The journey to phu qouc was an uncomfortable one. After a long and painful overnight sleeper bus we got to Ha tien, a border town on the sea where we had to wait for our boat to arrive. Soon we boarded the superdong 8, a very modern ferry with air con, complementary water and face towels and a TV showing some Vietnamese game show. Once we reached the harbour it was almost impossible to get out of the boat as there was a huge rush to get out quickly while there was also a large amount of men blocking the exit shouting TAXI ! TAXI ! We met two English boys and decided to get a taxi together (they had not booked a hostel yet and they liked the sound of ours so they decided to come with us). After about half a dozen taxi drivers fought over us we finally got in a van that took us to the other side of the island.
Our hostel (called 9 station costing us 5$ a night, which is a very average price) was recommended to us by our friends whom we had met in Hoi An and they did not disappoint. We entered a big, spacey and modern hostel build only a few years ago. There was a swimming pool and the rooms where modern and clean. The beds where cubicles and we got fresh towels everyday, lockers, bedside lamps, key cards, air conditioning and free use of the washing machines. Compared to the dirty brothel/prison of a hostel we stayed in Ho Chi Minh City this was heaven. Also we were delighted to find that the showers where separate from the toilets. The Vietnamese have this horrible habit of putting a shower with no curtain or drainage right next to the toilet instead of having separate rooms or at least a cubicle for the shower. This means that the toilet and bathroom floor is always wet and the shower full of bad odours, it is simply revolting and I am always delighted when I find a hostel that separates the two. As it was still before our check in time we decided to go for a dip in the infinity pool and grab some pho in a little restaurant near the hostel.
After checking in and dropping our bags we went to the sea which was a 5-10 minute walk away. The beach was beautiful; palm trees with swings hanging of them lined the beach and the sand was golden. The water was warm and there where no rocks or plants in it, (This, although nice for swimming meant that my snorkel that I had been lugging around since I first arrived was useless in Phu Qouc) however tiny bits of coral where floating around stinging us a bit.
We went for a swim and then a walk on the beach past quite a few nice hotels. There where a few people trying to sell us things, mostly fruit and massages but they where far more relaxed than in Hoi An (where some woman with a basket just sat on one of our towels for a few minutes asking us over and over again if we wanted to buy stuff). Then came something that we have heard a lot about, the famous Phu Qouc sunset. This island is pretty much the only place where you can watch the sunset over the water (in Vietnam) and hence is infamous among Vietnamese. As the sun was approaching the horizon the sky was set ablaze with vulcanous reds and yellows, spreading far further than sunsets back at home. The powerful illuminating colour of the sky turned ever so slowly into a mysterious dwindling display of purple and even green colours following the sun as it submerged into the ocean. When I looked around on the beach during the sunset I saw many others fixated on the sun in an almost trance like fashion, even the locals who must see this everyday stopped what they where doing and watched the suns curtain call.
In the evening Harry, I and one of the Liams (the two English guys are both called Liam) enjoyed a few drinks at our hostel before going to a bar on the beach which had quite a nice bonfire with a big group from the place we were staying at. The next day was spend on the beach, in the pool and in the sea. After the long journey and the stuffiness of Saigon this was just what we needed. We also appreciated our room but there was one little issue with it. There was this group of Vietnamese girls staying in our dorm that I talked to a bit and seemed quite nice however they had a few awful habits. Firstly they always cooked pot noodles and had them in the room which made the whole place stink. There was a big lobby and a pool and plenty of other places where you could eat your noodles in peace but for some reason they chose our room. In a dorm not everybody goes to sleep at the same time and whenever we come back to our room, whether at 10 in the evening or 5 in the morning we try and be as quiet as possible and use our phone lights to get to bed. Sometimes if we have an early bus and have to pack in the morning we have to turn the lights on but we still try our best to turn it of as soon as possible. Those girls did not share that attitude. They would come in at night turn all the lights on, leave the door open (which made the room really hot) and have loud conversations while everyone else was asleep, once leaving they would not close the door or turn of the lights. We asked them nicely to turn of the lights but they didn’t. I looked on of them in the eyes while asking and she didn’t seem like she was doing it to annoy us or because she was rude it seemed that she was simply confused about our perspective on this matter. We also had a girl in our room who had been stung by a poisonous animal and didn’t want to die in her sleep so she had an alarm every hour throughout the whole night which was also a tad annoying.
On our second full day the three of us and one Liam decided to rent mopeds and explore the island, after haggling at a few rental places and getting some petrol we set of. The first part of our journey took us over a fairly empty highway on which we tested our bikes, that where a lot faster than the ones we had for the Hai Van pass. (The Phu Qouc bikes did a bit over 100 kmh). We had to turn of the highway and followed a gravel path that turned into a dirt track until we found the sea. We parked our bikes by an abandoned restaurant and walked to the beach, there was not a single soul insight apart from a few fishing boast that had anchored just of the coast. After resting here for a short while we got back on our mopeds and continued our drive until we found another secluded beach on which we decided to go for a swim. The sea here was lovely (no biting coral) and once again there was no one else bar us. We went for a swim and enjoyed our secluded beach resting in the shade given by some trees. The water here was also somewhat clear however my snorkel showed me nothing apart from the occasional fish swimming past.
Soon we got back on our bikes and instead of finding a road we took a dirt path up north. This track was by far the worst road I have ever driven on, instead of gravel it was fine sand which meant our bikes often got stuck in the sand, of which there was plenty as there where huge piles of it on the side of this track. Occasionally we came past these huge puddles of dark orange water which would force us to drive on the side where the trees would smack us in our faces with their prickly branches.
After getting stuck a few more times there was a red and white chain stopping us from going further and behind it we saw a giant digger cutting its way through the trees. It dawned on us that the only other vehicle that had driven on this “road” was a machine that had tyres bigger than our mopeds. We realised that we had to turn around and go through the whole torture again. Harry went to get something from under his seat and left his key there when he got back on his bike. The problem with that was that you could only open the boot with the key. At this point we though ourselves in trouble, would we have to push the bike back over this hell road and down the island? As we though about ways to tackle this task Liam went over to Harry’s bike and yanked the seat open. With the help of brute strength crisis on the track was avoided.
Driving further north we saw giant construction sites of holiday resorts being raised from the ground. Before coming here we heard that big investments have started to come in in the last few years and that phu qouc is going to be completely developed in 20 years in a similar way to somewhere like Phuket. At the northern tip we saw further evidence of this in a giant modern hospital and a water park that looked somewhat surreal as they where completely empty but really new and well kept.
On our drive back south we found a giant abandoned runway (this island had a lot of military presence due to its close proximity to Cambodia so I assume this was a military airport back in the day) and we decided to do some drag racing up and down this runway. This was really fun as the four of us where speeding down this empty runway with no other vehicles or turns insight and the sun beginning to set.
Liam drove of to drop of his bike and the three of us drove to a luxurious resort with a nice infinity pool just by the beach from which we enjoyed the view, the beautiful sunset and a Russian model who was doing a photo shoot in the pool we were swimming in. One of the guys who worked there got a bit suspicious and asked us if we where guests of the hotel. A confident yes ended his doubts and we remained in this pool undisturbed.
The next day we went of to Ha Tien near the border and ended our time in Vietnam with one last Bahn Mih.
After just under a month in the socialist republic of Vietnam we went on to the next country, the Kingdom of Wonders.
PS. My love for Bahn Mihs is endless however that does not count for all of the people who sell them. About 50 to 75% of the time they will not give me the change back that I ought to get and when asked they conveniently happen have it right there. A typical example would be paying with a 500.000 and instead of getting 480.000 they will only give you 380.000. Of course mistakes happen but it just happens to much here to be purely accidental. That is one thing I find tiering about Vietnam as you always have to be on guard to stop people from ripping you of.
PS. My blog writing app seems to be broken and I cannot add a descibtion below a photo. Both of those photos where taken by jamie (I did not take many photos in phu qouc).