Asia · Vietnam

Phu Quoc

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Thursday morning was spent preparing for my solo trip to Phu Quoc. I have wanted to visit Phu Quoc since I got to Vietnam because everyone says its incredibly beautiful and similar to Phuket 30 years ago. They are currently building an international airport and have grand plans of building it up for tourists in the next 5 years so I wanted to come on this trip while it is still rugged and pristine. The way it worked out, no-one was available to go with me so my options were go by myself or don’t go at all. I really really wanted to see the island before it becomes a tourist enclave so I decided to just book it. When I was packing, I felt really nervous but was happy to be going all by myself to prove to myself that I could do it. After some research, I decided to stay on Long Beach, which is along the centre of the west coast of the island and nearest to the airport and the biggest town, Duong Dong.

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I left PH3 at 11am for my flight at 12.55pm. I flew with Air Mekong and didn’t think it would be very good because the flights were £60 return. How wrong I was. The flight was only 45 minutes but we got given a cake and some water and the staff were really friendly. For some reason I also got the seat with extra leg room… Why couldn’t that have happened on my 8 hour flight from London to Delhi?! Flying into Phu Quoc was beautiful. The island is really luscious and green and mountainous with lots of beaches. The hotel organised and paid for my airport pick up so I went straight to the hotel and checked in to my clean and well equipped budget room. After sharing a room for so long it was really great to have some space for myself (and a big double bed and complete control of the TV).

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I unpacked my things and got dressed for the beach, which is about 200m from the hotel. The beach is much more beautiful than Mui Ne, although there isn’t always much beach to walk on at times. There are lots of resorts along the beach but it felt quite empty the whole way down. The water was amazingly calm and warm, another difference with Mui Ne. I wondered along the beach for an hour, sitting down for a while to take in the views and then on the way back I sat at a beach cafe and drank a mango smoothie while watching the world go by slowly. It was a perfect afternoon.

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I then came back to the hotel and showered (I hate the feel of sun cream) and read my book for a while. It was then perfect timing that I went up to the rooftop for dinner at sunset. Unfortunately I was a fool and didn’t take my camera. As soon as I walked up the stairs there was the perfect picture: beautiful orange sky with an old fishing boat sailing across the ocean. It was the best setting. I ordered noodles with mixed seafood (delicious), watched the sun go down and read my book. I then watched a movie and had an early night.

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On Friday morning I took a wonder into Duong Dong, which is tiny. It’s about a 300m walk from hotel to the centre of town. Even though it’s the biggest town on the island, it is definitely not built for tourists, which is lovely. It is laid back and traditionally Vietnamese with people sitting around enjoying street food and drinks (central to Vietnamese culture in the south). The roads are relatively empty and everything just seems to move at a slower pace. There is a small fishing area located on the Duong Dong River that runs through the town, which was packed with boats but looked pretty with the tree covered mountains in the background and the brightly coloured boats in the foreground. While most of the streets are filled with standard Vietnamese buildings, there are a couple of beautiful colonial-style buildings that house the People’s Committee (local council) and the like. There are also some temples and pagodas in the town. From what I can gather, most people on the island follow Cao Dai. It was a chilled out morning wondering around town (purchasing some sweet Vietnamese cakes on the way from an old man and his grand-daughter).

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I came back to the hotel and got my stuff for the beach. I then spent three hours reading a magazine, reading ‘Brick Lane’ on my Kindle, and swimming in the ocean. It was quite cloudy and there was a nice breeze, which was the perfect weather because when the sun was out it was HOT. I reapplied (you taught me well mama!) but I still managed to go pink (I promise I used 30, mum!). To be fair, apart from about four hours in total of sunbathing in Mui Ne, this is the only other time I’ve sunbathed on my trip so my skin just isn’t used to it (damn being pasty). For lunch I wondered back to a restaurant near my hotel that is right on the seafront and had fried rice and seafood (will keep going with the seafood, it’s good and we don’t get it at PH3) while looking out into the gorgeously blue ocean.

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The rest of the afternoon was spent reading and napping in the shade (no more direct sun for me). In the evening I watched the sunset from the rooftop of the hotel, but sods law because I had my camera this time it was nowhere near as spectacular as Thursday night. I walked into town and went to a place called Buddy’s for dinner (and a banana smoothie of course). It’s strange because walking round in the day the place seemed like a ghost town (too hot for locals and tourists sunbathing?) but there were lots of people about at night.

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I went to a tiny night market first but there weren’t many stalls and it had really tacky flashing colourful nights. I then went to the main night market, which was much busier. The first half was full of street food-type restaurants with loads of sea food and there were tourists AND locals eating there so that was promising. The rest of the market was largely ‘pearls’ (something the island is known for as well as fish sauce, black pepper and Phu Quoc dogs), a few clothes and souvenirs. It was lucky I went home when I did because at about 8pm it started chucking it down as well as thunder and lightening.

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Saturday was a very chilled out, lazy day. I went to the beach in the morning and sat down and read my book for a couple of hours (in the shade of course). I then went for a wonder down the beach. Before lunch I walked around town for a little and then at 1.30pm had lunch in a lovely restaurant overlooking the sea. In the afternoon I had a very short nap (well, it had been a very difficult morning after all) and read my book some more. In the evening I watched the sunset from the rooftop of the hotel again, prettier than Friday night but nowhere near as gorgeous as Thursday night. I then went and wondered around the markets again and got some charms for my local school as a small goodbye gift and then had dinner at one of the street restaurants in the market. It was a good place to people watch but people kept staring at me because I was by myself. On the way back to the hotel I stopped at the bakery to get some dessert and breakfast for the morning and then had an early night again (a very restful weekend).

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Yesterday was a really great day. At 8am I was picked up by the mini bus and we made our way to the port in An Thoi, south of Phu Quoc. We drove through An Thoi itself, the second largest town on the island, and I actually thought it seemed much nicer than Duong Dong. It was great to drive through the island as Duong Dong is in the centre so we basically saw the whole of the south of the island on our travels. The terrain is rugged and luscious and stunning, as well as running parallel to the beach for most of the way… Perfect. The first 10 minutes was spent on a tarmac road (runs parallel to Long Beach, the most popular area for tourists) and we then made the rest of our journey on the dirt roads, which were uncomfortable to say the least but prove that Phu Quoc is still relatively untouched. I imagine there will be tarmac roads all over the island in the next 15 years. Before we reached the port we stopped at a pearl farm, something Phu Quoc is fast becoming famous for. Pearls aren’t really my thing but was interesting to see how the jewellery is made etc and to see all the different designs and prices. Did you know they don’t know what colour a pearl will be until they open the oyster? Black is the rarest colour and therefore the most expensive.

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We then boarded our boat in An Thoi and off we went! It was really choppy for ages and quite a few people were sea sick, but luckily I don’t get affected by it so I could enjoy the beautiful An Thoi archipelago (12 islands in total). There was a great breeze from the sea (so nice not to be sweating 24/7 in Phu Quoc like I do in HCMC) but I stayed out of the sun because didn’t want to go pink again. Our first stop was at a floating fish ‘shop’ where the crew bought our fresh lunch. We then made another stop and did some fishing. Only two people caught fish (quite reasonably sized too) so there were definitely fish there but fishing is not my forte in any way… I felt my line get heavier so I went to reel it in and turned out it was caught on the boat and the hook snapped off haha, no fish for me.

After that I was bored of fishing (plus I didn’t have the means to fish anymore). We then went to some coral and did some snorkelling. I didn’t do it for very long because all I saw was grey fish. No-one else raved about the snorkelling either. The next stop was for more snorkelling but I wasn’t really inspired to do it again so I joined some of the others in jumping off the top of the boat instead. I thought it would be easy but when I was hanging over the edge for the first time I felt nervous… I didn’t have anything to be nervous about, it was really fun. We then had a huge feast for lunch with noodles, rice, omelette, vegetables and of course loads of fish with pineapple and watermelon for after.

After lunch, we went to one more spot for snorkelling but I just went for a little swim instead. We then made our way back to An Thoi port. On the way back, we drove past the ‘Coconut Tree prison’, which was built by the French before World War II and was later used by the Americans during the Vietnam War to house tens of thousands of prisoners. In its heyday during the Vietnam War, the prison housed an estimated peak of 40,000 Vietcong. I really wanted to visit the prison (because I’m very intrigued by prisons and prisoners), however the tours and taxis were really expensive so I didn’t make it unfortunately. The prison is still partly in use today and we saw some prisoners in cage-type structures outside in the heat (it was about 35 degrees today, and a limited breeze inland).

We then went to Sao beach, which had sand like flour. The beach was gorgeous and while there were lots of waves they were very gentle. It was then drop off time (with an audible sigh of relief when we made it back to the tarmac). Last night I just got banh mi (baguette bread) and egg and a coconut pastry as I was really full from lunch, and chilled out, the sun makes you so sleepy.

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This morning I got up early and went to the bakery and the local shop to get breakfast. I then sat on the hotel rooftop eating my final breakfast in paradise and reading a magazine. I got to the airport at 10am for my flight at 11.25am. Once again I got the seat with extra leg room, randomly next to a guy from northern England that was on my tour on Sunday. I also got another yummy cake (lemon) and we were up and down just in time for me to finish my book.

I’m so happy that I went to Phu Quoc by myself. I realised that I am definitely capable of travelling alone. Even though I came out here by myself I’ve always been with groups of people so I have never actually been alone until this weekend. I think 4 days was enough on an island where there aren’t many other young Westerners travelling and so very few people to talk to. The only part I didn’t like was eating dinner by myself, it’s nice to be able to share your day with someone!

Fact: Phu Quoc is also claimed by Cambodia.

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