Phu Quoc Island a Tropical Paradise

Phu Quoc is a tropical island in the Gulf of Thailand. It belongs to Vietnam but lies closer to Cambodia. It is easily reached on a short 50 minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City, over the mighty Mekong Delta and is well worth a visit.

After two plus months of traveling throughout SE Asia, Phu Quoc was a welcome beach vacation destination. Admittedly there are many touristy things to do on Phu Quoc but if you’re me and your somewhat tired of shifting about, sitting still on a white sandy beach under some palm trees for a week or more is a welcome respite.

There are several different areas to stay on Phu Quoc and we booked way back in October in an area quite far from the main town of Duong Dong. First impressions along the highway and the side roads may not be favorable, there is a lot of garbage and the ubiquitous unruly collection of traffic, businesses and residences that I have come to associate with SE Asia.

Busy streets, a mix of everything.

But once you are off the beaten track and you have arrived at your accommodation, then hopefully you will find what we did at the Camellia Hotel & Spa, (spa because you can arrange to have a massage there). We had booked this hotel well in advance and by Vietnamese standards we paid a high price, 63.00 CAD per night, if we’d waited we would have paid much less, maybe even half.

The rooms were big, well appointed and the pool and free breakfast offset the distance to the beach, (about a 25 minute walk, although the hotel ad says 10). Sadly, the closest public beach was squeezed to a bare minimum by beach front hotels with private amenities so we opted to spend most of our day around the Camellia pool.

The area around the Camellia is very rural, as in….there were roosters, lots of roosters and we saw a new born calf, still wet and wobbly legged in the road right in front of our hotel. Nearby there were lots of restaurants and bars so we didn’t have far to go to eat and we found a variety of cuisines from French to western and of course local.

One evening we ventured into town by cab (pricey enough you wouldn’t want to do it everyday) had dinner and wandered through the night market. Lots of seafood of course, Phu Quoc being an Island.

Four nights passed quickly and it was time for my Canadian friends to head back to the chill of the Yukon, the poor things. I was to stay on for another nine nights and opted to shift to a “Retreat” Hotel closer to town. So glad I did, the An Nhien retreat lived up to it’s promised amenities with friendly helpful staff, healthy breakfast, massage, pool and beautiful tropical garden complete with a small stream full of fish and ornamental fountains. My room was a good size and done up like a cabana, very nice.

The hotel was a three minute walk to the beach and An Nhien shared a private beach with another hotel. Great place to the spend the days and the truth is I did little else. Swimming, reading, snoozing, contemplating and ruminating with very little movement from A to B. I didn’t even head back to town.

I met very few English speaking people on Phu Quoc, most other beach goers were from Russia. It is a close sun spot for them and plane loads arrive daily if not hourly.

Here come the Russians….

I made a decision to return to England a week early when I heard that there was a Corona Virus quarantine in a small village in northern Vietnam. A week more in England seemed a good bargain given that the most fun you could expect to have in a quarantine situation would be to stay healthy. If I had only just started or was part way through my explorations I would have stayed on. But I am glad to have had the luxury of playing it safe and don’t feel that I have made too much of a concession. After all, I’m all tucked up at Heather’s in Brighton, drinking tea and watching Tellie and hoping that Vietnam is spared the spread of the virus.

Once Upon a Time it was Saigon…Now Ho Chi Minh City.

The Wild West of the traffic world….

Ho Chi Minh City is the Wild West of the traffic world. There are more scooter/motorbikes here than anywhere on the planet I am sure. It’s as if my travels through Vietnam led to this crescendo of ever pulsing veins of traffic coursing through the heart of the city, pumping its way out to the eighteen districts that make up HCMC. Imagine crossing this road…..we did and we survived, without a cross walk or a light I might add. There is an art to this!

Saigon it was, that was until the communists rolled into town in 1975, taking control of the city and renaming it HCMC a year later. In spite of the official change, the name Saigon still lives on, particularly in the French Quarter and many people use it to this day.

Districts 1,2 & 3 are where most foreigners hang out and within this area is where most of the sights are located including, museums, palaces, pagodas, temples, towering skyscrapers, glitzy malls, trendy restaurants and more down market tourist bars and clubs around the “Backpacker Area”, which is where we stayed in the Beautiful Saigon 3 Hotel. A great small boutique style hotel, it was clean, friendly staff, good breakfast, up a quiet alley-way but close to everything, I would recommend it if you are on a budget.

A walkable area, both night and day, we took in the sights mainly on foot. We had time to visit the Night Market, one of the high end shopping malls (WOW), the beautiful old French Opera House, and we wandered along streets lined with other examples from the French colonial period.

The War Remnants Museum as it is called was an interesting stop. Meant to depict the horrors of war in general and the war with the Americans specifically. With three million dead, and two thirds of those being non-combatants it’s hard not to feel anger at the fate of those poor souls. However, in spite of some hard hitting exhibits the message of the museum is clearly one of peace since the brutality of war ultimately effects more citizens than combatants. There are photo displays of mutilations, napalm burns, torture and massacres including the famous My Lai where American troops murdered nearly a whole village of innocent elders, women and children.

But in a spirit of apparent forgiveness there is a large display of photos on the “peace movement in the States” and subsequent visits and charitable acts of American Vietnam veterans. All in all a moving place and for those more mechanically minded there are some tanks, planes, bombs etc outside that you can wander around and see up close.

The Reunification Palace, previously the Independence Palace (to celebrate independence from France), was renamed to signify the reunion of North & South Vietnam. Located on park like grounds, it’s working days were in the 60’s and 70’s and everything is preserved from this time, a gentle mix of modern style furnishing with Asian materials and symbolism. There are a number of floors with meeting rooms, hosting areas, the presidential library and private suites. All eerily preserved and roped off with red velvet and brass.

With limited time, we really wanted to experience at least some of the Mekong Delta, so we signed on for a day trip to cruise around Dragon, Unicorn, Phoenix and Tortoise Islands. The first stop in the tourist van was a beautiful pagoda and temple, and if you look closely below you will see my selfie.

After the Pagoda we boarded one of dozens of sampans and cruised through the brown water channels, narrowly missing other sampans as they paddled by. We were taken to a fruit orchard where we saw where they grow mangoes, jackfruit, something like a lychee but smaller, dragon fruit and pomelos. The best part was getting to taste everything the farmer grew.

After the orchard we were paddled in a tippy sampan to a honey farm where we got to hold the honeycombs while the bees slept peacefully but we were warned not to drop them. After the bee combs we were introduced to a boa than snaked it’s way around my shoulders and then proceeded to probe my arm with its head. Much more dry and solid than you would expect I was nevertheless glad when Dave snapped the photos and the snake was taken away by its owner.

Back on a larger boat we cruised around the Mekong delta and more of its islands. It is a busy river and much traffic in a variety of shapes, sizes and conditions floats by. The river, we were told, is brown in colour due to diluvian deposits of clay, sand and silt at the mouth of this long and flowing river and not to more unsavoury confluences.

Three days is probably not enough for Ho Chi Minh, especially given it’s proximity to the Mekong Delta and the famous floating markets that you can visit but are some distance from the city. However we were anxious to move on to Phu Quoc Island and the beautiful beaches where we could restore ourselves before my friends head home to Canada.