When Ben and Bich Mitchell first opened Phong Nha Farmstay in December 2010, the local consensus was that they had a screw loose.

 

Although the guesthouse overlooked paddy fields and the mountains of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, the naysayers didn’t get the idea of an idyllic countryside getaway. It was located 7km away from Phong Nha Town, the small border post-like inhabitation that served the caves of Phong Nha. And anyway, at the time foreign tourists just didn’t come to Phong Nha, let alone the local province Quang Binh, a place that the open tour bus passed through in the early hours of the morning. If it stopped, it was for a toilet break.

 

Yet the pair had vision and drive, and over time their risk paid off — within months the customers started to arrive. Seeing their success, other entrepreneurs started to build, and quickly farmstays and homestays opened up nearby. Everyone realized that the guesthouses in Phong Nha Town were so unwelcoming that the tourists who did come just didn’t want to stay. With their semi-remote location, the lure of the countryside and a chill-out terrace area, Phong Nha Farmstay was a place to hang out, have a beer or two, and relax. Customers would stay for days.

 

Bring It On

 

Then came the gold rush. Son Doong, the largest cave in the world, was opened to the public, and other caving systems were made accessible to tourists. The area went into overdrive. From a sleepy, undeveloped outpost, Phong Nha found itself a spot on the tourist itinerary.

 

Six years on and the concept behind Phong Nha Farmstay remains the same. The rooms are simple, but comfortable, clean and air-conditioned, which is the whole idea. When you’re in Phong Nha, you’re hardly going to spend your days holed up in a hotel room.

 

The terrace area has more foliage, shade and flowers than in the past, and has been extended. A new house has been added next door, with more rooms, more space. There’s a swimming pool out back, while a separate chill-out zone and beer garden has been built overlooking the fields. With its views of the sunset, from 5pm to 7pm it fills up with tourists shooting the view as the sun disappears over the mountains.

 

The menu has developed, too. Local fare like pho bo starts at VND45,000 a bowl with western food ranging from VND80,000 to VND180,000 a dish; these days the pizzas come out of a wood-fired oven. Beer is cheap as well — the Hue speciality, Huda, goes for VND30,000 a bottle — and the WiFi is strong, ensuring that no matter how idyllic the setting, you’re never going to quite be cut off from the real world.

 

The Only Ong Tay in the Village

 

Ben Mitchell has a little joke about himself that parodies a sketch from the comedy series, Little Britain. For a long time, he says, echoing the gay character Daffyd Thomas, he was the “only ong tay in the village”. For a long time, he was also the face of the “the only farmstay in the village”.

 

Phong Nha Farmstay has got competition now. But despite new and sometimes more eye-catching options entering the market, in our humble opinion the trailblazer, the original, the farmstay that started it off is still the best. — Nick Ross

 

For more information on Phong Nha Farmstay and to find out about all the activities in the area, click on phong-nha-cave.com. Double or twin rooms start at VND910,000 a night

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