The island that belongs to nobody!
Phu Quoc is a tiny island supposedly belonging to Vietnam. However on a map if you look at the position it actually is beyond the border of Vietnam and looks although it should be part of Cambodia. Also when you fly or get a boat into Phu Quoc you do not need a Vietnamese visa prior to arriving. Strange considering the rest of Vietnam is so strict on having a visa in place before entering the country, with exact dates of arrival and hefty costs. Rumour has it that the island was originally part of Cambodia but Vietnam just claimed it during the war. Whatever the story the fact remains...This island did not feel like part of Vietnam at all!
After catching a night bus from Saigon we then waited at the ferry port for about 30 minutes before boarding. We handed our tickets over and were taken to our seats. Unlike the boats and ferries we were used to in Thailand this was all indoors, with seat numbers and porters to show you too your seat. Not laying on top of a pile of bags, or on the deck or by the ropes at the front or hanging off the sides all crammed on like the yanks in Macy's on Black Friday. Somehow, we managed to be in 1st class. We had a flat screen TV, air con, wifi and a sofa! Worlds apart from the usual backpacker service we were used too.
When we arrived we jumped in a mini bus and went to the town, after the usual wandering in and out of potential accommodation we found a nice little home stay and had the standard post night bus nap.
That evening we set out to go squid fishing by sunset. After a typical Vietnamese clouded over sunset we were given the fisherman's secret tool and a short class in the art of squid fishing. When I was younger I used to have a string with a handle either side and a plastic beaker shaped like an hour glass that you used to balance on the string and throw in the air... Hours of fun. Any kid born in the late 80's should know what I'm talking about. Any way this secret tool was basically that plastic beaker that would balance on the string with a fishing line wrapped around the center, a hook on the end and a pretend shrimp. You would flick your wrist and throw it in and then wait patiently until it was tugged.
We know this method was successful as several people were catching squid on the boat. Obviously I thought my one was broken so I changed about 3 times... Then I accepted that I just wasn't a good fisher-lady. Despite my 15 minute speech on the way about how I used to sit on the cliffs in Malta with my uncle and use live bate to catch fish. Saying that, I don't remember ever catching fish, I just remember sitting for ages with the line.
Chris however got very close and I'm gonna say his squid must have been the biggest and best one had he got it on board. But unfortunately it was so heavy it snapped the line clean off moments before we could meet him!
One guys squid was squirting ink all over everyone as it was lifted out of the water. Very amusing watching the holiday makers brand new white Ralph polo being destroyed!
After the realisation that Chribella were not going to catch any squid, we sat down to eat everyone else's catches. We also had a sea urchin porridge soup dish which sounds gross but really was lovely, and not fishy at all. Then it was time to come into shore and early night for us.
The next morning we were up early and on our way to go diving. It was our first dive since completing our open water and advanced padi course with Patrick on Koh Tao and to say I was feeling nervous was an understatement.
Despite being padi certified with 9 dives under my belt the thought of getting back in the water without Patrick who pretty much taught me how to swim from scratch was petrifying. Chris did his best to calm me down as usual. And we were introduced to Victor.
Victor was a young Frenchman in his early 20's, it was his first season as a dive master. Victor was also one of the most arrogant human beings I've ever met and would be ranked in my top5 dickheads we have met since away. To be specific he would be placed number 2.
We were given our briefing and I asked what fish we would see, he responded saying the dive sight was pretty rubbish and you don't really see much. Great one! That's exactly why we paid £70 for 2 dives with you mate! Then he asked what weights I took, when I said I couldn't remember I was responded with the greatest look of disgust. To which I just did my nervous awkward loudest laugh.
During gearing up and buddy checks I noticed my BCD wouldn't inflate. His response was, orally inflate it your an advanced diver. ORALLY INFLATE? Underwater? That means removing my air source and blowing into BCD, when I can just about get down there without freaking out. Needless to say the manager over heard and swapped my equipment telling him we were new divers, you could sense the manager didn't like him either and he was probably on his last legs.
So we go to do our giant stride off the boat. But I hesitate... Victor there are literally hundreds of jelly fish- I can't actually see a gap to jump in. He's like what's the matter you scared of jelly fish?! Well actually yes when there's only a white layer of jelly on the surface for about 200 meters all around and we are supposed to jump in. p****
Anyway we obviously had to jump in and just descend as quick as we could. Easier said then done. I assumed that seeing as you could see the jelly fish at the surface as you got down there would be less. WRONG. We were descending through a wall, no actually an army of jelly fish. The nazis of the sea. It was extremely difficult and highly stressful. Chris was on the look out shoving me away from jelly fish throughout. The visibility was 3 meters. And we actually saw no fish. Like not a single fish. We played Pac Man with jelly fish and lost the dickhead after 10 minutes. Even when we resurfaced and found him again when we were back at the bottom he turned around once after that to see if we were still behind him.
Basically to save me blabbing on too much. The second dive was slightly better, apart from Anja a really lovely girl we met getting stung bad all over her calf. Chris and I managed to steer clear, and I was just glad to be out the water and never have to see Victor again. Never dive in Phu Quoc. Ever.
That afternoon we decided to get dropped at Anja's resort about 10 minute drive from the village along the beach. We were getting a drink when an old school friend of Chris's whom we had bumped into in Laos over heard us! What were the chances. Matt and Yumi were staying in that exact resort. So we sat chatting for a bit. A bit turned into an hour and then progressed into dinner plans. Dinner was followed by drinks and by early hours of the morning we had arranged for them to meet us at 7am the next day on a moped so that we could explore the entire island together. Something about bumping into a little piece of home that just makes you immediately click.
Firstly let me just state. That although Chris may get out his map every 5 minutes, does not mean he is capable of orchestrating an island tour. Our first stop was Bai Sao which according to our map was south of the island and should take about 30 minutes. 1 hour in and we had been driving through a building site for about 20 minutes now. When I say building site. I mean actual building site. The workers were all looking at us but whenever we asked which way to go they would all point the same way. Chris was convinced we were on the correct road. But it's funny when your faced with mounds of mud, driving through sand and gravel, off roading swaying from the right side of the road to the opposite side going whichever way there wasn't a hole or a tractor, something told me it was the wrong road.
Eventually we took a left turn and down a dirt track suddenly appeared a perfect road. The exact road Chris was convinced we were on. Finally some progress was made and we entered the most beautiful beach in all of our travels.
The sand was white. The sea was turquoise. You could go out for what felt like miles without getting deep. And the best bit, it was empty, no tourists, no overpriced ice creams. Simply stunning. After a couple of ours we figured we better get going if we were going to make it to the top 5 beaches on the island.
According to the map the next best beach was almost next door, so we hoped on the bikes and went to find it. Having missed the turning twice we finally made it, only to be approached by a man dressed head to toe in military gear with a gun to match. Apparently the beach was closed today. So back on the bikes we got to head past where we were staying again all the way to the opposite end of the island. After passing a vinpearl water park, which is was very grand looking place with a castle like Disney land in the middle and a golf course joined on the side, we soon reached beach number 3.
A building site.
With developments along the whole front of it for miles. We didn't even get off our bikes here as the noise was so loud there was no way you were going to be able to enjoy it. We were warned before we got to Phu Quoc that it would be the last chance to see it in its natural splendour but it has appeared the diggers didn't get the memo and moved in early. Massive shame they were destroying such a beautiful island with massive resorts to become another standard 'paradise' holiday destination. So we turned around a followed the signs for Peppercorn beach.
When we arrived we were greeted with a very posh looking hotel with the beach hut style accommodation. Hesitant this beach was going to be any better then the others we walked through the hotel and into heaven.
This beach was completely different from the first beautiful one we had visited yet still so enjoyable. It has much more character, loads of shells and crabs and starfish, and even a huge amount of coral where you could see so much life.
After chilling on the beach we grabbed some food. Really lovely food. But a price tag to match.
Chris and I grabbed our masks and asked the hotel if we could hire the tubes to snorkel. To which we were given a very snobby 'it's only for guests' - funny that, your happy to let us buy food and drinks from your hotel but when it comes to any form of kindness it's a no! Anyway we didn't want to let that defeat us, we marched to the beach and just free dived down to look at all the pretty stuff. Yumi and I pretended we were in the herbal essence advert filling shells with water and pouring it over ourselves in a seductive way. Accept it probably didn't look as seductive as it did in my head. After a shell photo shoot and a sunset over the neighbouring Rabbit Island of Cambodia it was time to head back.
Getting out the water at 7pm and driving 1 hour back on the moped made me freezing and tired but we still weren't ready to part from our pals. So we had a wander around the night market when we got back and saw more fish for sale on the market then there was in the sea, even a sting ray. Horrific. Completely put me off eating. Not Chris though, he's always up for a meal. After there meal and a coffee around the corner it was time to finally say goodbye. Yumi and Matt were heading up into Vietnam and we were heading into Cambodia the following day, but the backpacker world is so small we knew we would bump into them again.
The next morning we got the bus and headed out of Vietnam. It was a sad moment as we loved every moment of Vietnam, the people and the variety it had. We sat on the bus reflecting on the past month we had, then the excitement of a new country set in.
On to country number 4... Here we come Cambodia!