The next day I woke up in Phu Quoc to torrential rains. But my hope was things would clear up later so that I could hit the beach.
Phu Quoc is an island off the coast of Cambodia that is now owned by Vietnam. It is said to be what Phuket used to be. The main visitors are mainland Vietnamese who use it as their vacation locale. The only access to the island used to be by boat from the main land, but within the past year, they built an airport for flights from Can Tho. Within a year, the airport would open up flights from other areas of Vietnam. They plan to eventually open it up to international flights. Because of the limited access, the island is fairly remote but expanding quickly with resorts breaking ground at every turn.
This morning I jumped on a tour of the island. The tour consisted of me, the only English speaker, 5 Vietnamese, and 1 French woman who was married to on of the Vietnamese. The first stop was the Phu Quoc Pearl farm. Phu quoc is also known as “Pearl Island” due the abundance of pearls created in their waters. The pearls from Phu Quoc are more lustrous than those grown in the fresh waters of China which makes them more expensive and sought after. The majority of pearls sold across Vietnam are Chinese, so a Phu Quoc pearl is a rare find unless you buy direct from an island farm.
After the Pearl farm, we stopped at Coconut Tree, the Phu Quoc Jail. This place was opened by the French during their colonization period in the mid 1900’s holding political prisoners. During the Vietnam war, the US kept the jail in use and expanded it. Walking through this place and seeing the torture instruments, and hearing what these men and woman had to endure was truly hard to imagine. It was almost unreal. The visual is needed.
After the Coconut Tree tour, we hit a Phu Quoc Fish Sauce plant where the smell was so over powering, a stop to see the official Phu Quoc dog, and taste of Simson wine—a wine made from the sim fruit.
It was a long day out, so it’s time to stop at the hotel so I can take in another sunset.
Once it’s done, a small group of us head out to a grand Vietnamese dinner that was a whole lot of amazing.
Once dinner is done, I take a walk through the touristy night market which was honestly nothing to see. There may be more when more tourists come. So I head back to my hotel which is walking distance…but as I walk back I got stopped in my tracks by the voice of Diana King and “Shy Guy” blasted from a speaker. I look up and it’s my new favorite bar. I sit and grab a drink…or 3…at once and sit a sip these extremely strong suckers.
While I sat I was invited by a couple of French guys, one younger in his 20’s and the other white haired and older, to join them at their table. Turns out the younger guy is the bar’s owner and the older is his French father. The dad was the only to speak English so he chatted me up a lot until their friends/loyal customers joined us. A couple of older French guys cruising the island on motorcycles. We sat, laughed, and drank until the drinks really hit me and I had to make my way back to my hotel to end the night.
The next morning I throw on my clothes, grab my things and head out if the hotel at 7:15am. It’s time to meet up with the rest of the crew for a morning of more floating.
I see the Czech and the Middle Easterner from Dubai. I asked him how was his night and you would have though I asked him for the audio version of chapter 3 in his autobiography. “It all started in a dark hotel room…” To sum it up, he hated his ant infested hotel room and he drowned his sorrows in tons of shots at a neighborhood bar.
We hop on the boat to the Cai Rang Floating Market which is only open in the early morning hours. It’s me and the Czech guy partnering up in the back. We take in the sites along the way. The shacks that many call home along the river. See people making their living barefoot on their small rickety boats.
Eventually we pull up to what looks like a floating wholesale warehouse. Boats still rickety, but stacked with pineapples, coconuts, and exotic fruits. Then without warning, we have a smaller motorboat a lasso our boat like we were cattle and hook on. They start trying to sell us everything from coffee, to noodles, to fruits on a stick. So many make their living just from selling to the tourists and the workers who float along the delta.
At the end of the tour we stopped at a family run rice farm and watched as they made rice paper and rice noodles using traditional equipment. We followed this stop by a last stop at a rice production plant. This plant delivers rice all over asia including basmati rice to India.
Ok, delta tour is done. It’s time for me to catch a flight Phu Quoc, the fairly remote island off the coast of Cambodia, but owned by Vietnam. We drive to the desolate Can Tho airport and I’m the first person there. Clearly there’s only 1 plane going out. When it’s time to board the flight, I notice it’s mostly mainland Vietnamese traveling save a few Europeans. That intrigued me.
It takes about 35 minutes to get to the island, then we hop on a taxi to the Saigon Phu Quoc resort. They upgrade me to a bungalow, I walk along the beach, sit on a swing and reflect on the start of my trip as well as the closing chapter of my 30th year as I watch the sun set into the sea.
Day 2 begins with a long and bumpy bus ride. The van was going maybe 20 mph as motorcycles swarmed and flew past up. The van was tight, the people were loud, there were a number of European guys with their Vietnamese spouses maybe trying to learn an inch of their culture so they aren’t “that guy”. This day was sure to be that day from hell I was expecting.
So we get to the start of the Mekong Delta Tour. We pile onto these wooden vessels that would sink at any extra breathe. Jesus take the wheel. We stay on the ride as our guide tries to explain the delta in his broken English. The coasting is pretty serene and peaceful. I was waiting for the minute this would be broken.
We pull up to our first stop and maneuver our way through this wooded land with a narrow dirt pathway, just to end up at what they called their bee farm. We get there to see a couple of hives and sets of tables ready for us to try…then buy. The tea they prepared with honey was actually delicious…but I can get honey in NY. Where’s the next part of this adventure…oh, we have to stay here for 20 minutes? ok…there’s a python somewhere I can wrap my sorrows in I’m sure.
After the face to face with snake eyes, we made our way to the natural canals. And i have to say this is when I really started to get impressed. We climbed on to these 4 person canoes with a woman manning the front and one in the back. My crew was definitely the solo travel group. A black chick that has to be a celebrity because she’s here and has a Mohawk (me), a man who didn’t speak at all in any language and just his behind his professional camera, a middle eastern man who wreaked of booze and couldn’t stop talking/demanding, and a tall, young Czech man who definitely enjoyed taking in the scenery. Barefooted and crouched over, the women put their arms to work, paddling us through the canals of the amazing natural creation, leading us back to where we started.
We climb back onto our boat and I’m ready to see what the next stop has in store for us. “Candy”? “Coconut”? “The”? I’m there. We head to a coconut candy maker who shows us the process for making fresh coconut candy as well as coconut soap. As an avid coconut oil user, I highly recommended it for folks to buy. The candy was Heated, shaped, wrapped in rice paper, then packaged all right on the small facility. The end product was delicious. It was a must buy, especially at the price of 6 packs for $7.50. And each pack cones with about 30 candies. I would have bought more if I had more room in my bag…and I had someone to buy it for aside from my health nut ass.
Coconut candy tour is over, then we head to enjoy tropical fruits including Jack fruit, papaya, dragon fruit, pineapple and bananas while we listened to live traditional Vietnamese music. And this is how the tour ends.
Next, we float back to the van and head to our hotels in Can Tho. It’s a 2.5 hour drive, and next to me sits the young Czech from the Solo travel Canoe. He immediately begins to chat it up and usually I hate small talk but this wasn’t small talk. It was about what we were currently experiencing, this both being new to us and us both going into it alone. He made the long ride back easier since we went back to hitting the bumpy roads. We talked travel, economics, politics, and our homes. He was a good partner, we even both passed out from exhaustion at the same time, i think. Either that or I was just rude as hell and went to sleep mid convo. But when they woke me up to drop me at my hotel, he was asleep as well.
I was the only one from the tour getting dropped at the Ninh Kieu 2 which worried me a bit. I knew it wasn’t the BEST hotel in Can Tho but it wasn’t bad. They considered it 3 star. And from the outside and the service, it looked that way. But when I walked into the room, It had a highway motel feeling. The bed was like laying on cement with a sheet, and the room had a stale smell. The bathroom left me wanting more…and wearing flip flops. But it was only 1 night and I can’t be a snob in a 3rd world country. So I pass out…until I get a call from reception saying my free dinner that came with the tour was ready. I told them to cancel it, I was dead tired. Still trying to keep up with the time change. I knock out again only to be woken up 5 minutes later to be told I must eat because they cooked it already. UGH, fine!
I head upstairs to the restaurant which looked like a dodgy old Chinese banquet hall. The table clothes and chair covers were straight from Chinatown in NY, I swear.I am the sole person in the place. Well, me and the hostess. It’s dead quiet aside from the sounds of the zooming motorcycles and the glare of neon lights up the strip.
I sit in silence waiting to be forced to eat slop. First thing that comes out from my quiet waitress, fried coconut squid with chili sauce. Fine, not bad, but not hard to mess up breading and deep frying.
Then came a pumpkin soup…never thought I’d find that in Vietnam. It’s decent, never thought if like it, but must be from a can. Where the hell are there pumpkins?
I ask the waitress it this is it, so I can go to bed, she says yes. So I eat a couple more spoons of soup, then turn to stand up, when I see a bowl of spaghetti heading towards me. What?? Why?? I don’t want to be rude the so I twist up a few noodles, give it a taste…and it’s pretty good. I have to eat around the red meat, but it was coated in cheese and was not bad.
Then comes a massive plate with breaded sea bass with fish sauce and a side of chicken fried rice. Where am I? Are they trying to plump me up for the slaughter? The fish was inedible to me. It was doused in too much fish sauce leaving it too salty. The fried rice was pretty delish though.
My night of forced gluttony was topped off with a nice custard. As you can imagine, I was done for the night.