Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam

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Wandering Marathoner / Asia, Food / Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam


Filed Under: Asia, Food by Tyler June 12, 2011, 6:06 pm

To wrap up our 3 1/2 month honeymoon, we decided to head back to the beach. An hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City, and just a few miles off the Cambodian coast, Phú Quốc Island has been described as what “Phuket used to be”… lots of countryside, few tourists, and very little development. Staying at a drab 1980s-communist era hotel, we felt a little disappointed when we walked down to the deserted, trash-covered beach and overcast skies. We continued on to a well-rated seafood restaurant, only to find it closed because apparently we were visiting Phú Quốc in the off-season.

This wasn’t exactly what we had in mind.

But we decided to make the best of our short 4-day trip. We walked ten minutes down the highway to the nearby town of Duong Dong and its bustling night market, full of seafood vendors. Settling on an outdoor stand, oddly named Cat Food (I’m sure there’s a logical Vietnamese translation, or else we made a big mistake), we feasted on sautéed morning glory greens with garlic, grilled squid, scallops with fresh herbs and crushed peanuts, and fried tuna fillets with lemongrass, washed down with a surprisingly good French white Burgundy. A Fancy Feast, if you will. [cymbal crash]

I’ve never been one to rent a scooter in a foreign country, but the following day we knew we needed to do some exploring, or face total boredom. At least in Vietnam they drive on the right side of the road, and we weren’t in a heavily populated area. And adventure we did find. With a poorly-defined map in hand, we discovered the many highways of Phú Quốc – all under construction. Searching for the elusive beach, and dodging earthmovers, we traversed the roughest, rolling, poorest-excuse for roads one can imagine. But, at least we managed (barely) to stay upright the entire time.

After an hour of driving, we were very lost. Jennie looked to her left and spotted an army tank. A hundred yards later, we were surrounded by Vietnamese soldiers. I couldn’t help but feel a bit anxious, but really, they didn’t pay much attention to us. We rolled on, not wanting to hang around in case they were practicing with live ammunition. [We later learned that Phú Quốc is still contested between Cambodia and Vietnam. Wars have been fought over it, hence the military build up on the north side of the island.] There were a group of civilians further down the road, mostly men, who didn’t speak much English, and seemed aggressive in the loud and harsh manner they spoke to us when we stopped for directions. Finally we found a kind farmer, who seemed to understand what we were looking for. After disappearing for a minute, he rolled out on his motorcycle, and gestured for us to follow him as he led us to the beach. The beach was beautiful – light blue waters, gentle surf, white sand, and not a soul to be seen. But still, trash everywhere.

Our final day, we continued exploring Phú Quốc, this time to the south on a sandy gravel road — which resulted in some scary fishtailing — and then cutting to the east to the elusive, and truly spectacular Sao Beach. Calm turquoise waters, swaying palm trees, few people, and gentle surf perfect for swimming. We sat down at a little restaurant directly on the beach for a couple sodas, which the waitress served with some local cashews. I remember thinking, how nice? When the bill came, we were charged for the cashews. I politely explained to the waitress that we didn’t order the cashews and assumed they were complementary. We didn’t think it was right that we should be charged for them. This didn’t go over too well. The owner — a small, middle aged lady — proceeded to have a full meltdown, complete with screaming and fist slams on the table. We were in shock, having never seen anything like this. Rather than risk physical assault, we paid the $2, and got out of there.

And so we wrapped up our trip to Phú Quốc with a return visit to Cat Food, and ended on a high note. Sadly, our round-the-world adventure would soon end. We would spend the following night in Saigon, followed by an overnight in Singapore, and then an 18-hour journey back to San Francisco. After 99 days of travel, 25 flights, 11 countries on 3 continents, 40 different hotels, and 1 overnight bus ride in India … we both felt ready to be home.

We feel blessed to have been able to undertake such a crazy adventure and share it on this blog, yet we always feel hesitant to describe it as a “trip of a lifetime”. For us, that suggests that we won’t undertake something like this again. So for now, we’re perfectly happy to describe it as a “trip of a lifetime, so far”. We’ll wait and see what the future holds.

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