Vietnam – Phong Nha Farmstay and Hang Tien Cave Trek
If you’re following along for our Vietnam adventures you know that we were using Hanoi as a home base of sorts and our goal for the trip was trying to see some of the awesome natural attractions Vietnam has to offer. You can read about our days in Hanoi here – Vietnam A Few Days in Hanoi
One of the first things on the adventure agenda was a bit of cave exploring and jungle trekking. This meant that we would need to fly south about 500km to the Phong Nha region and national park. So after our first night in Hanoi we were up bright and early for the first flight of the day. As we were leaving too early and would miss the hotel breakfast the awesome people at Hanoi Elegance prepared a take away breakfast with pastries (sorry Shani), fruit and yogurt for us.
We planned on a few days in the Phong Nha area and stayed at the Phong Nha Farmstay. Phong Nha is remote rural Vietnam at it’s finest. Surrounded by rice paddies and farms, cows rambling down the dirt road and chickens scratching away, it was a perfect place to spend some time connecting with the natural world.
One of the things the Phong Nha Farmstay has for it’s guests is a fleet of bikes and a map of the few destinations one might want to pedal to. Our first afternoon we decided to take a ride over to the Bomb Crater Bar for some snacks and libations. It was an easy half hour that took us through little villages and past so many friendly villagers. It seemed like every kid we passed yelled out out “Hello!” and “What is your name?”. Everyone was so extremely friendly, it was incredible. This was our experience everywhere we went in Vietnam, friendly people not jaded by tourists, no one hassling us to buy things or to give them something. It was so refreshing!
During the Vietnam War (or American War as it’s referred to in Vietnam) the Phong Nha region was subjected to a massive amount of shelling. Our host Guillerme gave us a quick history lesson as to the strategic nature of Phong Nha during the war and also the importance of the geographic nature of the area as well. I won’t bore you with those details here but when we arrived at the Bomb Crater Bar there were in fact two big craters on either side of the bar!
Back at the Farmstay we had a lovely dinner and a few more drinks and then turned in early to rest up for the big day ahead.
The Phong Nha region of Vietnam is home to thousands of caves and caverns, one, the Hang Sơn Đoòng cave, is now considered the largest in the world. That one, however, has a very limited amount of tourist traffic and the permits are around $3000 USD each for a visit! As 6 grand wasn’t really in the budget we opted for the more affordable one day trek to Hang Tien.
The reason we didn’t linger in Hanoi was for this trek. It was the last day of the caving season and we really wanted to see Hang Tien. There is only one operator in the region that does this tour currently, Oxalis, and this is a relatively new tour for them. Previously you would have to do a 2 day trek and we weren’t up for roughing it that much!
Our tour guide, nicknamed Seven, was really good, professional, fluent in English and always put safety first. They collected us from the Farmstay at about 7am. We picked up the rest of the group and then went about 70km from Phong Nha to a tiny village called Tan Hoa and the field office for Oxalis. After some formalities and grabbing some gear we were off to the trailhead.
The jungle trekking was brilliant and arduous and hot but above all it was beautiful! The terrain was pretty steep in some sections and also slippery, but thankfully it didn’t rain. We all managed it with just a few slips and falls here and there.
And finally we made it to the Hang Tien cave entrance! It was stunning to say the least. We all donned our helmets and headlamps and followed Seven into the darkness. The cave was incredible, full of rimstone pools and amazing limestone features and a massive amount of bats. A ladder took us from the first chamber up into the second chamber and on to the other side of the cave.
After the cave we trekked to the camp the overnight tour would be using that evening. We had a delicious meal of grilled pork and other Vietnamese specialties. We rolled fresh pork spring rolls and made sandwiches and I probably ate too much (according to Shani). Hey, trekking and cave exploring is hard work! The camp is next to a river and small lagoon and we all enjoyed a swim before the trek back. It was an incredible, if exhausting experience.
The next day we took it a bit easy. We lounged around, enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and plotted our day. We had sausage and eggs every morning at the Farmstay and I have to say, the sausages were some of the best I’ve ever had for breakfast. Surprisingly we weren’t as ruined as we thought we would be from the trek and decided on another bike adventure.
This time we headed off in search of the famous The Pub With Cold Beer. Again we had a great time biking through the small villages and getting the friendly “Hello!” from children and adults alike. I loved rural Vietnam.
The Pub With Cold Beer did indeed have very cold beer! They also let you pick out a chicken and kill and cook it if you want. We weren’t that hungry and opted for a nice pork and green onion dish that was very good and did not involve us in the slaughtering process. Unfortunately, The Pub With Cold Beer didn’t have anything for Shani to drink so that was a bit of a disappointment.
All in all our experience in Phong Nha and rural Vietnam was superb. I would recommend it to anyone. The trek was a bit challenging at times but the only exercise we get these days involves taking Sebastian for a stroll around the community. I imagine being fit would have helped quite a lot!
If you’d like to know more about our time in Phong Nha or our trip to Vietnam just drop us a line or leave a comment and we’ll get back to you. If you’d like the exact itinerary or more info on the places we stayed or tours and drivers we used just let us know.