25. A trip to the beach: From Can Tho to Phu Quoc

12/01 – 13/01

After the great time I had visiting the Mekong Delta I was ready for some relaxing time on the beach. So I decided to head to the island of Phu Quoc. I arranged a bus ticket to Rach Gia through my hotel.
The bus company was Futa busline, which seems to be on of the main bus companies in the south – and is apparently very reputable. The ticket was 115.000 Dong – which included pick up from the hotel, the journey to the Rach Gia, and as I found out a bit later even the journey from the bus station to the hotel in RG. Not a bad price (and the hotel didn’t charge any extra for booking – great service).

Slightly delayed I was picked up from the hotel at 14:15, and as there was a mix of tourists and locals on the bus the ride to the station was rather confusing. We stopped at a little bus stop where most locals got off the minibus. I just saw that there was a bus leaving in a few minutes to Rach Gia. Assuming it was our bus I was about to get out as well until the driver told me to stay. Not understanding what is happening myself, two French guys and two more locals stayed in the bus, and we headed off again, continue driving through Rach Gia. It was already after 14:30 (the time of the bus departure) and I already thought I will miss the last bus of the day. With ten minutes delay we arrived at another bus station, and we were ushered to the ticket office to exchange the tickets from the hotel for the official bus ticket – and then I was finally on what I was hoping the correct bus. It seems we were last, and the locals greeted us with a big grin.

The journey to Rach Gia was rather uneventful – and except of the usual procedure of using the horn around every other minute I didn’t have any heart attack moments. Some part of the journey offered some nice scenery of green rice paddies and some nice wee villages, but otherwise I didn’t think that the route is as nice as the one I did before here in the Mekong Delta.  We had one larger break to use the toilet and getting some food or drinks.

The only annoying thing I encountered during the bus ride was that I was friendly enough to give my mobile to the French guys so they could call a hotel in Rach Gia (I had still free minutes left) – and I found out later they actually made also a quick call back home to France. While it didn’t cost a lot, it was still annoying that some tourists are misusing good deeds. Maybe I should stop being polite and friendly!!!

Around 6pm we arrived at the bust station in Rach Gia. And I encountered once again the same issue I saw so often. You leave the bus and like a swarm of crickets moto taxi drivers surround you to offer you a ride, trying to grab my bag etc. This time I was less polite with some of the more pushier people and I think even they understood to leave me alone. Maybe one day some of them will understand how to deal with tourists – who knows, stranger things have happened.
Instead I told one of the official Futa staff where my hotel was (Phat recommended one next to the ferry point – which could be very handy in the morning), and was pointed to one of the Futa minibuses. Great – a free ride to the hotel. I was the only tourist on the bus, and we were on our way very soon. One local after another was dropped, until it was just me, the driver and one more person from Futa. Suddenly the second Futa guy told me they couldn’t bring me to the hotel as it is too far away and that I should take a moto taxi. I was slightly confused and just said that I am not taking any moto taxi. Riding through town with my bags behind me wouldn’t be too much fun – besides I didn’t like the aspect of being overcharged. So I just said that the drop off at my hotel was included. He just shook his head and repeated his previous statement. And soon enough we stopped near an office of Futa, where – surprise surprise – a guy with his motorbike was already waiting  (just one, so I assume the guy on the bus called a friend). He was grinning when he saw me getting out, but his smile disappeared when I just walked past him (the driver and his colleague also looking surprised) and went into the Futa office. I just showed my bus ticket and mentioned that I was told that I would be dropped off at my hotel. The girl at the desk replied that this was correct, and she didn’t look very happy when I told her about the attempt to get me onto a moto taxi. She just went outside and I watched her telling the driver off. He clearly didn’t look very happy when he came in, took my bag and said he will drive me now to the hotel.
After a 5 minute ride (being too far away my ass) he just dropped me off. Sometimes it is nice to have a small wins against dishonest people.
So if you take the Futa Busline, ask if the drop off is included, and if it is, don’t let the driver tell you they cannot. It is an attempt to move some business to friends or families (so in other way rip tourists off). If they don’t, just speak with the guys in the office – they will hopefully deal with it. I hope this is not a common practice, as it could damage their otherwise good reputation.

Anyhow, I finally arrived at the Thien Tang hotel. It is located 2 minutes away from the ferry point, but otherwise there is not a lot around – or so I thought. After I showed the card Phat gave me I got a slightly better price than initially quoted (it was now 200,000 Dong) and got a decent size room with double bed, TV and a shower bath. I think for one night it is perfect. The next step was checking what ferry I should take. I read somewhere that there was a ferry straight to Duong Dong on the west coast instead to the ferry point at the southern tip of the island. So I walked to two offices, and at both places they looked slightly confused at me – clearly not knowing what I wanted. So instead of buying a ticket there  I thought I get on at the ferry point the next morning. As it turned out later that wasn’t one of my brightest ideas!!!

Next I walked along the canal and after a few minutes I found a nice little food place. When I took a seat outside the kids on the table besides me were suddenly more interested to watch me than eating their food. I tried some local seafood noodle dish, and once again I couldn’t ask for better food. As usual it was simple, but absolute delicious.

After dinner just walked a bit around to stretch my legs, and arrived at a larger square, where people were sitting on the benches enjoying the nice warm evening, kids running around, couples going for an evening stroll, with food stalls along the street. I just bought on little snack from one of the stalls (well – it was desert time), and joined a few elderly locals who waved at me, indicating the empty seats next to them. As they couldn’t speak any English, they just started speaking Vietnamese and pointing at the various bits of the square, trying to explain the set up. I just nodded – what else could I have done. It was still a nice relaxing atmosphere, and I enjoyed a wee break there.
Afterwards I found a nice café with outdoor seats. Here once again I was confronted of my inability to remember simple Vietnamese words. The menu was only in Vietnamese, the waitress couldn’t speak any English, so after unsuccessfully pointing at several drinks amongst the chuckles of his friends one guy from the table next to me helped me. In the end I somehow managed to order ice coffee with milk. Despite all the confusion caused at least I managed to entertain the locals. and I got my beloved ice coffee in the end to finish the day. Oh, and even after that I still struggle to remember the name of the drink – it is Ca phe sua da.

The next morning I got up rather early, packed my bag and headed to the ferry point to buy my ticket. Staying next to the ferry point is quite handy – no need to find a taxi, and most important I was able to stay a bit longer in bed – always a big plus.
Arriving at the ferry point over an hour before departure (there are three departures in the morning) I went to the counter, and I was shocked when the guy just showed at a sign – all tickets sold for the 8am departure.
Great – I really should have bought the ticket the night before. As a last attempt I quickly ran to the hotel, and behold, I got a ticket at the office next door for the official price of 340,000 Dong. It seems some of the agencies buy bulks of tickets, and sell them. Hence often there are no tickets left at the ferry point. The best advise is getting the ticket the night before if you are already there.

I was happy to be able to get onto the ship Superdong IV, and the reward of getting one of the last ticket was sitting in the first row. The layout of the seats looks a bit like a cinema – with two rows of 4 seats each next to each other, only separated by the floor. Four TVs were showing two movies throughout the journey – but don’t expect any family friendly movies. They all were a bit violent. The ferry ride of 3 1/2 ride was not smooth, and the catamaran was going up and down – being at the front row you felt the main impact of the up and downs. I was ok, but by the clear sound of it many locals and tourists weren’t. At least I was lucky that no one around me got sick – as the smell isn’t very pleasant. At least I was able to watch a bit TV and sleep a bit. They also sold tickets for a minibus from the ferry point to Duong Dong for 30,000 Dong – which can be handy if a pick up is not provided by the hotel.

Arriving on time I was finally on Phu Quoc. Getting off the boat you are welcomed with a sight of a ferry point, surrounded by tree covered beaches and beautiful blue water. I made it to the island.

At the time I was only aware of the overland / overwater travel between Can Tho to Phu Quoc – I didn’t even think to check out flights. But I think it is worth it to check for any offers. The journey from Can Tho to Rach Gia by bus and the ferry ride to Phu Quoc costs a total of 450,000 Dong. This includes a 4 hour bus ride (which is ok) and 3 1/2 hours on the ferry that can be quite rough. I must admit I would have been happy to pay more for a quick flight – but obviously not too much. But comparing prices is worthwhile.
The only advantage was that I spent a relaxing evening in Rach Gia. It was nice to have a wee walk around the centre and the square. But I must admit I didn’t see too much of Rach Gia to know if the town is worth a trip on its own.

If you take the bus to Phu Quoc I would recommend Futa Busline – just make sure you get picked up and dropped off at your hotel.
It seems the Superdong catamaran are the main ways to get to Phu Quoc – and that there is no longer a ferry to Duong Dong (which I read about online). To make sure there is no hassle buy the ticket the evening before, and I would advise not getting any of the first 10 rows.

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