Living Locally in Phong Nha, Vietnam
It was a pretty calm week for us as we got into a routine of pretty much working a normal 9-5 business day. As we mentioned last week, we are dedicating a few weeks to helping a few local homestays in Phong Nha develop websites and improve their online presence. Though it has been tougher than expected, because of the language barrier, it has been a lot of fun and a really rewarding experience.
If you follow us on Instagram you will know that we have been working with Amanda Homestay, a new family homestay just a few minutes outside of Phong Nha. The place is beautiful with a pool and spacious rooms but the best part are the views. There are no other hotels (or pretty much buildings in general) in their line of sight so we have lush mountains all around us! Unfortunately, we had a pretty poor week weather-wise with rain or cloud most days so we weren't able to fully take in our surroundings. That's okay though as we have seen and will see plenty of mountains during our 3 weeks in this town!
Amanda Homestay is a true homestay as it is entirely run, managed, and lived in by the family! While a few of the people who usually live there were not in town, we had the parents, 2 kids, and a cousin all living on the main floor of the homestay. The family was really nice but language was quite a struggle as only one of the kids, Bi, spoke English and even then it was difficult to discuss website and hotel development strategies. Their other kid is only about a year old and was one of the cutest kids we've met in Asia! We very quickly became her part-time babysitter as the family had many things on their plates to ensure that the hotel was running smoothly! We likely put that position on ourselves since we were constantly on the ground playing with her.
As we were staying a bit out of town, we shared all of our meals with the family. We had no idea what we were going to be served but assumed we would be eating lots of pho, the most popular Vietnamese dish, but we were greatly mistaken! It was by far the best food we have had in Vietnam and our shrunken travel budget stomachs were having a difficult time coping! Breakfast was always an a la carte menu of typical breakfast items and some awesome drip coffee with condensed milk (if you have never had condensed milk in a VERY strong coffee, do yourself a favour and try it!) but lunch and dinners were feasts. There were at least 5 dishes plus an entire rice cooker full of rice for just the 6 of us! Depending on the day there was anything from tofu with tomatoes (our favorite dish), to eggplant with a honey soya sauce, to small sardine-like fish, or an amazing pork stew. We were completely spoiled the entire time! All of the meals were fantastic and finally gave us some routine which has been absent for the last while.
With such a high language barrier, most of our time at the dinner table was spent trying to learn a bit of Vietnamese. It is extraordinarily difficult as the letters have crazy accents and have no relation to the English sound. There are also lots of very quiet or silent letters in the language making it even more difficult. The family really seemed to enjoy our struggles and even started to cry laughing during one time when we were learning the word "chicken". Long story short is that there is one word for a live chicken and another for chicken meat but we were calling what was on our plate the live version much to their amusement. It was almost as if we were entertainment for the family to watch as seemingly everything we did was slightly different. Even down to just how you hold your chopsticks gave them a laugh on the first day. Apparently, in Vietnam, you hold your chopsticks at the far end and place your fingers differently than we always have back home! They also got a kick out of watching us try their "wine". Vietnamese wine is made from rice not grapes and is similar to Sake but way stronger and often made by families or on the cheap. Just small shot glasses were served two of the days which was all you really needed to get you going for the night. The first night, they served their banana rice wine, which they partially make at the homestay. Taking high proof rice wine and adding in hundreds of banana pieces and then leaving it for a month or two doesn't help with the taste or strength! It was pretty much pure fire.
For Amanda Homestay, we spent a lot of time improving their visibility and consistency across the many sales channels they use. It was interesting to finally get on the opposite side of the OTA's (online travel agencies like booking.com or Expedia) as we use them daily but never have been able to see what it is like on the hotel's side. The majority of our time though was spent building a fully functioning website and modern Instagram for them. As a small business with a very fluctuating market, they requested a website that would not have an annual fee and would allow them to change their prices monthly or even weekly. As such, we chose to use a hosting site that would give them access to the website once we left. You are all welcome to check it out at www.amandahomestay.wixsite.com/phongnha as it will help to get them boosted in the Google Search Algorithm! Even giving them a follow or liking some of the pictures on Instagram @phongnhaamandahomestay will help the small family-run business develop!
The last few nights were fun as we had some other guests join our new family. The homestay offers a "family special" allowing guests to get the full homestay experience. Our table instantly became a lot larger with people from around the world! One of the nights there was 10 of eating and 20 dishes served plus many bowls of rice so let's just say for the cost of just 4 bucks a person it would have been well worth it! During one of these shared dinners, we noticed our host Bi looking all fancy in nice dress clothes. It turns out there was a wedding going on in town so he was getting ready to go party with his friends! Apparently, the tradition in Vietnam is to invite everyone you know or may know in your life. Phong Nha only has a few thousand people but the wedding had about 900 people in attendance! Just a slight bit bigger than our weddings back home that's for sure!
We ended off the week by moving onto a new hotel back in town to do the same thing all over again! We had asked Amanda Homestay to give us a ride into town figuring it would be in the car that they picked us up in. Much to our shock, they tossed on their helmets and patted the back of two motorcycles. Though we have rented a few bikes in Vietnam in the past months, we have never been on them with our bags and Derek has never been on the back of one in general! Let's just say he now understands why Jacki yells in his ear when the speed gets a bit high or when we hit some turns!
Our room will be on the top floor with amazing views of the mountains. We are so excited to spend the week with another family and help with their online presence.
Cheers from Phong Nha, The Roving Route