Monday, 19 May 2014

Phu Quoc by Motorbike: Part 1

After a brief return to Kampot, Angela and I took a bus to the fourth country of our Asian adventure: Vietnam! As I write this, we've been in the country about a week, which may be too soon to pass judgment, but so far it's on the verge of becoming our favourite country of the trip. This is a welcome surprise, since we'd heard a lot of bad things about it from other travellers we met. Among the backpacking circles, Vietnam seems almost as famous for its excessive scamming, rude locals, and endless rip-offs, as it is for its beautiful scenery, delicious food and dramatic coastline. Fortunately, we haven't experienced many of those negative points yet. The people have been pretty friendly to us, and we really don't sense that the scams are anywhere worse here than in other neighbouring countries. Of course, we've only been here a week and all that may change as we explore more of the country.

So far, what we love most is the sheer variety of landscapes and settings that the country has to offer. We've already seen beautiful beaches, explored a bustling, futuristic city, wandered mysterious deserts (well, sand dunes that look like deserts, at least), and today we arrived in a European-style resort town surrounded by cool, Alpine mountains. All that, in just a week, and we're still in the extreme south of the country! We're so excited to see what the rest of the country has in store for us.

Our first port of call was the island of Phu Quoc, which is actually closer to Cambodia than it is to mainland Vietnam. We had to cross the land border in order to get a ferry there though. The island is known for its beaches and mountainous scenery, and is often compared to Phuket, Thailand. We were less than impressed with that place during our brief visit, but Phu Quoc hasn't seen anywhere near the same level of development, and some friends had recommended it to us. For a second time on this trip we rented a motorbike and explored the local countryside, which actually took the better part of a day since it's a pretty big island.

We also met some other travellers during our journey to the island, and ended up finding a hotel, sharing meals, and exploring the island together for two days. It was the first time on the trip that Angela and I teamed up with some other travellers to this extent, so it made a refreshing change to the routines we've been following so far. We had so much fun with our fellow travel buddies that we met up with several of them later on in Ho Chi Minh City.

Our route from Kampot to Phu Quoc, which required crossing the Cambodia-Vietnam border.
It all went much more quickly and smoothly than our crossing from Thailand to Cambodia.
From the small border town of Ha Tien we took a ferry to Phu Quoc.
Arriving at the pier.
With a group of fellow travellers that we met at the border, we arranged a deal with a local taxi driver.
We stopped off on a stretch of road just south of the main town of Duong Dong.
After scouting around the nearby beach, we found a hotel, which was populated by puppies.

The beaches on Phu Quoc didn't seem as beautiful as those on Koh Rong, but were nice enough, and thankfully pretty quiet.
Angela walks with Carina from Germany.
We had lunch together on the beach. In the picture is Pablo from Chile, and Angelino and Sebastian from Germany. Pablo is on a five-year journey around the world, having already been all across Africa and Europe. Kind of makes our six-month adventure seem like a brief vacation!
Since being in Vietnam, we've discovered that they do really good spring rolls.
For my main meal I had Bun Cha Gio Tom Nuong, which consisted of dried vermicelli noodles in soup, topped with prawns, spring rolls and vegetables. It was my first meal in Vietnam and it didn't disappoint.
Angela had Thit Heo Neong or grilled pork marinated in honey.
That evening we rented motorbikes and headed to Duong Dong Town to visit the night market.

Phu Quoc is known for being one of the best places to get seafood in Vietnam, so we bought a variety of fish, scallops and other delicacies, and had them cooked and prepared for us in a nearby restaurant.
Later that evening we hung out in a few bars and played some pool.

Back at the hotel, we found a new friend.
The next day, Angelino and Carina joined us for a bike journey around Phu Quoc. Our first destination was Sao Beach on the southern tip of the island.
The roads were mostly dusty and unpaved. On the left you can see photos of all the malls, hotels and resorts that are being planned for the island. In fact, about a third of the roads we travelled on were surrounded by construction works. I imagine the island will look a lot different should we return a decade from now.
Dust and construction works aside, we had some nice views of the coast as we headed south.

Soon the four of us reached Sao Beach, known as one of island's prettiest beaches.

A small house in the sea.

Angelino tries some coconut juice.

Click here as we continue our motorbike adventure in Part 2!

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