Saturday, April 4, 2009

Phu Quoc Island = Paradise

I don't even know how to begin this entry. I will say this now so that I don't keep repeating it: Phu Quoc Island is absolutely amazing. Here is why: It is still mainly undeveloped. It is a part of  Vietnam but was historically controlled by Cambodia, and during the decades of unrest in Cambodia the Vietnamese established an army base there, as that it is only 50 or 60 km off shore from Cambodia. 

The main industries of the island are fishing, fish sauce, pearls, and black pepper. 80,000 people live on Phu Quoc, concentrated in two towns: Duong Dong, which is located halfway up the island on the west side, and An Thoi, which is at the southern tip. The roads in both towns are paved, however everywhere else are red dirt and uneven. Also, there are no central power or water sources, and the airport is only domestic.

The dirt roads looked like this:

The combination of the army base and the lack of infrastructure or an international airport make Phu Quoc an unappealing site for resort developers. Currently there is only one large resort, which is owned by the Vietnamese government and is located just outside Duong Dong. There are 20 or so small resorts scattered around the island, however none have more than a dozen bungalows, and most are not in the least bit luxurious. The local community does not depend on tourism, which I enjoyed immensely. We had to search for basic things like banks and booking agencies. 

Unfortunately, the Vietnamese government has big plans for Phu Quoc. We saw a few gravel quarries around the island and a few roads were starting to be smoothed over in preparation for pavement. An international airport is just starting to be built, and various casinos are making bids for development contracts. It is a shame to see such a beautiful place be exploited and self contained community be tainted. But anyway...

At 4:30 am on Sunday Jay and I woke up and met Emma, Mikaela, Gus, and Ludvig on the street in between our houses and went to the airport. We arrived in Phu Quoc at 9 am, 1 hour late. A car was supposed to be waiting for us, however apparently had left, so we got into a taxi. As it turned out, we were missing one vital piece of information: our hotel's name. I vaguely remembered where it was and pointed to that place on the map the driver supplied. 1 hour, 45 km, and 20 dollars later we arrived at a random resort called Mai Phuong. They had a vacancy, and we considered staying, but then I found a computer that had internet through cell phone reception and looked up our actually resort. It was called Thang Loi, and was 20 km south of where we were. We got back in the taxi and finally arrived at our resort. It was a grouping of bungalows in a horseshoe shape with an open air restaurant/lounge/reception desk at the apex. It was run by a german guy who was very welcoming.   

After checking in we went down to the beach and checked out the area. The beach had really nice sand, although there were a bunch of large rocks scattered throughout. There were beach chairs and hammocks under palm umbrellas and a 60 ft long pier that looked mainly unused.

The Pier and our beach:

We went up for lunch at 2 pm, and I saw a pair of people eating a spring rolls that they made themselves from meat and veggies they were pulling from a ceramic hotpot. Intrigued I asked what it was, and they invited me over to try. They were Finnish, named Artu and Stiliana, and slightly older. They invited us to meet them that evening at a bar called Eden near to their hotel just outside of Duong Dong, and we accepted. We also booked a snorkeling trip for the following day with a company recommended by the resort.

We decided to go into Duong Dong and explore for a bit, so we had the German man call us a taxi, which took about 30 minutes to arrive. We wandered around the town for a bit, then went to a peninsula of rocks to watch the sun set, and what a sunset it was. 

We arrived at Eden just after sunset. It had an inside area with computers, pool tables, and a bar, but it also had tables on the beach so we sat out there. The Finnish folks met us just after we ate, and we hung out and had drinks for a couple hours. When they found out that we were going snorkeling they asked us to join. We said we would try, but weren't sure if the trip was full or not. We went home and crashed around 11 though cause we were all tired from getting up so early and traveling all day.

Mikaela posing in front of the sunset and beach at Eden

On Monday we were picked up at 8 am by a minibus. There was another Finnish couple with us as well, but still room for Stiliana and Artu so we told the tour guide to stop at their hotel and pick them up. They were waiting for us when we arrived, and then we got going down the 30 km to An Thoi where the boat left from. We cruised south for about 30 mins, then the guides passed out fishing lines, not on rods but on spools, and informed us that we were to catch our lunch. I caught 3 midsize fish, but Mikaela had the catch of the day (It's the orange one).

We moved on for another 30 minutes, passing by a dozen or so smaller islands and another small fishing town, and arrived at our first of three snorkeling sites. We were just off an island that had a rock formation off to the side, which is where we snorkeled. It was my first time snorkeling for real and it took me a few minutes to get used to the breathing patterns, but once I figured it out I realized how cool it is. We saw many varieties of coral, uncountable sea urchins, and some schools of fish that were covered in neon colored patterns. The water was really clear and the sun came out just as we jumped in, so visibility was pretty good. 

The first dive site:
We ate the fish we caught on the boat after an hour of snorkeling. It was pretty good, although really oily because they deep fried it. 

From left to right: Artu, Ludvig, the other Finnish couple (the guy was a dead ringer for Mick Jagger)
The second site looked like paradise. I'll let the picture speak for itself.

I was tired and my feet hurt at the third site, so I didn't stay in for more than 10 minutes, and instead enjoyed a nice cold beer on the boat. Once back on the bus we went to a beach 10 km up the east coast from An Thoi. There was a resort on it, but it was still fairly pristine. 

The beach north of An Thoi:

In the evening we went back to Eden with the Finnish people and hung out until really late, getting home at 2 am. 

The next day we planned on having a BBQ. I had bought a cooler and a small portable BBQ in Ho Chi Minh before we left, and at 9 am Ludvig and I rented motorbikes from our resort and went to town to buy food. We got 50 tiger shrimp, eggplant, green bell pepper, spring onion, pineapple, and mango, as well as oil, rum, ginger, limes, red peppers, and garlic for a marinade. At 10:30 we met Stili and Artu at the end of the market and drove back to our resort to prepare the food.

The 8 of us road north on 4 motorbikes with the destination of Bai Son beach, supposedly one of the nicest white sand beaches on the island. It had rained that morning and the roads where really muddy, and I had the cooler with all the food between my legs.... my excuses for crashing. I had Stili on the back of my bike, and we had just come over a small hill and saw everyone stopped. I tried to stop as well and the back tire fishtailed a little, making the cooler between my legs shift and me lose control. We wavered back and forth a little, and ultimately fell on our left sides and skidded for a few meters. We were both okay, I walked away with a few scrapes on my arm, and Stili had a slightly deeper cut on her knee. She bled a bit, and we were both a little shook up, but after a minute hopped back on and kept going- Stili was a really good sport. 

Pics: 1. Me cleaning the motorbike in a river after the crash 2. Inspecting Stili's cut 

We arrived at the resort we had mistakingly gone to the first day and went in to clean Stili's cut and get her a bandage. Everyone decided that they didn't want to keep pressing north, so we turned back and went south a kilometer to a deserted beach and BBQ'd there. The food turned out great, the tiger shrimp were really good. In the evening we went to Eden, again, for Stili and Artu's last night before they went back to Finland. 

The next morning Gus and Jay slept in, and Ludvig, the girls, and I went for a walk to the beach north of our resort. The sand was larger grained and yellower then our beach, but still nice, particularly because there was nobody or anything there. We spent a good part of the day there. On the walk back we came across a pretty large sand crab that ludwig scooped up along with a handful of sand- made for a cool picture.

In the evening we stayed at our resort and relaxed. Thursday we decided to BBQ again, so the girls and I went into town and bought food. This time I got Swiss sausage, bacon, and a small cut of beef in addition to the shrimp. To avoid further accidents we just walked to a cove 500 meters south of our resort instead of renting motorbikes again. Halfway through a tropical storm came in, but we were determined and used a cardboard box to cover the BBQ. It rained really hard, but we waited it out and finished grilling all the food. 

Grillin in the rain- note the sweet pink cooler

It was our last night, so we again went to Eden and stayed out late. Friday we relaxed on the beach in the morning then went into town for ice cream before heading to the airport.

Here's a video of the walk from our bungalow to the beach:

1 comment:

  1. Dude you are looking hella skinny. Eat some more Tiger shrimp. That island looks amazing. Probably right up there with Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket