Thursday, October 29, 2009

Vietnams Phu Quoc, a little slice of heaven

I've had enough adventures over the past two weeks to fill a book. So where to start? Well I guess the beginning would be a good choice right?

More than likely you've never heard of Phu Quoc and that's understandable. I'd never heard of it until I decided to go there. Hailed as the Phuket of Vietnam it sits off the west coast of the country and is only an hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City.

Before we left I decided to do a little research on the island just to see what there was to do. One thing I often found mentioned was the construction of a new international airport on the Island. If that terminal is being constructed I found no evidence of it when we landed there. Although bigger than some airport terminals I've been to before it was still very small and serviced only by Vietnam Airlines. I take it that the international airport in Phu Quocs future will be SE Asia International which is still a huge step forward.
Since Phu Quoc has been hailed as the Phuket of Vietnam I'll admit I was a little nervous going there. I've been to Phuket and seen it's less than glamorous side. Those worries were unwarranted however. Phu Quoc still has a long way to go to match Phuket and that's the beauty of it. On this island you can still find personal space. You don't feel crowded and you don't feel overwhelmed with things to do. Most of the island in fact still has rough, dirt roads. There is one paved road that goes from the town in the center of the island to the southern end where the harbor is but for the most part all other roads are unpaved although as we were there we could see a lot of work being done on the roads in preparation for paving. The island also has very few large hotels and resorts freeing up prime beach space for the little guys which I found endearing. One way the island did resemble Phuket however was the garbage. Any stretch of beach that did not have a hotel sitting on it was covered in litter and often times we would be swimming in the water and we would feel something latch on to our foot. The moment of panic was taken away when we lifted our foot up and found it was only a soggy plastic bag.

So there's a little about Phu Quoc, here's our story.
When we arrived at Phu Quoc on Sunday morning we had barely made it to our hotel before a monsoon hit. And boy was it a doozy. Rain and wind all afternoon. It was a little disheartening since we had come to the beach so we could sit on the beach, read a bit, go swimming and work on our tans. All things impossible in a monsoon. Thankfully for us Sunday was the only day it rained. For three days we were able to just sit on the beach, relax and swim. I got a fairly good sunburn and I finished two books and started a third. That's the type of productiveness that I like. Wednesday was the only day that we mixed it up a bit by going on a snorkeling/fishing trip. One look at the harbor and we could tell that Phu Quoc was relatively new on the tourist scene. As far as the eye could see were fishing boats and nestled snug in the middle was our out of place tourist boat.

We headed out of the infested harbor and to some of the small islands off shore. Before we reached the first island the boat stopped and one of the men came back and said we will go fishing now. Each of us were handed a giant colorful spool of fishing line with a hook and some bait tied at the end. I don't fish often but even this was a new type of fishing for me. We just threw the hook off the side and let the spool unwind itself. Soon people were catching fish, that is people all around me were catching fish. I think for some reason the fish HATED my line. I had one of the workers standing next to me who was reeling a fish in what seemed like every minute. Then one time he looked over and had me switch him spools. I thought I felt something (so faint I couldn't really tell) so I started really it in and there was a fish. Then I understood. I looked at the guy next to me and said "it was already on there wasn't it?!" and he just laughed. So I did catch a fish, well, two actually but I had a little help.

After about twenty minutes of "fishing" we pulled away and headed for our first snorkel spot. Armed with my small camera in a waterproof case I jumped in the water and went in search of some coral. Of course I got the mask that constantly fills with water so that was a pain in the butt but I dealt with it. Although later on I heard some of the others on the boat complaining about the state of the coral it was honestly the nicest I've ever seen. While a chunk of it was grey and dead there was also a good chunk that was vibrant and alive. Bright green corals and giant anemones where everywhere. Fish swam around and dangerous black sea urchins with 8 inch spikes littered the coral tops. It was beautiful and I was having a good time swimming around taking pictures and videos and then I saw my camera was getting a little foggy so I took the case out of the water. A leak! There was water in the case! I swam back to the boat and got the camera out immediatly. It was only a little wet so I didn't think there was too much harm done although days later on our way to Cambodia the screen went fuzzy and eventually quit working completely. I don't know if it's connected but more likely than not it is.

Before heading out again we sat down to lunch and feasted on fish, fruit, rice, noodles, veggies and tofu. It was all so delicious. Then we headed off to the next snorkel spot. It wasn't quite as good at the first spot but here some of the guys from the boat jumped in and, using a long pole harvested the black sea urchins. There was no way I would get that close to the urchins. I've heard to many stories about what happens and the spikes were long. They then brought the urchins back up onto the boat, cut off all the spikes and cracked them open. For 15,000 Dong (about $1) we could buy one a try sea urchin. I didn't plan on buying one but when Lucy offered some of hers for me to taste I thought hey way not? It was super slimy but tasted like super salty beef. Part of that could have been because of the salt and pepper mix they put on it. Overall raw sea urchin wasn't that bad. I'll have to remember that in case I'm ever on survivor.

The last part of our tour was to go to Sao Beach, the most beautiful beach on the island. We went back to shore and all piled into vans to head for the beach. While most hotels on the island are located on it's western coast which is a bit wavy so the sand gets stirred up and the water isn't crystal clear, Sao Beach is on the islands east side and the water is almost glassy still and very shallow. We were able to walk out at least 100 yards and it still wasn't waste deep. We probably could have walked further but we came across a lone starfish sitting on the sandy bottom and decided to have a photoshoot (those pictures are on Sarahs camera and I will post later). It was while we were having this photoshoot that all of us except Brenna stepped on tiny sea urchins that must have been hidden in the sand. The burning, itching feeling that occured in the next couple minutes wasn't entirely pleasent.

That was the only day that we really got away from our hotel. Originally we had planned on going motorbiking but when we saw the state of the roads we decided against it. There was also a night market in town that we never made it there. Oh well. I guess we were to preoccupied with the AMAZING sunsets and I do mean AMAZING. It was hard to believe but it seemed like every night they would just get better and brighter and more colorful. The neon tones on the water just made you want to swim in it, so of course we did :)

I must also mention our hotel(Sea Star Resort) which after walking up and down the beach was one of the better ones I saw and the only one that had bungalows literally on the beach. The bungalows we stayed in weren't the ones right on the beach but if we sat on our porch we could still see the beach very clearly and it's not like we spent a lot of time in our rooms either. The largest part of our day was spent on the white lounge chairs sitting in the sand, every now and again getting up to move them into a shadier location. Our hotel also had a restaurant and it was OK but just a few spaces down the beach was Casia Cottage and the restaurant there had awesome food and the most AMAZING ice cream I have ever tasted. That's enough to keep me coming back.

When friday rolled around and we had to leave none of us wanted to go. I could honestly have lived at Sea Star if it were in a more convenient location. If you have a chance to visit Phu Quoc take it but be quick, before long I can see this place becoming really developed and loosing a piece of it's exotic, secluded charm.

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