5 Reasons Phong Nha Stole My Heart

5 Reasons Phong Nha Stole My Heart

I’ll admit it: it’s been about a month since I left Vietnam and I can’t stop thinking about how badly I want to return. While I’m grateful for the month I spent there, I don’t think it was enough. If I’d known acquiring a one month visa to roam the country was too short for my liking, I would have gladly shelled out some extra cash for the three month option. Although I loved each town I visited, there’s one place in particular that really struck a chord with me: Phong Nha.

Time was ticking when I first arrived in Phong Nha, Vietnam, but it didn’t take me long to realize that the gorgeous mountain village is special. It’s one of those places that seasoned travelers rave about when describing their journeys of decades past; it felt like the “real” Vietnam I’ve heard so much about.

I can honestly think of dozens of reasons I fell in love with Phong Nha, Vietnam, but I think it’s best to narrow it down to a few. I think people should check out this place as soon as they can. Like, tomorrow. Here’s why:

1. Its sense of community is incomparable

Since becoming a UNESCO world heritage site in 2003, travelers from all walks of life have developed a strong interest in Phong Nha Ke-Bang National park and the spectacular surrounding areas.

The increase in tourism brings in a number of job opportunities for locals and expats alike. One of the most notable local businesses in the town is Thang’s Phong Nha Riders, a motorbike-tourism company aimed to give visitors a bona fide experience through the surrounding national parks and countryside trails. The brains behind the operation is 20-year-old Nguyen Van Thang, who started the business to give fellow Phong Nha residents accessible employment and for tourists to enjoy all the town has to offer in a unique and exhilarating way. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to experience one of Thang’s rides while I was there; I did a cave tour by way of bus as the roads were horrific due to a national holiday. Had the timing been right, there’s no doubt I would have opted for a day (or two, or three) out on the road with Phong Nha Riders.

Each of the locals and expats do a great job making sure visitors have a one-of-a-kind and memorable experience while in town. Once I left Phong Nha, I felt like I’d left a piece of my heart behind.

2. The accommodation is incredible

While I was traveling through northern Vietnam, I’d asked a few people if they had any recommendations for accommodation as I headed south. Without hesitation, everyone suggested I stay at Phong Nha’s Easy Tiger Hostel. I obviously heeded their advice and I have to say I am extremely happy I did. The beds were the most comfortable I had in my entire month in Vietnam and the atmosphere was upbeat and positive. If you’re not interested in a party vibe, the Phong Nha Farmstay is top-notch. Situated alongside peaceful and lush rice paddies, the Phong Nha Farmstay is an excellent sanctuary for anyone hoping to disconnect from the outside world for a bit.

Phong Nha, Vietnam www.willfulandwildhearted.com

 

3. The local live music rules

One of the reasons I enjoyed myself so much at Easy Tiger Hostel was the Sue Reyn Gayle Trio, the town’s most well-known live band. On my first night in town I decided to mingle with other guests and check out the music. The Filipino powerhouses belted out some classics, including a memorable cover of “Wanna Be” by the Spice Girls (Mel B’s rap and all) which was such an awesome bonding moment for everyone at the hostel. I also saw the band play a much more intimate and mellow set at the Phong Nha Farmstay over dinner one evening. My eyes teared up a bit as I watched the group perform an emotional rendition of “Purple Rain” just days after legendary music icon Prince’s passing.

4. I can’t stop thinking about the food

Those interested in local fare can check out the town’s popular Phong Nha Bamboo Cafe, where the food is not only delicious but offered at a reasonable price. Visitors who have a taste for Western food can satisfy their cravings at Capture Vietnam Cafe, located adjacent to Easy Tiger Hostel. The vegetarian-friendly spot caters to all and serves up some of the most delicious food I’ve eaten in the past three months of travel. The brilliant owner, American expat Hannah Delap, even offers her customers breakfast, lunch and snack deals for long-haul bus rides. Hero.

Phong Nha, Vietnam www.willfulandwildhearted.com

One of the more renowned spots in the area is the Pub with Cold Beer, a family-owned roadhouse known for it’s unique farm-to-table techniques. The formally-dilapidated wooden shack that once specifically catered to locals has quickly become a must-see destination for tourists in recent years. This place certainly appeals to adventurous eaters. Guests can catch, kill and cook their own chickens if they’d like; the faint-hearted can opt to have the family do the dirty work for them.

5. The topography is unrivaled

Phong Nha is home to tall, black, cloud-hugging mountains, lush, thick jungles and rice paddies and — no big deal — the largest cave system in the world. While Phong Nha’s Son Doong Cave is too expensive for most travelers, it’s certainly worth mentioning. The cave is large enough to fit a half-block worth of 40-story skyscrapers within its walls and contains a jungle and river as well. There are several neighboring caves that are easier on the wallet that are quite popular among tourists. My personal favorite was the Hang Toi, also known as the Dark Cave. Not only did we get to zip line toward the cave, but once we were inside we floated in a natural mud pool and later cooled off in the nearby Thuy Tien lake. Talk about an awesome day!

Phong Nha, Vietnam www.willfulandwildhearted.com

 

I was hosted by Easy Tiger Hostel and the Phong Nha Farmstay during my time in Phong Nha. As always, all opinions are my own.

Phong Nha, Vietnam www.willfulandwildhearted.com

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23 Comments

  1. June 16, 2016 / 3:12 am

    Ahh we didn’t make it here but now you’re making me want to go back to Vietnam! It looks absolutely breathtaking! Those mountains!!! This will definitely be on our “must visit” list when we go back to Vietnam. Thanks for sharing!

  2. June 16, 2016 / 8:28 am

    I’ve been considering Vietnam for winter vacation (planning ahead!) but I just don’t think 2 weeks would do it justice. Definitely want to do a big trip in the future!

  3. June 16, 2016 / 8:28 am

    The view and the music would have me tearing up too, especially with the recent passing! I wish there were more photos of things you were doing, but I guess you really were just reveling in each moment. Ahhh!

  4. June 16, 2016 / 3:32 pm

    Beautiful photos, Laura!
    My fiance and I are considering Vietnam for our next vacation. Your pretty pictures caught my eyes — I think I’m going to drag him there!! Thank you for sharing.

  5. June 16, 2016 / 3:51 pm

    I love your photos! I miss Vietnamese food as well and wish we had stayed longer that time we went. I’ll ask my hubby to go here if we go back.

    • June 20, 2016 / 9:52 am

      It’s so beautiful! I hope you can return. And I agree — the food is to die for!

  6. June 17, 2016 / 3:39 am

    the fields of rice paddies look amazing. Idyllic. It’s so nice to see Vietnam with its active tourism. It brings out its natural charm. Filipino bands and solo singers are everywhere. And they are incredibly talented!

    • June 20, 2016 / 9:53 am

      They were AMAZING! My pictures don’t even do it justice; this place is a must-visit if you can!

  7. June 19, 2016 / 4:39 am

    Tim and I were just talking the other day of how’s there gonna be no way to see this country in its entirety even after living here for a year. I haven’t even heard anyone talk about Phong Nha! But you are becoming my go-to source for what to see around the country. I’m just gonna pin these posts for when we check out the country after our year’s time here. Judging from all your posts, I really think you should come back here after NZ is through. This really would be the perfect place for you to set up shop for a while. Its a hotspot of creative activity too, I can only picture you thriving here <3

    • June 20, 2016 / 9:54 am

      It’s definitely a consideration! I loved Vietnam and wish I’d explored more of it. I was definitely drawn even more to it once you mentioned I wouldn’t have to necessarily be teaching there if an opportunity should arise. I hope you’re well, lady!

  8. June 19, 2016 / 4:55 pm

    This looks perfect for our return to Vietnam next winter! I love your image of the fields with tall grass and hatted people sticking out of them haha. Thanks for the tip, pinning it for sure!

    • June 20, 2016 / 9:55 am

      I really hope you can make it there! And thanks – it was so lovely and the photo definitely doesn’t do the moment justice!

  9. June 20, 2016 / 4:21 am

    Now I know where I most definitely missed out on when I traveled to Vietnam last year! Phong Nha sounds like an absolutely amazing place to visit.
    Thank you for sharing, I’m hoping I can return to Vietnam one day and I’ll definitely make sure to visit Phong Nha!

    • June 20, 2016 / 9:56 am

      I really hope you can, too! Seriously incredible.

  10. June 20, 2016 / 8:44 am

    I haven’t been to Vietnam yet but it’s sooo high up on my list! I enjoyed this post and this place surely looks amazing! Saved.

    • June 20, 2016 / 9:56 am

      Thanks, girl! You and your man should definitely pop over when you get a chance.

  11. June 20, 2016 / 1:46 pm

    Perfect time to read this post, as earlier today I was day dreaming of my prospective South East Asia backpacking trip. I’ve heard so many good reviews of Vietnam as a whole, and am motivated to visit. And the picture of the rice fields is amazing! Thank you for sharing your experience! What made you want to take a month and travel there!?

    • July 3, 2016 / 8:29 am

      I’m traveling through Southeast Asia for a few months before moving to New Zealand, so I used my allotted visa time in Vietnam. It was amazing! I highly recommend it.

  12. June 21, 2016 / 10:37 am

    Gorgeous! I’m really wanting to travel to Vietnam. I’ve not done too much research on different places but this Phong Nha sounds like I place I will definitely need to visit if I get the chance to go !

    • July 3, 2016 / 8:28 am

      YES – do not miss Phong Nha if you get the chance!

  13. August 22, 2016 / 11:53 pm

    Im travelling around Vietnam and blogging about it at the moment. My next stop is Phong Nha. I’m really looking forward to it as. I’ve heard such positive things!

    http://Www.teachingtraveller.com

    • August 23, 2016 / 2:37 am

      Awesome! I really recommend staying at either Easy Tiger or the Phong Nha Farmstay! Have an awesome time!

  14. November 15, 2016 / 6:52 pm

    I spend one month in Vietnam but sadly did not go to Phong Nha, it looks wonderful.
    Maybe in the future I can go back.
    x

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