26. Phu Quoc: the beach, blue ocean and bad scallops

13/01 – 18/01

After a the rather rough ferry ride I was finally on Phu Quoc island. Initially I was planning staying in a homestay in the middle of the island, but changed my mind and though if I am on an island, I really should stay near the beach.
A German couple I met recommended a place called Freedomland, which has some great reviews, but only after I sent an email and a message on their Facebook page and leaving some messages on their phone I was able to reach them by phone (not responding to any messages left). Well, the price of $75 for a bungalow without A/C or hot water and where it is compulsory to pay over $10 for dinner I decided not to go. Instead I got a room at the Sunshine Bungalow. At the time I wasn’t aware of the accommodation situation along the beach, so I thought spending a bit more money would be ok – so I afforded a place for $45 per night (at least I got a discount for staying 5 nights). I found out later that there are quite a few little guesthouses that offer much cheaper rooms or even bungalows around this area – only a bit further away from the beach. But it turned out that it was a good decision to stay at the Sunshine Bungalow

The bungalow was on Long Beach, so I had to get to the main town on the island, Duong Dong on the west coast of the island. As I bought a ticket for a bus into town on the ferry for 30,000 Dong I was pointed towards one of the many minibuses waiting along the pier.
The drive to Duong Dong was only 40 minutes, and on the way I realised how much construction is ongoing there – new roads, new hotels etc. However, it was strange seeing so little traffic on these brand new large roads.
In Duong Dong I was dropped off with the two French guys, who were by co-incident on the same bus once again, near the marina. Surprisingly there was not one single taxi nearby – and only 2 motorbike driver approached us. Thankfully a taxi stopped soon enough – but there was the next challenge. The driver couldn’t speak any English – and I actually had no idea where exactly my bungalow was. So I called the bungalow, while the French guys used the taxi driver mobile phone to call their hotel, and a minute later the driver had two phones in his hands, trying to understand where to go. After some confusion it seemed he finally knew where to go – at least we were off.
After another short 10 minute drive along the coast we turned off and I was at my home for the next few days – the price was 50,000 Dong (15,000 Dong for me). The others had top go further south to their hotel.

Sunshine Bungalow is located 2 minutes off Long Beach, nearly next to La Veranda, which seems to be a well-known hotel. There were two rows of bungalows, separated by a lovely garden with tables and chairs – and there was a little gate to a small alley that lead straight to the beach. The room was clean, spacious, had working A/C and a good shower.
Well, the A/C didn’t work straight away, so I met the owner Mr Duc who came over to check it.  And I have said it a few times, but it was another evidence how small the world is. I was told by his niece that the owner’s English is not very good. So when he came to my room he just asked if I was German, well – I could only say yes. He then suddenly started to speak fluent German to me. Asking where he learned German he mentioned that he lived for a few years in Cologne. If that was not spooky enough, I asked him where in Cologne he lived – it turned out he lived only 5 minutes away from my old flat where I lived as a child. Both of us could hardly believe it. We had quite a few chats over the next few days.

Another co-incident was that my neighbours were a couple I met on the ferry earlier – they actually arrived earlier than I did – I still have no idea how they managed it. Maybe it is better not to buy a ticket and get a ride to the hotels from the ferry point, but I am not sure

After checking in it was time to explore the reason why I came to Phu Quoc. Equipped with a towel, book, sun cream and water I was off the walk the little paved road, passing two little restaurants, and soon I was standing on white sand (hot white sand to be precise), looking out to the deep blue water. Turning right I could see the southern part of Cambodia (the island is actually much closer to Cambodia than to Vietnam). It was just beautiful. The rather narrow beach was not even that packed with tourists.
On the beach was a restaurant Phuong Binh (it is part of a little hotel with bungalows on and off the beach – but the restaurant is open to everyone). The various hotels had sun loungers out for their guests only, so some people were just lying on the sand without any shade. But to my relief there were sunloungers and parasols available to rent. The price was 120,000 per day – including towel. I used that service a few times during my stay, and I think it is value for money, as the sunbeds were comfortable and having shade during the day was very important.


So for the rest of the day I was just lying on the loungers, enjoying the great weather, reading a book, and only interrupt that hard work by either getting a cold coconut and melon that vendors were selling along the beach, going to the beach restaurant for fresh juice and lunch (the prices are not cheap in comparison to other places – but you are on the beach – so it was ok) or jumping into the cold water. It was a great way to refresh. Though I must say that I got the impression that the salt level must be higher here than in other places I have been to – I could easily float around for a while without sinking. It was great fun, especially when some waves arrived. Oh, it was great just to be lazy!!! Later in the afternoon the beach got a little bit busier when the locals came out to enjoy some beach time as well – kids playing in the shallow waters, adults just cooling down in the water. It added to the relaxed atmosphere. No motor noise of jet skies, crazy bananas etc to disturb this relaxing atmosphere either. Instead, you could get out on a little round paddle boat to go fishing. I didn’t do that.

The late afternoon I used to sit in the little garden of the bungalow to read a bit more (I finally caught up with some of the books I carried along for a while), before returning to the beach to watch the sun setting over the blue sea. Yep – this is how I imagine paradise.

For dinner I walked to one of the little places on the little street towards the beach – Bao Quy Seafood BBQ. it was based in a little concrete house – but the fresh prawn, noodles and vegetables was just amazing – and for a very low price. That place really offers value for money. Great value for money – though they don’t have the biggest selection of fish available. Some of the more expensive restaurants had a wider selection, including crab.

After dinner I headed to a bar opposite of the Sunshine Bungalow to have a few drinks. It has a few pool tables, a few tables in a nice yard, and a bar to sit at. It was nice to have a few drinks there, and I also met a nice German couple Anna and her partner (my memory has been better I must admit!!!) there. Hearing about their trips on a scooter to visit some of the remote beaches made me interested to hire a scooter as well.

 

The next day I followed the same procedure from the previous day. The sky clear blue, it was quite hot again, and I headed to the beach again. As the ice coffee at Phuong Binh was not that great and a bit on the expensive side, I bought a nicer (and much cheaper) ice coffee at Bao Quy. I once again I got a sunbed and parasol, and enjoying another lovely lazy day. Again I only interrupted the hard work of lying on the sunbed just for drinks, food and a swim.

In the afternoon I enjoyed another break in the garden of the bungalow, before I took a longer stroll along the beach – passing quite a few hotels, bars, restaurants, before I reached a little corner until I reached a statue of a mermaid (it wasn’t exactly child friendly) and some evil-looking dolphins (they would have been perfect for a horror movie). I must say that Long Beach is lovely, and an evening stroll is a perfect way to end the day, and get some appetite for dinner.

For dinner I went to a restaurant next to La Veranda, and the freshly grilled fish was lovely. Afterwards I checked two of the travel agencies on the path leading to the main road, checking the prices to get to HCMC by ferry and bus – I still had to decide when to leave this lovely island.
This rather boring business was quickly changed to joining Anna and her partner in a bar, having a few cocktails, before heading to the next bar. Well – what else could I do on an island than drinking and eating!?!?!?!

 

The next day I decided to stay a little bit longer in bed, and have breakfast at the same place I had dinner as I wanted to try a local breakfast dish (it wasn’t that good) – so it was a bit late to hire a bike (it really wasn’t worth hiring the bike to leave after noon), so instead I took a taxi and headed into Duong Dong. I paid 45,000 Dong to get to the marina. Well – I started my sightseeing tour of the biggest village on the island, enjoying the view of the boats and the sea, watching locals working on boats.

I followed a little alley along the river, enjoying the shades that some trees have offered. It was impressive to see all the boats and houses along the river. Crossing the bridge I was soon enough on the bustling market of Duong Dong – and you really can get lots of fish and seafood there. You pass one stall selling fresh mussels, then next one crab and another one fish – and so on. I doubt that seafood could be any fresher. After following the road it was once again time for a coffee break – sitting outside, having an ice-cold coffee and watching people (mainly locals, only saw a few tourists here), and relaxing.

I followed the road along the river once again – it was just a nice walk. Probably breaking any known H&S regulations back home I just got onto the bridge an half-finished stair on the side of the bridge – none of the worker stopped me, and it saved me 2 minutes walking back. Easy decision.

I was back at the marina, where I walked along the walls of the marina, passing the tiny lighthouse, and just sat down to enjoy the view of the marina, the blue sea and quite a few boats arriving and leaving, while kids were playing along the water. It was a great place to relax and to enjoy the atmosphere. Afterwards I just walked up to the tiny lighthouse, to check out the view of the start of Long Beach – the beach definitely  becomes better the further south you get.

As I started to get a bit hungry I just followed the main road away from the marina, and ended up in a small place where they served a great Pho soup. Even though I had great food in touristy places, I still think the food gets even better if you are a bit away from the popular touristy places. Hence the small walk passing some temples was worthwhile.

After a late lunch I managed to get a taxi back to the hotel. For some reason it was a bit more expensive, and seeing the price per km I must say that Sasco was the most expensive one (I was told you can take any taxi company on Phu Quoc – which is good as I only saw one Mailinh taxi during my stay).

Back at the bungalow I decided to enjoy the end of the afternoon for a swim in the ocean, and enjoying a bit of beach time – this time not using a sunbed but lying on the sand.

Back at the bungalow I then decided to book a snorkelling trip to the area south of Phu Quoc through my guesthouse. I thought it would be nice to see some bits away from the island.

For dinner I didn’t listen to Mr. Duc, and went to one of the small places along the main road. The main reason was the selection of fish they had on offer to grill them. I decided to have a starter of scallops and a little whole fish. Even now I still wish I would have listen to the advise given!!!!
I got the scallops, and I must admit they didn’t taste as usual, a little bit too fishy. Maybe I should have taken it as a sign, but no – I finished the dish. The fish afterwards was just delicious, the skin beautiful grilled, and the spices going through the whole fish. That dish was great.

Afterwards I headed back to the French bar to meet the German couple. But after one beer I realised I didn’t feel to well. As I had to get up. Bit earlier for the snorkelling trip I decided to get back to my room – and I timed it perfectly.
I realised quickly that the idea of having squid was not a bright one – as I got to know the bathroom very well through the night. I was still hoping it would be ok in the morning. Yep, I was that naïve.

Not being able to sleep a lot I realised in the morning that I would definitely  not be able to do a snorkelling trip. So I dragged myself out of bed, headed to the reception area where I met Mrs Duc (the owner’s wife). Apparently I must have looked not good, as she knew immediately that I was quite unwell, and she ensured me that cancelling the trip wouldn’t be any issue (and it wasn’t – I didn’t have to pay anything despite the last-minute cancellation), and she made sure I as ok. Not even 2 minutes being back in my room someone knocked at my door, and she brought me some dehydration sachet, two bottles of water, a kettle, a cup and some tea. She just told me what i should do (i.e. taking the sachet, drink a lot water, and if I need something warm have a tea (I didn’t ask for milk and sugar though!!!)). And she told me let them know if I get worse or need anything else.

Managing to get some sleep and rest, I felt some little improvement, and after lunch time I got some fresh air (not moving too far from the room and the toilet), and when they saw me both the owner and his wife came over to see how I feel. When I said that I felt a little bit better she said to sit down in front if the room, and soon I had a bowl of rice soup in front of me. No spices or meat, just rice and some vegetables so I get something solid into my body. It felt actually good to have some food. I started to feel better throughout the afternoon and evening (still annoying to be on such a beautiful island and to stay in the room all day – thankfully I had TV to watch movies the whole day).

On a positive note I used my day in bed to arrange my return trip arranged to HCMC. Clearly not fancy a long bus ride I decided to splash out for a flight – booking only two days ahead there was no chance to get a cheap flight. So I got a flight with Vietjet for 1,750,000 Dong. Considering that I could spend half a day longer on the island and protecting my stomach from a bumpy ride I thought it was money well spent.

In the evening they served me one more bowl of soup (without asking for anything), and it helped me to feel better. Thankfully I managed to get some sleep during the day. So the bad squid only haunted me for a day…
But I was so grateful that Mr Duc and his wife looked after me during the whole day. Travelling alone it is always a worry what you do if something happens. OK – in this case it was just food poisoning, but nonetheless it made me feel much better knowing that someone was looking out for me. I couldn’t even tell them how much I appreciated their help.

 

The next morning I stayed a bit longer in bed, feeling much better, but still a bit weak. Being annoyed of just spending time in the room I decided to rest on the beach. The usual sunbed and parasol was a great a place to relax. took it extremely slowly, and for lunch I only had a light noodle dish – didn’t want to upset my stomach again (unfortunately this was the end of eating the delicious seafood on the island – what a waste!!!)

Later that afternoon I decided that I still wanted to see something from the island, and arranged the snorkelling trip for the next day – and heading straight from the boat to the airport. Mr. Duc arranged everything with the tour operator.
I relaxed a bit more in the garden, and met for a final evening Anna and her partner in the bar – I was drinking only water. Not brave enough to risk upsetting my stomach I suddenly got a massive appetite for pizza – and I got a pizza baguette at the bar (they even gave me a menu of a pizza delivery service from Duong Dong in case I needed something bigger!!!) – thankfully my stomach approved, so I could actually enjoy my last evening.

I woke up quite early the next morning, and before I got picked up at 8:30 I took a last little stroll along the beach. I really enjoyed spending a lot of time there – even though it the most touristy beach on the island – though I never got the feeling that it was absolute crowded. I was picked up on time, and it was time to say goodbye to my lovely host. I was glad that I stayed here, as they looked so well after me.


I felt a bit worse again than the day before, and while I questioned a bit my decision I got to the minibus, and I thought even more that it was probably a bad decision. The minibus was full – but I was the only foreigner. That itself was no problem, but the issue was that the guide only spoke Vietnamese except when he asked about my name and where I was from. I even heard my name when he spoke Vietnamese and everyone looked around. It felt a bit awkward.
On the way to the southern ferry point we had the usual stop at a touristy place – this time it was a little pearl farm. It was much smaller than the one I visited in Halong Bay – so I just took a seat on the beach, still feeling unwell. At least I got a view of the massive amount of construction site along this stretch of the beach – they are building quite a few massive hotels there. Not sure how this will change the face of the island. I doubt it will be very positive.


Around 10:30 we arrived at the ferry point, and we boarded the boat. The boat was a decent size with seats on the main deck and upstairs – and even two hammocks. We were off soon enough, and after approximate 30 minutes we arrived at a little fish farm near a tiny island. In addition of looking around you were also able to buy fresh fish and mussels, which would be cooked on board. Unfortunately I had to decline the offer from some of the other Vietnamese passengers to buy some fish for me.


We had then an hour before reaching the first of the two promised snorkelling stops. I used the time wisely to use the hammock for a nap. Just in time I woke up when we arrived on the designated snorkelling place. It was a in a bay of a small island with an absolute stunning beach. The water was quite clear, and I could see the corals and rocks not too far from the boat. Feeling much better I was glad to jump into the water. And the snorkelling was fun – I really enjoyed being in the cool water, seeing fishes everywhere, and diving down to some of the corals (well, not too deep as I felt a bit exhausted). I was the only one of our boat without the life jacket (I really dislike them as it makes it nearly impossible to go down), and while I was in the water for nearly 30 -45 minutes, while the others stayed much less in the water, while some just went to the beach. I must admit, this little island itself would be a great place to spend a full day – for snorkelling or just enjoying the beautiful beach.


However, I got a bit of a bad news when I came back on board. When they asked back for the goggles I said I will keep them for the next two stops as the itinerary included a visit to three islands – but I was told there was not another stop. The guide explained that the other guests didn’t want to stay too much longer on the boat.
This was apparently clear from the start. So why they didn’t try to get me onto a boat with other tourists who were keen to do this, they didn’t say anything. I was a little bit peeved off. It seems the Vietnamese tourists (who were very friendly – and I had some rgeat chats with them) felt a bit guilty as they bought a few drinks for (non-alcoholic) during lunch – which was actually nice, even though I didn’t got any fresh fish (safety first with my stomach).
So after lunch it was time to head back to Phu Quoc, and it was only 13:30. So much earlier than expected we went last stop of the trip – Sao Beach on the east coast of Phu Quoc. We would just spend more time on a the beach than on the boat. The $17 looked not well spent I must admit.

After a 30 minute drive, that included a lot of Vietnamese singing, which was nice, we arrived at Sao Beach. Well – I must admit it is an absolute beautiful beach. It made Long Beach look low quality. It was white sand, clear blue water, and you actually had to walk a bit further away into the water before you could swim. It was just stunning.
The only disadvantage was that they offered jet skies, so it was a bit noisier. Also, there was only one place to get food and drinks (and souvenirs), so prices here are higher. But still, a visit to the beach is worthwhile, and I saw a quite a few tourists who have hired a scooter to get there. I enjoyed 1 1/2 hours here, and it made a little bit up for the lack of snorkelling, though I would have preferred that.


One good thing was that they had showers (for a fee of 10,000 Dong), so I could get rid of the sand before flying to HCMC.
After 3pm we left the beach and headed back to Duong Dong. As promised I was dropped off at the airport – which was a good service. Unfortunately I was there at 4pm, and my flight was not departing before 19:30. We just headed back too early (the programme said the tour finishes at 5pm).
So this was a fitting ending to a tour with a company who couldn’t deliver its promised itinerary. While I enjoy meeting locals, I felt a bit uncomfortable to know that people spoke about me by name, without knowing what it was (very unprofessional of the guide), and then just heading cancelling two stops. There are so many boats – they could have easily get me onto another boat, but they clearly wanted to keep the money.
Hence I can only advise NOT to book with Du Lich Rong Dong Duong. There are many operators on the island, so choose any other than that one.

The airport of Phu Quoc (which is actually an international one) is a small one, and I spend my waiting time in a little café inside (well, except of roads and fields there is nothing outside), and in the departure hall. I still kicked myself that I didn’t spend the 100,000 Dong more for the airline ticket that would have included access to the lounge – for 3 hours it would have been worthwhile).
One strange thing about the airport os that the planes are just outside the terminal – but for some strange reason you do not walk the 10 metres – no, instead you queue to get into the two buses available. Obviously even two buses were not enough, so two runs were needed – and all the time you queue. I would have preferred walking these few metres!

I never flew with the low-cost airline VietJet, but we boarded on time (the plane being full, the plane was clean, and the service during the flight was good. As we also arrived on time I thought I would fly with them again – which I did much sooner than expected.

So after nearly 2 weeks I was back in HCMC.

Overall I enjoyed my stay in Phu Quoc. It is a nice island with some beautiful beaches and tasty food (except some scallops…). The area around La Veranda on Long Beach is a good place to stay – a beautiful beach, clear water, lots of restaurant and bar. Even though the food poising ruined some of my time there (I might have got a better snorkelling tour as well without that – though it was the first time that I had trouble with food in SEA), but overall I was able to just relax. And I realised after travelling for over two month, heading from one pace to the next, I really needed it. I am not sure how the ongoing construction work for new big hotels will impact the island, but for now I would say it is a nice island to visit.

Accommodation:
While the sunshine bungalow was pricier than the other places I stayed at, it was a good choice. The bungalows are spacious, clean, with fridge and TV. The little garden outside is a nice way to relax in the shade in the afternoon. The biggest advantage for me were the hosts. The looked after me when I had the food poisoning, and didn’t charge me for the food and medication (I paid for the tea and water). This is something you really appreciate when travelling alone.
If you are on a budget I would still head to the area near La veranda. The beach here is great, lots of places to eat, and you find some more budget places as well (rooms and bungalows (though it might be without A/C).

Recommendation
Unfortunately I didn’t explore the island as much as I hoped – doing this with a scooter would be a great way to visit some of the remote beaches (I just heard stories and saw pictures they looked awesome).
A visit to Duong Dong would be a nice way to get away from the beach, and it is a nice little town. It was nice to visit the market and walk along the marina.
For a boat trip I was advised that the south is better. And the snorkelling I did was fun – I just wish I would have been able to see the other spots. So check with the agency that they really go there. And avoid Du Lich Rong!!!

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