Wait a second Vietnam

3/25/2015 , 0 Comments

I know now that  Vietnam was not exactly what I was expecting. I liked it, and then, then the "but" comes...but it did not inspire me, but I did not connect with the people or them with me, but but but.

But Phong Nha was different! The Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park hosts one of the best things I saw in Vietnam: huge and unexplored caves. But also the greenest rice paddies among with sweet people and many happy children. We had a lot of fun there and made me rethink the Vietnam experience.

Planning to go to Vietnam? 
Don't miss it! 

How to get there? 
We got a direct bus from Hué but we started by emailing the Phong Nha Farmstay to get more details - a super cool place run by an Australian and Vietnamese couple known as the engines of tourism in the region. Even though the Farmstay was fully booked the days we wanted to stay the helpful staff gave us further info - other options, description of the places, prices and also the available tours around the national park.

Where to stay?
We decided to stay in a Homestay recently opened called "Farm 2 Home". This is a super unique place: the rooms are in a small common space (with a little too hard mattress), there is a kitchen and toilet all in a concrete building just recently built. Map (you should read it Mop), the owner, her parents and her niece live side by side in a 40 years old wooden house. Around the houses you have chickens, roosters, dogs (also puppets when we were there), pigs, a pepper plantation, pumpkins, coriander, basil and loads of other herbs and veggies. Map is a former Farmstay employee that is starting her own business, even though highly supported by Ben (her previous boss) she is a happy talker, simple and with a vision - make the business grow to be able to help out her parents. Living apart from her husband for over a year, while waiting for the Canadian visa, she is one of the few women's entrepreneur I met in Vietnam...Okay I can say the only one I met...note to self: there is that gender's issue around here, don't forget, Diana.
I'm super happy we stayed over and were able to meet and help her. If you want to stay there - way cheaper than the Farmstay and better than staying in another hostel - check her on Facebook, or email the Farmstay as we did and jump on a homestay adventure - you will not regret it! 

What to do in Phong Nha?
There is plenty to do, it's beautiful and it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site and caves are the thing, in both scale and length. We decided to get one of the tours that the Farmstay offers around the National Park. It included three different caves: 
- the 8 women, super small cave it is dedicated to the Vietnamese that died while building the Ho Chi Minh trail during the war in Vietnam; 
- the Paradise cave, said to be the longest cave in the world because it extends for 31km (you can only visit the first km); 
- and the Dark cave, that I won't tell anything more about it rather than the obvious: it's quite dark inside because of the black limestone that is made from, but don't worry you get torch lights. Another piece of information, non-water proof cameras are not advised to go inside, so no pictures for us:( And please,please, please don't read reviews spoiling all the magic, it should be a surprise, and again, you won't regret it. 

The day passed by quickly and amazingly fun! 
You have plenty of more caves to visit though, the Phong Nha cave that also only has the first km open to visitors and only accessible by boat, the same boat that drops you at the Tien Son cave, beautiful views from the bay make the hike worthy.

"Farm2Table" also offers free bicycle rental and cooking courses. We didn't do the cooking but we rented a bike for one day and biked around the village - no words are needed for these, isn't it?!

Oh and one more thing to mention, the homestay is in the middle of nowhere, street lights do not exist as well as pavement roads...this is what you get if you get home after sunset.

Don't worry Map will take care of you and you will totally enjoy it. 
Go now if you can :)