The Isle of Phu Quoc

Remember when we talked about the exciting surplus of dong jokes in Vietnam? Yeah, well, here’s a good one – for 2.5 hours, we rode a long, wet, super dong all the way to paradise. Seriously. We hitched a ride on a high speed watercraft called the “Super Dong” and after a couple of kung fu movies arrived on the beautiful isle of Phu Quoc.

We managed to book a room on the south side of the island at a hotel named “1000 Star” – probably the biggest shithole on the entire landmass. Nevertheless, we booked a room just glad to have found accommodation at all during the high season. In fact, looking back, we should have taken some hallucinogens in order to attempt an appreciation of the crackhead architect’s artistic vision. The place was ridden with concrete replicas of the Malaysian Petronas Towers, the Singapore Merlion, the Sydney Opera, and a weird Dutch windmill. Romantics can enjoy the topless mermaid greeting passersby on the beachfront. Don’t get me wrong, we have a morbid penchant for bizarre, but this was over the top.

After a leisurely lunch and a couple of beers, we were begrudgingly meandering back towards our hotel when we ran into two familiar faces. The Danish couple we had met weeks previously in Ha Long Bay were chatting on some lounge chairs along the beach. We greeted them with hugs and laughter. Annette and Jos were the very reason we decided to make the journey to Phu Quoc in the first place. “It is beautiful. Go there before it is spoiled,” they said. So we did.

The island sort of reminds us of Playa del Carmen, Mexico before it was developed. But Annette and Jos were right. All the early signs of development are springing up – new hotels, restaurants, newly laid foundations. In a few years it will be a different place; but, for now, it is quite wonderful.

Eventually, we were able to change hotels and book a room next to our Danish friends at a lovely (and surprisingly cheaper) family-owned hotel called Thai Tan Tien. Every afternoon we played volleyball with the owner’s sons until they were scolded by their mother for neglecting their duties. Then, toes in sand, we’d enjoy a cold beer and watch the sunset over the horizon.

We planned to stay on Phu Quoc no more than 3 or 4 days. But that plan soon turned into more than a week of island time.

The first half of the week was spent diving. I, although a somewhat experienced diver decided to make it official by getting my Scuba Diving PADI certification. Two days of training in the murky waters of the 1000 Star hotel pool, plus some homework and quizzes and it was time for our final exams: open water dives in the Gulf of Thailand. Nick came along for two days of diving and I received my lifetime certification. Hooray.

The visibility wasn’t spectacular but it’s a great feeling to float atop a different ecosystem and experience alien-like life forms. Nudibranchs and feathery corals surrounded us as we swam 20 meters under the surface. Nick loves to dive and, until now, I never fully understood the appeal. After our last day of diving, I found myself missing it. Thankfully, Thailand has some superb diving spots and it is fortunately on our itinerary.

Our last few days on the island we stumbled upon a Russian couple celebrating her birthday on the beach. She was wearing an ushanka (furry Russian cap) while pouring generous amounts of vodka and rice wine to anyone willing to partake. Of course we did. Dusk turned to a moonlit night as we toasted “Prost” to the tranquil beach.

The next day we took motos to a waterfall in the middle of the island. Traveling in southeast Asia in the dry season has its advantages but roaring waterfalls isn’t one of them. We would soon learn that all waterfalls would be described in the following terms, “Oh, very beautiful…. but not now.” There is always “some” water and we enjoyed the hike and a chilly bath in a fresh spring. The Russians were constant entertainment as they drank beer, took random pictures and spouted off English phrases (some intelligible, some not so much.) One of the more memorable moments was sitting down to breakfast at 8:30AM greeted by the smiling couple – she in a long t-shirt and underwear (cold beer in hand) and he in some red briefs (with a snowman on the crotch) eating banana pancakes. I really don’t have a follow-up to that story other than it’s awesome.

We could dive into detail about the rest of our days, but the events would go like this: breakfast, sun, water, beer, volleyball and repeat. Like we said, Phu Quoc is a wonderful place, just developed enough to enjoy (ATM’s are now working) but still a very serene atmosphere. So, come as soon as you can, but please, no big hotels, no luxury packages. Keep it like it is: absolutely perfect.