April 26, 2011

Phu Quoc, Vietnam

Finally, this will be my last blog post from my winter vacation through Southeast Asia. The last stop on our trip was the large Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc.

We flew from Ho Chi Minh City to Phu Quoc on Air Mekong for dirt cheap (less than $50). The flight was only 40 minutes or so, taking us from grid lock traffic to paradise.
Phu Quoc is Vietnam's largest island at 222 square miles with 85,000 inhabitants. I would consider this island to be still "unfound" my the main stream travel crowd. It is still very secluded and not very built up yet. These are some reasons why I LOVED IT THERE.

We stayed on Long Beach (the only part of the island that has many hotels and restaurants for tourists). If you are looking for a place to stay on Phu Quoc, I would recommend just walking up and down Long Beach and going in and out of hotels and hostels to see what place has room. There are tons of places at many different price ranges. We stayed at Amigos, a Mexican restaurant hostel, owned by a Australian for $20 a night. Good location, but I would not recommend staying there because of the management.

Amigos was right on the main strip of hostels and restaurants on Long Beach. This is the only strip of land on Phu Quoc that looks touristy. The rest of the island is untouched beaches and average Vietnamese's towns. We spent a couple of days lounging on Long Beach, swimming and going for long walks. Cant ask for much more.

There was a night market close to Long Beach that we went to two nights while we were on Phu Quoc. The market is a great place for tourists to mingle with the locals. It is full of outside restaurants that served amazingly fresh seafood and Vietnamese food.

We also hit up the night market for Lunar New Years Eve or in Vietnam, TET. It was insanely crowed but a ton of fun. It was nice to see all of the local families celebrating together. They had a big firework show that made me feel like it was the 4th of July. We wondered around enjoying the New Years festivities for a while. We also shopped a little at the market for some souvenirs including t-shirts and $2 black pearl earrings (Phu Quoc is also famous for it's pearl farms).

The island is pretty big and the only ways to get around are by taxi (extremely cheap taxi vans can be called to anywhere on the island) and motorbikes. We decided to rent 3 motor bikes for the six of us to explore the island for two days. I had never been on a motorbike before, and I was a little nervous.

Growing up on Martha's Vineyard in the summers, made me terrified of mopeds. More than half of the cars in my town had bumper stickers on them that read "MOPEDS ARE DANGEROUS". Many tourits come to MV for a day trip and rent mopeds to tour the island. The roads are very narrow and windy, which makes it a very dangerous island for mopeding and there are always a couple of serious accidents every summer.

I some how came over my fears and we hit the roads of Phu Quoc. I was on the back of Sam's ped and he can reassure you that I told him to slow down more than a handful of times. I also will admit I was a small (maybe huge) back seat driver (sorry Sam). It was a great time and I made it out of there alive.

The first day on the mopeds we went south to check out the city at the most southern tip of the island (An Thoi) and Sao Beach.

To get some perspective on the size of the island, it took us over 45 minutes to get from Long Beach (where we were staying) to Sao Beach in the south. It was quite the adventure to find our way there. The only map of the island we had was very undetailed and only showed 4 roads on the whole island. There was a lot of guessing and following small signs down dirt roads. We finally made it to Sao Beach and we felt like we found "The Beach". The paradise that no one else knows that it exists.

Here is a video of what our ride looked like on our way to the south.

And this is what it looked like when we arrive at Sao Beach. Paradise!

After spending some time taking in paradise at Sao, we decided to take a look around the south and the city of An Thoi. It is a small but bustling port city in the south of Phu Quoc. As far as we could tell the locals don't see many foreigners and tourists often, so it was very interesting to walk around. It felt like what a average Vietnamese island town should be like. It was very rewarding to see what life was really like there.

We stopped to grab some lunch. We deiceded to get food from a street vendor selling Pho. Pho is a traditional and famous Vietnamese noodle soup usually served with beef or chicken. This was my favorite meal I had in Vietnam. This place (street vendor) had amazing Pho with a great street environment to go with it.

Here is a short video so you can see what it looked like driving around An Thoi.

On our drive home we hit a beautiful sunset on Long Beach. A great end to a memorable day.

The next day we took our bikes up to the northern part of the island in search of our own private beach for the day.

It turned out to be an incredible and tricky ride through some very small floating villages. Also a good part of the trip was on small dirt roads right along the coast line. We stopped multiple times to lay out and jump in the water. Here are some pictures from the day!

Here is a video of the ride alone the ocean.

For lunch we found a road side beach restaurant. Each table had their own hammocks and a private beach.

On the way home we hit a small rickety bridge in a river village. We made it to the other side, but it was little scary.

The nightlife in Phu Quoc is not very developed yet. Since there are few tourists, there are only a couple of places to go out. You can find some nice beach bars along Long Beach (including where we stayed Amigos). Across the street from Long Beach you can find a night life shopping mall of sorts called Paradise City.

Inside there are a couple of bars, catering to tourists, and a night club that is for the locals on Phu Quoc called KIKI'S.

We went to KIKI'S on Lunar New Year's Eve and it was packed! We were the only non-Vietnamese there and we were getting a lot of attention. It was a lot of fun making friends and dancing with the locals.

Overall, Phu Quoc was breathtaking. It had natural beauty that had has not been untouched by the outside world. I finally felt like I was seeing a country with out any tourism frills. I loved navigating my own adventure through the island on mopeds. I am so happy I decided to make a stop in Phu Quoc now because I am afraid of the development that may come. Every couple of months a new restaurant or a new resort gets built, slowly making the island just like every other Southeast Asian tourist island. Try to go to Phu Quoc before other people find it!

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