A slice of Vietnam paradise on Phu Quoc Island

Posted: March 21, 2011 in South East Asia
Tags: , , ,

After a few days mooching around Saigon, we took a short trip out to the largest island in Vietnam, Phu Quoc, that sits 15km south of the Vietnam/Cambodia border. The tear-shaped island is also claimed by Cambodia; its Khmer name is Koh Tral. At least this tug of war over a small patch of land hasn’t led to bloodshed. The day we arrived, Phu Quoc was shrouded in cloud and the weather forecast was for 5 days of scattered showers. Everywhere we go, we always bring the weather with us.

Relaxing beachside

We had booked a garden bungalow at Viet Thanh Bungalows at the southern tip of Long Beach, which runs down the western side of the island beyond the tiny airstrip.

Viet Thanh is at the end of a narrow dirt track and first appearances weren’t sparkling. The main building looks like it was abandoned years ago and reception is a concrete box with a rotten wooden desk. There was nobody anywhere near reception either, so we started to think we’d booked the ghost hotel. After a few minutes of saying “Xin jow” hopefully into thin air, a young chap popped his head round the corner and checked us in. His English was as good as my Vietnamese, so the check-in was amusing.

As we walked to or bungalow, the picture improved. The garden area is basic but really chilled. The central garden is more sand than plants but the bungalows are dotted amongst the trees and inside are really spacious. For $25 in tourist town we were happy enough and settled in. It was only a few days later that Muneeza started to notice the smell of stale urine coming from the still uncleaned bathroom.

From our bungalow it was a short 10m walk to the beach. With a beachfront bar and restaurant, it was a cool place to lie low and cut down spending. The beach was beautiful golden sand though it was rather narrow. We spent our first afternoon cooling in the calm waters and tucked into a hearty seafood BBQ in the evening, washed down with a couple of ice-cold Saigon beers.

Long Beach Phu Quoc

I chose to push on with my work project whilst Muneeza pushed on with Shantaram, her reading nemesis, so Friday morning was spent on the bungalow porch typing away. Viet Thanh advertised free wifi but that’s a tenuous claim; first the wifi signal is weaker than someone on hunger strike and second, the power supply never worked in the morning so the wireless router wasn’t on. Oh well, at least it was free!

After a late lunch we took a stroll up Long Beach to check out the competition. What’s nice about Phu Quoc is that you get a large crowd of local holiday visitors as well as foreign tourists, so you don’t feel like you’re in Europe. Walking on the beach is novocain for the soul and after a few hours we were ready to hit the bungalow and take a power nap.

A grand day out – snorkeling around the An Thoi islands

It sounds much grander than it was, much to our disappointment. Even the Lonely Planet described the An Thoi Islands as “a fine area for swimming, snorkeling and fishing”. Fine area my arse.

The southern archipelago is indeed a beautiful sight – a series of small islands dominated by tropical forests, white sandy beaches and dramatic cliff faces. Sailing around the islands is a serene experience and it does make you feel like you’ve found a slice of paradise. However, and this is a big however, we booked a snorkeling trip for Saturday, not a “see the beautiful islands” trip. And good for snorkeling it definitely isn’t. The reef is as dead as Jesus (post resurrection). It’s the most depressing sight for someone who has seen beautiful, vibrant reefs in many places around the world. It was like looking down at a marine morgue. I though the first island snorkeling was an aberration and the next would reveal a pristine marine environment. Not a chance. Even worse. We both got out the water immediately in protest at the scandalous con of taking people to places where there is nothing to see. I’m not even exaggerating; at the first ‘snorkel’ spot, in 10 mins (I gave it time to find living, breathing coral systems) I saw 2 tiny fish. Even they looked bored. They probably only came over to look at us, reverse snorkeling.

Fishing on An Thoi Islands

The snorkeling was matched by the awful attempt at allowing us to fish. Fishing had also been one of the USPs of the trip and we were told we’d get at least 30mins fishing time before starting the snorkeling. ‘Quality fishing equipment’ was included in the price; the reality was a small plastic reel with line wound around it and a metal hook and small weight at the end. Fishing involved throwing the line out and then trying to wind the line back in manually by wrapping it round the reel without lacerating your hands. After 10mins and zero catches from anyone, we were told to pull the lines in and stop. Complete waste of time. Our Captain was so unenthused that he sailed over the lines of another tourist boat as we pulled away, snapping most of them and scaring any fish away. Now that’s consideration for you.

Despite the poverty of activities, the trip was a lot of fun. The group got on well and we met some cool people and arranged to hook up with them in the evening for a few beers and football (much to Muni’s delight!).

Working the hangover off

I awoke on Sunday to do my planned half-day’s work with a slightly numb head and a large slice of grumpiness. Luckily for Muneeza she could stay in bed and let me get on with it.  We spent the afternoon at the beachside bar researching plans for Indonesia and realised that we would need to shell out another few £hundred on flights if we didn’t want to spend the whole time on a bus. Don’t listen to anyone when they say flights in South East Asia are cheap; you’re lucky if you can get one of the cheap flights and so far our luck has been out.

We waved goodbye to Phu Quoc on Monday and flew back to Saigon to soak up the history of the Vietnam War in the War Remnants Museum before leaving for Laos. Phu Quoc was fun and the island is beautiful but if you’re looking for incredible snorkeling and diving, don’t even bother. As a place to kick back and unwind, it’s perfect.

Love jamer & Muneeza x

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s