• 25 . 03 . 11
  • In which we take it easy for a few days on the Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc, off the south coast of Cambodia.

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Beach Time

Phu Quoc (pronounced Fu Kok) is actually closer to Cambodia than it is to Vietnam but while it is possible to see the former from the island, the island is formally a part of the latter. Southern Vietnam and Cambodia were originally part of a unified Khmer Kingdom, but Vietnam managed to pick it up somewhere in the dark depths of history. I gather that the Cambodians would like to claim it back (and who wouldn’t – it’s a lovely place), but the ownership of islands dies hard. Just ask Argentina.

A short one hour flight from Saigon had us arriving at lunch-time, and by 2pm we were on the beach, somewhere along the north west coast. We were greeted by yet more beautifully warm water, miles of yellow sand and rows of palm trees. I’d never really considered Vietnam as somewhere you would go for the beach – clearly I’d never looked at a map and seen the length of their coastline; Vietnam could quite easily be summed up as a giant beach and a giant river – but it has turned out to have some fantastic locations. I’m not sure why anyone would go to Bali for twice the price and ten times the tourists.

Roughly shaped like a shrunken South America, the island is too large to comfortably drive around entirely in one day, even if you can find and stick to main roads. The maps of the island are questionable, showing only the major roads, which would be fine except there are significant numbers of minor roads as well, and differentiating the two is often difficult. Major roads aren’t necessarily tarmac, nor are they signposted, nor are they necessarily bigger than minor roads. Choosing to go south, we hopped on a motorbike and drove down the mainest of main roads, running parallel to Long Beach along a packed red dirt road, reminiscent of Outback Australia.

Phu Quoc feels like it is on the cusp of developing fully as a regular island tourist destination. While there are a few resorts outside of the main town, including the one we’re staying in, once you move a little way south there is virtually no development yet. While many of the roads are half-finished, some are quite clearly under construction, having second or third lanes added to accommodate the influx of tourists that is bound to come sooner or later. In contrast, a particularly precarious bridge we passed over was no more than 5 unsteady looking sheets of curved tin, resting on a couple of logs and partially nailed down at opposing corners. Even the locals slowed down for that one.

Eventually our map-reading skills (read: luck) and some judicious decision making (read: guesswork) had us arriving at Sao Beach, tucked away to the south eastern corner of the island. This area was particularly beautiful, with fine white sand very similar to Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays. It remained cool no matter what temperature the air got to, and was a lovely foreground for a meal under coconut trees at a rickety little metal table just back from the surf.

While Phu Quoc is apparently the place to find some of the world’s best pepper and fish sauce, in the end we decided against going and finding some of the farms and factories, opting instead to relax in the sun. Travelling can be quite tiring, with its lack of set schedule and various modes of transport, and we have already packed a lot into 6 weeks, so this was an excellent opportunity to recharge our batteries.

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