“Phun” in Phu Quoc

Yes I went there with the alliteration.

We’re waiting for our flight from Phu Quoc  to Can Tho in the Mekong Delta, eating Burger King. My justification for breaking the rules of only eating local food while we’re away, is that I never eat Burger King in London. Therefore I am technically eating local food as they have carelessly placed a Burger King in Phu Quoc airport. It’s not my fault.

I left you last with our delayed ferry ride from Ha Tien to Phu Quoc where we were thrown together at the port with several other stranded travellers, all making their way to the island. Germans. There are always Germans. Two girls probably in their early 20s had been befriended by a fellow Deutschlander, a mountain of a man, grey haired pony tail, mahogany skin, and an unavoidable presence. He was not happy about the missed ferry and the 3hr wait, it messed with his timetable, so attempted to throw his weight around the diminutive Vietnamese manager, who A. Couldn’t understand a word he “sprachen”, and B. didn’t give shit anyway.

No point trying to enforce your own timetable on Vietnam. The boat will leave when it wants to.

We made the best of the situation, by hanging out with an Aussie & a Kiwi. A much more chilled experience than the two German girls were having with their angry companion.

The Kiwi was the New Zealand version of Crocodile Dundee, he was even called Mick. Leather skin, white hair and piercing blue eyes that had more than a little of “the crazy” about them. He works in Phu Quoc as a pearl fisher. Diving to up to 50meters, without tanks, and just a hose pipe of oxygen pumped from a compressor on the boat above him. This guy is hard core, diving like that is illegal, and really messes with your body. The reason he doesn’t use tanks is because as soon as you use certified equipment like that, you are under diving regulations. And that’s no good for the pearl fisher. They need to dive deep and long, and more than twice in a day, they’ll dive up to five times a day on this hose pipe system.

This guy has been in a decompression tank so many times, his joints are fucked, can’t straighten his arms any more. He’s one of those people that has a body like a knackered old car. It keeps going but it’s patched up, rusty wheel rims, bits filled with fibre glass and patchy paint jobs. He showed us a photo of the x-ray of his shoulder that has a plate about 6inches wide pinned to it, to basically keep his arm on.

He was interesting company for a few hours while we waited in the travel office of the ferry company, teaching us about how pearls are cultivated, which seems to involve gonads from one oyster, being shoved inside another oyster. I’m pretty sure there’s more to it than that, but I’d had a few beers by this point, and the revelation that oysters even had gonads was enough to distract me from absorbing any more factual details.

Our Aussie friend Mark, was a sweet guy, a bit of a lost soul who had a year off from working as an electrician in the gold mines in Oz. He always comes back to Asia, even married a Thai woman a few years ago, who went AWOL the minute he got her back to Australia! He’s still technically married, as he can’t find her. She’s gone walkabout. Undeterred he’s found himself a Cambodian girlfriend from Phnom Penh, who seems slightly more reliable and will come out to join him at a later date.

Mick Dundee stayed in Ha Tien that night, he couldn’t be arsed to wait for the later ferry, so the three of us grabbed a few more beers and set sail to Phu Quoc.

The first time our trip has seen sea, sand and beach resort life while staying at Lien Hiep Thanh on Long Beach. After the cities it has been a welcome time to properly relax and wind down. We were travelling at the end of the low season, so the beaches were blissfully empty. We spent sometime snorkelling, although there was an upsetting amount of litter in the ocean, which really started a whole personal campaign regarding plastic. *now back in London a couple of month later plastic is BIG news. At last.  

Our resort was simple, good value with a basic breakfast on the beach, and located a couple of minutes walk from the famous Rory’s Bar ☑. Rory is king of Long Beach, with a Ibiza style layout and sound system, this is a “professional” beach bar. These guys know what they are doing. Currently there isn’t a great deal of competition on the beach in terms of cool bars, but apparently a lot of foreign investment has been recently introduced to Phu Quoc, and there is a huge amount of new building going on, new highways and hotels are popping up all over the island. So its sweet natured innocence, which it currently portrays may not last for much longer as the big bucks move in.

We hire beaten up scooters for a day and ride around like locals. ie, quite badly, but without hesitation. It’s all about confidence at those junctions and the roads here are not too hectic, so our shabby old charabancs served us well as we explored the island. Failed attempts at finding the two island waterfalls, and several hours of blasting up and down the highways in 30 degree heat eventually led us to Sao Beach. The “Best beach in Phu Quoc”, allegedly. And it is lovely, white sands, horizontal palm tree with requisite rope swing for those classic travellers instagram shots.

Phu Quoc is mountainous jungle inland, edged by beautiful beaches. The fishing port of Duong Dong provides a lively night market of street food and fish restaurants, where we plucked prawns and snapper from bubbling tanks of some quite unappetising beasties, and experimented with “elephant “clams, which we now know to avoid. Do not go near these things unless you enjoy eating car tyres.

As the sun sets another street market emerges along the jetty of the harbour, where a lighthouse overlooks the west coast of the island. Here little stalls set up to sell Bo La Lot, chicken skewers and nearly cold beers.

Further wanderings around the town at night led us to a corner bar where the frankly terrible sound of Vietnamese karaoke was spilling onto the street. In we went, encouraged by a cheerful looking Chinese gent who spent no time in getting us up to sing. After a couple of beers we’d summoned up enough bravado to smash our way through Robbie Williams’ “Angels”, let’s face it we can’t be any worse than what we’d already been listening to!

Of course we rocked it, or at least we thought we did. We joined the Chinese guy Alex and his girlfriend Angelique. She is Swiss and had been working in Siem Reap as a psychologist, helping heal the broken minds of the people of Cambodia. Joined by a bubbly German couple who we hauled in off the street to sing, Alex regaled us with the story of how he and Angelique had met. How they had both been snorkelling, the only ones in the ocean, and had still managed to bump into to each other. It was love at first sight. The story was long however and was interspersed with Alex on his guitar singing Elvis or Pink Floyd songs in broken English, “🎶 after all we are just some more bricks on the wall🎶

Beers kept arriving courtesy of Sindy, the vivacious owner of the bar, and some shots of what was probably rice wine but could also have been some form of survival fluid for Arctic explorers, but it kept us ticking over until late into the night.

Alex and Angelique were an inspiration. They met in the ocean, made a connection and then didn’t see each other for three years while Angelique went to Siem Reap to set up a therapy centre. She learnt Khmer, helped the people and fell in love with Cambodia, she’s a seriously bright lady. It was only when Alex was travelling through Cambodia did they meet again, and fall in love, although she says that she loved this vibrant Chinaman from the minute she met him that first time in the sea.

They are testament to the flexibility of life and showed that your life can adapt and change and flow in any direction you want, if you let it happen. Both met in their late 60’s and now living in Langkawi just north of Penang, Malaysia, they have set up a travel agency offering trips and accomodation around the island. Angelique calls them “happiness trips”.

I’m looking forward to getting to know them better, we are planning on visiting Langkawi on our way home through Malaysia, I want to go on a “happiness trip”, although I think I’m already on it.

After three days relaxing in Phu Quoc, we’ve taken a short flight to Can Tho in the heart of the Mekong Delta, where we’ll stay in a homestay “shack” on the river.

It’s pretty spectacular.