of course, coming to Phong Nha to just veg out would be a bit of a waste considering there are so much history and so many things to do in the area.
Free Activities and Amenities at Phong Nha Farmstay
Consequently, Phong Nha Farmstay has arranged a variety of free activities and amenities — yes, that’s right, free. For example:
- A history lesson about Phong Nha, the cave, and the local scene (9 AM)
- A morning walk around the village, including information on culture, history, architecture, farming techniques, and rapid development (7 AM)
- Russian sidecar tours or American Jeep tours around the valley surrounding the farmstay
- Three (3) swimming pools
- Nightly entertainment, including live music three nights a week and movie night four nights a week
- Giant chess
- A children’s playroom
- A gym
- Bicycles you can borrow
- Super-fast wifi
- Free water refills
- Periodic daily transfers between the Farmstay and the town
- Free canoe and kayak rentals at Victory Road Villas for paddling in the river
We know that sounds like an exhaustive list, but that’s not even the end. Something that makes the Farmstay stand out is its staff. Always friendly and helpful, the staff are knowledgeable about the surrounding area and confident to share — and they’re pretty good at English, to boot.
Of course, most of the staff come from the local community. One of the Farmstay’s biggest focuses is on the local environment and the community — and what they can do to help improve things all around.
Community and Environmental Support
You may have noticed in the list of free amenities above the free water refills that the Farmstay offers. This is a small but significant example of their efforts to reduce their environmental impact and improve the quality of life in the area. Single-use plastics are a major problem in Vietnam as well as in many parts of Southeast Asia, after all. Providing free water refills through their filtration system as well as reusable glass bottles is both symbolic and practical: it’s one small step in a much larger direction.
Of course, their efforts don’t end with water. They’ve led the charge in the region in improving environmental standards and reducing their impact. Essentially, most businesses in the region have copied the Farmstay’s approach to environmental concerns — which is a good thing.
Continuous Development and Protection
One major net positive of the push for sustainable development in Phong Nha has been the reduction in illegal logging. The jungle in and around the Park is lush and immense but was subject to logging when there weren’t so many eyes on the place. Now that there are more watchdogs in the area, the forest is far more protected.
In addition to minimizing environmental impact, as mentioned, most of their staff are local hires: in addition to providing employment, it also raises the level of English proficiency in the region. English-language proficiency is one of the best ways for locals to improve their job prospects — especially in an area that’s beginning to boom with tourism like Phong Nha.
The Farmstay has been part and parcel of a region-wide initiative known as Community-Based Tourism (CBT). In fact, the Farmstay was the founding member of Phong Nha CBT, which now boasts 72 member businesses. CBT gives travelers the true immersive experience of staying in a homestay or Farmstay while providing high-quality amenities and accommodations. It’s the best of both worlds: you get to experience the real feel of the place while remaining comfortable.
Activities in and around Phong Nha
People don’t just come to Phong Nha to be comfortable: there are far too many exciting things to do than just rest on one’s laurels.
Of course, we at Onyabike Adventures look first to the roads for our kicks. And Phong Nha sure has them: winding, twisting roads through jungle and mountain that guarantee a good time. Ben feels the same: ask him about his secret loop north and he may give you some pointers.
A trip to Phong Nha and the surrounding region would be one of the crown jewels of a central Vietnam motorbike tour. Tours can take you in and out of the park, even if you’re an inexperienced rider and wish to ride pillion.
We’ve covered both roads and activities in another of our articles: check it out if you want more in-depth knowledge.
Food and Drink
One thing we did not cover in our previous article is places to eat and drink — which Ben has graciously provided some suggestions for.
First, we should mention that the Farmstay boasts one of the best-stocked bars in the region.
Onyabike Adventures Tip: Ben himself claims that it’s the best-stocked bar between Da Nang and Hanoi, and we fully believe him. So, if you’re looking to wet your whistle with something special, it’s a good place to do it.
A Stay at Moi Moi
A restaurant that Ben consistently suggests is Moi Moi — a true farm-to-table experience. Here’s Ben’s description of Moi Moi:
A typical Lunch Spread when we go here consists of
- Woodfire flame-roasted whole chicken, caught, killed and prepared at the time of ordering,
- Bamboo pork, in which the family who owns the place stuff marinated pork, mushrooms, and seasonally available vegetables into a length of Bamboo. Then literally put the Bamboo in a hot fire to cook. To serve it they split the bamboo cooking vessel and expose a succulent meal.
- Accompanying these treats is Rau Xao voi Toi (The leaves of Sweet Potato Plant, Morning Glory and the humble pumpkin plant stir-fried with fresh chili and garlic).
- Cheo — Unique to Phong Nha valley area is a dipping sauce for BBQ meat. Especially the free-range local chicken or wild boar produced and cooked at the restaurants of the Bong Lai Valley. It is made by crushing green chili, fresh green peppercorns, lime leaves, coriander, sea salt, lime juice, and other secret herbs fresh from the garden that may vary seasonally available and dependent on any families particular taste.
- The Bong Lai Satay Sauce, 1st made famous by the family that owns the “Pub with Cold Beer” — yes a real place — this is a must for both people who appreciate meat and those that are vegetarian. Made with peanuts grown at the restaurant.
- Ban Loc – Dumplings. 2 types, vegetarian or pork, cooked 2 ways, steamed or fried.
That certainly gets us salivating, and potentially thirsty as well. While local rice wine may be the go-to for overnight treks, it’s strong stuff and occasionally a bit rough. Optimists would say it’ll put hair on your chest.
Ben’s Go-To Place: Momma D’s
In town, however, Ben’s go-to place is Momma D’s. In addition to a wide selection of local craft beer and cider, it boasts one of the best sunset-viewing locations in the region. It’s a fantastic place to unwind after a long day of riding, trekking, or caving.
Onyabike Adventures Answers “What Does the Future Hold for Phong Nha?”
Phong Nha is rapidly expanding: its entrance onto the world stage with its UNESCO World Heritage Site merit badge means it’s now one of the go-to destinations in Vietnam. Development everywhere is a double-edged sword: for every person enjoying the newly-built amenities and infrastructure, there are others who decry the ‘ruining’ of a place.
Phong Nha, however, is a place that needed discovery. The development of the place has been a boon to the local community: until recently, many locals were impoverished. The development has brought huge economic benefits to the region and will continue to do so.
And it’s far from overdeveloped — most of the area is still either wild or farmland. But many locals are now choosing to stay rather than head to the bigger cities since there are more opportunities closer to home.
Whatever the case, Phong Nha will continue to draw tourists both foreign and domestic as the place earns a well-deserved name for itself. The Farmstay was one of the first to promote the region and has earned its title as a true Phong Nha original. You won’t go wrong there.