Red dirt and sea food: Phu Quoc Island
We returned to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), this time with the visiting family in tow. I’m not sure there is a gentle way that you can introduce folks who’ve not back packed before to Vietnam, so we decided we’d just go all in.
See more Phu Quoc Island travel guide at here.
First stop after their evening arrival. Bui Vien Street. No better way to get to know backpacking Vietnam.
Then there was our second trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels – we took the public bus again, changing from the number 13 to the number 79 at the Cu Chi Bus Station – and spending a superb few hours once again in a small group.
The group on the bus on the way back however was significantly larger. Diane (my sister in law) got the only available seat – right at the front, and there were even 10 people in front of her. Her Vietnamese improved enough to make friends with a local family and even sample some of their food.
“I ate it, ” she said “but I don’t know what it was. A sample got passed back to us three standers further back. We ate it too, and don’t know what it was either.
Then a quick trip to the Reunification Palace
We decided to take a flight to Phu Quoc Island – a bargain at US$30 each, and a much shorter transfer rather than take the long bus and ferry ride. Named in virtually all of the “up and coming places to go” articles I’ve read recently, this was to be the island get away part of the rellies vacation.
After a short, but possibly the noisiest flight I’ve even taken (I don’t believe the entire plane stopped talking even for one minute during the time we were on board) we landed at what the guide books will have you believe is the next step to paradise.
It’s the Vietnamese version. Quiet by Vietnamese standards. Mostly half built by any standards and the usual dirty and not quite clean that we’ve come to expect from Vietnam. (Swimming in the ocean for instance, meant paddling around the plastic bags masquerading as jelly fish).
Phu Quoc is pretty quiet. We’d chosen to stay in Duong Dong, as we wanted to be sure that we visited the night food market and while some of the places in the north looked wonderfully isolated and empty, they also looked wonderfully isolated and empty.
And this was the view from the hotel.
The night market is fabulous. Sure it was the place we threw down a cool million dong for dinner (including drinks), but wow what a feast. We picked a different restaurant in the night market, but ate here for the three nights we were on the island.
Now it was time to explore. Our hotel organized two scooters for us and off we headed, with strict instructions from the bike men not to go over 40 kmph we mounted up and headed off.
First stops were pearl “factories” and shops. And our first experience of the red dirt roads that came to epitomize our visit to the island.
We got gloriously lost in the south, relying on locals to point the way. We drove past our next stop several times before we realized it.
To complete our tour of the war sites of Vietnam we also visited the Phu Quoc prison camp. Here’s where more than 40,000 POW’s were held during the war. You can read about it in the superb War Remnants Museum in Saigon.
Visit in the middle of the day, like we did, to get a sense for the sweltering heat and the relentless sun.
We hadn’t long been left the camp when we ground to a halt on the side of the road. Flat tyre. About US$5.60 (120k VND) later we had a new inner tube and got to keep the two pieces of metal that had been embedded in the old one.
Despite the best efforts of the sun, the road and the dirt we were still home in time for sunset and a beer to chase it down.
On day three we decided to head to the north of the island, so headed off, completely underestimating the amount of time it would take us to get there. We wanted lunch at the Ganh Dau beach.
Great roads as far as Ham Ninh (on the east coast). Then we turned fully north, to ride up the east coast of the island. And that’s where the great stopped. It was pretty bumpy. Pretty red. And pretty dirty.
A stop for coconuts was required. If I ever return to Phu Quoc, this is where I’ll come. I’ll rent one of their rooms.
I’ll sit in a hammock and I’ll just watch the ocean.
Perhaps I’ll also help get my next coconut and eat with the family.
But mostly I’ll probably watch the ocean with my eyes closed.
This was paradise.
Getting back on the bikes was hard work, pillion isn’t fun when it’s a bumpy ride.
And it got bumpier.
And then there was just no road, so we went off road.
And then there was an off bike experience, which resulted in a little gravel rash, but no serious injuries.
Finally, finally, what seemed like hours later (oh, it was hours later), we found tarmac.
And it was most welcome.
Lunch at the beach, however, wasn’t going to be on the agenda.
The beach at the top of the island, was still though on the agenda, we calculated we had just enough time to get there and return the bikes before sunset. Actually we didn’t have quite time, so we just went faster. I do believe we bounced off every rock on the small road from when we left the tarmac to the beach.
And the same ones on the way back.
Phu Quoc isn’t the paradise we were hoping for. There’s still not much infrastructure – and a lot of the island doesn’t have roads – but that might be your type of paradise. I think it would be a lot more my type of paradise if there wasn’t so much garbage and it worries me that more development will bring more garbage, not less.
We booked our onward travel at a small restaurant (it just so happened to be the daughter-in-law of the man who rented us the bikes) and headed off for the ferry to the mainland.
About 2 hours on the ferry and we were bundled into a mini bus and dropped at a cafe in Ham Tien, ready for the next stop on the agenda.
This article originally appeared on asocialnomad.com.
See more Phu Quoc Island travel guide at here.