One of the things that I really wanted to do while on this trip was to visit a tropical island or beach in Southeast Asia and stay in a bungalow right on the beach, especially after being in a busy city like Saigon. Les and I spent a couple of weeks on islands in the south of Thailand during our honeymoon 13 years ago.
We both have wonderful memories of the time we spent in simple, inexpensive, one-room beach bungalows which opened up onto pristine white sand beaches swaying palm trees with comfortable hammocks tied between them, and bright blue sea gently breaking on the beach mere yards from our door. I wanted to relive a little of that experience with the family during our visit to Phu Quoc in Vietnam. Our visit to Phu Quoc was good, but it reminds me of the saying “you can never go back”.
We did happily find a bungalow on the beach. Unfortunately, there are not as many islands in Vietnam as compared to Thailand or Cambodia, so the cost of accommodations was not as inexpensive as I recall; especially during the New Year Holiday when we visited. Our bungalow was in an excellent location right on the beach surrounded by a beautiful garden, walking distance to lots of places…. however, it was a bit “rustic” on the inside. The beds were hard as rocks, by far the most uncomfortable beds that we’ve slept on anywhere in the world. The bathroom walls didn’t go to the ceiling and it smelled “funky”, which forced everyone in the room to experience the same sounds and smells every morning. We have all become pretty good at plugging in our ear-buds, averting our eyes, and trying to ignore smells to give a semblance of privacy – but this setup really tested us. There was no shower door or curtain and the drain was a hole in the wall that drained into the jungle in the back of our bungalow. The linens were 30 years out of fashion and the fans were badly rusted. But what really freaked us out was the nocturnal critter that lived in the roof. We heard him scurrying across our ceiling every night at bedtime, and I had visions of a three-pound jungle rat falling through the ceiling, landing in the mosquito net over my bed, and the whole tangled mess coming down over my face. So I plugged in my ear-buds and cranked up the volume on an audio book and did my best to forget what was crawling around over my head.
Despite the lack of luxury accommodations, we really enjoyed our time in Phu Quoc. We met tourists from all over the world. We discovered this is a popular vacation spot for Russians, and we met people from all over Europe, Canada, and Australia. We spent a lot of our time at the beach restaurant next to our hotel called May’s. While hanging out at May’s, with our toes in the sand under the table we: conducted school, ate good food, drank $1 beers, played cards, wrote, read, learned to pencil sketch, and generally hung out with our feet in the sand and the sea gently rolling onto the beach. Breakfast was included with our bungalow and our other meals were generally about $2 or $3 per person and beer and sodas about $1. When we got tired of hanging out at May’s we sauntered up a couple flights of sandy stairs to our bungalow and carefully flopped into the hammocks on our porch for more reading or working on the computer.
We also indulged in some inexpensive massages. There was an open air spa next door where Les and Suzanne got full-body massages with the sound of REAL ocean waves (not CD of ocean sounds) and a gentle ocean breeze blowing through the open windows. There is nothing like getting a massage while listening to the waves, very relaxing. Our last morning there Alex and I treated ourselves to a pedicure before we left for Japan.
We did manage to get out of our hammocks to explore the island a few times. One night we all walked into town and came across the night market where just about any sea creature you can imagine was available for dining. We were not feeling gastronomically adventurous that evening, so we made due with a few hot pastries from a woman selling them on the street.
Excursions on Phu Quoc were very inexpensive – running around $15 – $25 USD per person – so we signed up for a few excursions as we came to the end our time on the island. Les and Patrick went night squid fishing, unfortunately it had been raining and the squid were not biting that night, but had fun anyway. On another day the whole family paddled canoes up and down a jungle river, visited a peppercorn farm and a temple, and swam at a beach with amazing tide pools. We met a nice man and woman from Switzerland and Russia who kindly emailed us a few of their photos, since we forgot to bring our camera. Our final outing was a full day of bus rides down the length of the island, a boat ride to three snorkeling sites, fishing with hand-lines, a seafood lunch (the fish was purchased from fishermen on our way to the snorkel sites), a pearl farm where Alex bought a pearl pendant, and spent some time relaxing at a great beach where the water was super clear and very shallow for a long ways out (the kids loved that).
The thing we did the most was splash around in the ocean and walk on the beach. Phu Quoc was a very relaxing place.