There are those who would define the perfect getaway from the city as a country retreat on the doorstep of a celebrated national park, with mountain biking, forest trekking and kayaking on majestic rivers.
Chay Lap Village in Bo Trach District, Quang Binh Province fits the bill perfectly, but since we are in Vietnam, what better way to top the experience off than adding some cultural authenticity.
The village offers tourists the chance to live the life of a Vietnamese farmer, sharing his old traditional house and helping him plant vegetables, feed the pigs and chickens, and do other chores. Those inclined to do more can catch fish in the river and plough the fields with a buffalo.
The homestay service was introduced in the village about a year ago by the Green Future Fund, which supports local people with capital and guidance.
The project has an added benefit. Many of the families involved used to make a living illegally by exploiting the forest around the heritage site for timber and wild animals.
The homestays have provided farmers with an alternative means to supplement their meager incomes. Now most of the wooden houses in the village have been refurnished to welcome tourists.
When you want a break from working the land, a simple bicycle tour will find you retracing steps in Vietnam’s history.
Follow a winding road past a forest management station and find yourself meandering along a section of the historic Ho Chi Minh Trail, which witnessed many fierce battles during the Vietnam War, scars of which can still be seen today.
It is a very humbling and enriching experience to look up from the historic trail at the timeless backdrop of mountains, unchanged for centuries
After about 10 kilometers, the trail leads past a steep slope into an immense field.
You will find yourself at a river bank where a boat waits to take you back to Chay Lap. Those who like kayaking can explore the surroundings differently. Rowing along the Chay River, you can visit the Toi (Dark) Cave and admire the breathtaking beauty of mountain cliffs and catch glimpses of the many grey Langur (Vooc duoi dai) and other endangered animals and birds that are residents at the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park.