If the road was suitable, our arrival wouldn’t nearly have been as memorable. Instead, at the tail end of the wet season in Central Vietnam, the one-lane trail was a boggy trap. Entire sections had been completely washed away, threatening to consume our motorbike whole. The alternative was to swim across a narrow tributary of the Con River, but the previous day’s storm and subsequent rising water levels had made that journey a possibly-dangerous option. We did our best at riding the 3 kilometres to the “Pub With Cold Beer” without losing our balance and tumbling off the edge. This was a bigger undertaking than we had anticipated.
When we did finally ride into the small parking lot of our intended lunch spot, our black motorbike was now brown and our legs were encrusted with thick sludge from our knees down. Buried beneath the muck, our flip flops had miraculously survived the obstacle course. I killed the bike’s engine as a smiling Vietnamese lady in her mid-20s walked over and greeted us with a cheerful hello. She took only a moment to determine from our exhausted faces that we were in desperate need of a beer, and a cold one at that. She scurried off in a hurry and returned with two frosty bottles for us. We had finally arrived.
The Pub With Cold Beer is situated In Phong Nha, off the legendary Ho Chi Minh Highway, in Vietnam’s Quang Binh province. Amongst the karst mountains that make up the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park – home to the world’s largest cave, Hang Son Doong – the Pub With Cold Beer has been forging a name for itself as the alternative ‘must-do’ attraction in the region. Discovered by Ben, owner of the Phong Nha Farmstay in 2010, the Pub With Cold Beer used to be nothing more than a wooden shack with a dirt floor and dilapidated pool table. Since its humble origins as a poor farmer’s house that supplied hunters and loggers with cold beverages on their way home from work, the Pub With Cold Beer has grown in both size and reputation. Travellers to the region now seek out thr restaurant with jubilant enthusiasm, usually just after a visit to the colossal caves.
The Pub With Cold Beer is famous for their farm-to-table methods. Everything served is grown on their property, with the possible exception of the chickens – these are also sourced from neighbouring families when demand is high. The morning glory cooked in garlic comes directly from their backyard. As does the peanuts, which are crushed to make the most incredible peanut sauce you will ever taste.
It is not very often you arrive at a restaurant and are given the option of catching, killing, cleaning and cooking your own chicken. But if that is what you seek, it is possible at the Pub With Cold Beer. This is hardly a requirement however, as just about everyone is more than happy to let the family expertly prepare the meal. It may seem a tad gruesome, but this is ethical farming at its best. All the chickens are free range and well-cared for. The actual killing is done swiftly with a quick slice to the throat. There are no “headless chooks” running around the place. If you feel uneasy about this, then consider the bigger issues in buying mass-farmed chicken from a supermarket.
The atmosphere at the Pub With Cold Beer is relaxed and welcoming. Hammocks swing gently next to the pool table and chairs are peppered around the property; many with uninterrupted views over the Bong Lai Valley. Your food can take up to 2 hours to prepare, so most people while away the time by tubing down the river or sipping on a beer Huda. Music plays on the speakers and puppies run around the farm. It truly is a bucolic paradise.
Whether the sun is shining or rain is falling, lunch and drinks at the Pub With Cold Beer is by far one of the most enjoyable days out to be had in Phong Nha. While the list of things to do in town constantly grows, one thing that will hopefully never fade is this iconic establishment. At the very least, you will never look at a chicken meal in the same way again.
How To Get To The Pub With Cold Beer
The three main ways to get to the Pub With Cold Beer are to ride a scooter, take a bicycle or jump on a boat from near the Pepperhouse Homestay. If you choose to cycle or ride, keep in mind that the road can be quite treacherous after some rain. A new bridge has just been built, meaning if the main road to the Pub With Cold Beer is too muddy, you can ride along the other side and cross there. The days of needing to swim across the river are now gone (although you can still do this if you want a little bit of adventure before your meal). The turnoff is about 8km from Phong Nha town, and is well-signed.
If you wish to take the boat, have either the Phong Nha Farmstay or Easy Tiger arrange this for you. The price is 100’000VND per person for a return trip, and includes stopping at the Wild Boar Eco Farm before heading to the Pub With Cold Beer. Cuong, the boat driver and owner of the Wild Boar Eco Farm, is one of the friendliest people you will meet in town. The trip takes about 45 minutes one way.
Going to the Pub With Cold Beer is not something you can do in an hour. Make sure you leave around midday to give yourself ample time to get there and back, while enjoying the atmosphere.
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