Phong Nha has become a well-known name all over the world for travelers, with limestone cave systems and the beautiful National Park. With its potential, Phong Nha tourism has been taking off for the last 3 years and it is becoming one of the best destinations to visit in Vietnam. Fortunately, I am a person who is involved with almost all steps of tourism development. I have been witnessing loads of changes and have a unique insight about this town and its people – Simply because Phong Nha is my hometown!
Phong Nha, my hometown, a new paradise!
English teaching is my background, after my graduation from Hue University. Studying at the University of English was a big ambition for anyone in my village, and I was the first one who could study there. Since my time at Uni and in the workforce earning money, I have learned so many new things that my thoughts and ideas have evolved. As a young man without any work experience on conservation, I applied for a job in Phong Nha to look for new challenges in my life. I am not sure how it happened, but I was employed and started working at Cologne Zoo Nature Conservation Project in 2008.
Honestly, I planned to work for a couple of years, mainly to learn experiences and then move to the city but I was happily trapped by the amazing people and nature of the area. I decided to work until the end of my project, to give all my efforts to conservation work in the region. In May 2013, my project finished all activities at Phong Nha – Ke Bang National Park. From that time onward a new page of my life has begun and I have been engaged with tourism ever since.
Tourism has been slowly developing for the last 20 years in Phong Nha, but mostly with only domestic tourists from all over Vietnam, who came to visit the Phong Nha Cave. Most of the time, these Vietnamese tourists would visit the cave and leave the same day. There were not many people staying overnight here. Plenty of hotels were built up before to accommodate the Vietnamese tourists, but these mostly remained vacant. In 2010, the Phong Nha Farmstay opened and a new chapter of the area was initiated.
By the end of 2012, the Farmstay was often fully booked with guests. The overflow of tourists were directed to Phong Nha town and stayed at the Thanh Dat Hotel. Some westerners (Tây) appeared in my town and stayed for one or two days. That was something really strange for all the locals around here, because before that it was really rare that we saw any Westerners staying in a hotel and doing something in Phong Nha town. Before 2010, I’d met some white dudes walking on the street who did not really know where to eat and stay. I had stopped to chat with them, and was told that they accidently came here because they could not ride their scooter further in the dark. I advised them what to do and the caves simply amazed them. That was the point which people started talking a bit about this area.
As a local who saw the potential of this town for tourism I started the Jungle Bar, the first business for Westerners ever in this town, at the beginning of 2013. There were a maximum of 25 people staying in Phong Nha town by that time and locals were really excited to talk about it. Many locals came to my place to drink coffee, in order to see what the white people eat and how, or just to invite them for a beer to see them closer. This may sound really weird to you, but that was exactly what happened in this town only 2 years ago. In July 2013, my partners and I opened the Easy Tiger Hostel. Since that time I have seen more and more foreign tourists coming here. Now as you can see, there are around 150 people staying in this town after 2 years of the business taking off.
Have a look around and you will see many hotels being built by the locals. All the people around this town are trying to do business with tourists. It does not matter whether they are big or a small business, what matters is that people are aware of the tourism development which they could join and benefit from. In my opinion, tourism is bringing many opportunities for locals in my hometown, to be involved in and to lift this area up quickly. This is also something that I care about because rapid tourism development will make this area become crazy. People just try to do things to get involved but with no long-term plan or care about future problems. It may become a very touristic place soon, and it’s hard to manage the growth to ensure this tourism remains sustainable.
Anyway, I always believe that Phong Nha will be an amazing paradise for all international friends coming over to have a great time with unique caves, an outstanding National Park and truly nice locals. I am proud of being a part of this town and I’ll try all my best to help any local who wants to step into tourism development, because I am one of them.