Published: June 7th 2011June 7th 2011
Vietnam’s biggest island, Phu Quoc, offers some of the best beaches in the country. Long Xuyen explains why this southern island fits her definition of paradise.
Whenever I go to Phu Quoc I feel like I’m coming home. In fact, my home lies thousands of miles away and I have only a few friends on the island. Even so, Phu Quoc remains in my mind as a place to go home to, as though life there is familiar to me and friend and family are waiting.
Blue sea, White sand
With it’s along coastline, Vietnam offers countless beaches and breath-talking sea views. But nothing captures the imagination like white sand bordering a bright blue bay. Whether on the shores of Bac Dao Islands, which is home to only few thatched-roof huts, or on the beach beside Phu Quoc’s largest settlement, Duong Dong town, the sand is clean and bright.
The island is ringed by fine beaches, some of them home to nothing but coconut palms. Yet times are changing. Bulldozers are moving in and land is being divided and cleared. New house – some beautiful and other not – are under construction. Plots are being cleared to house new restaurants, bars and hotels to serve the growing numbers of visitors.
“Visitors find soft sand, clear water and fresh sea breezes”.
Luckily, some beautiful beaches remain. Bai Dai, Bai Kem san Bai Sau beaches offer transparent water. With no big waves or unpredictable currents the sea here is perfect for bathing. I can’t think od anything more relaxing than floating in crystal water, with fine sand underfoot and tiny swimming all around me.
Whenever I go to Phu Quoc I head for the Vuon Tao Restaurant, where the owners, Ms. And Mrs. Phat, prepare two of my favorite dishes: fish dipped in vinegar and fresh mai fish salad. Just thinking about this fare makes my mouth water.
I sit in the shade of a coconut tree and watch a boiling pot of vinegar-flavored greens and onions. Beside me lies a plate of fresh fish, assorted greens and onions. I roll the fish in salad greens, add some scraped young coconut meat and dip it in the vinegar broth.
Even more tantalizing is plate of freshly-caught shellfish. The snails are gathered from empty beaches when the tide is rising and the sun is setting. Some friends and I once gathered these snails on Phu Quoc. We waded through waist – deep water to a distant sand dune. After just 30 minutes we had collected large bags full of shellfish.
The cook used a knife to separate the shells, revealing a lot of meat inside. We rotated some of the snails and used the rest to make rice porridge better than that served in fancy restaurants. That same memorable night I had the chance to try another local delicacy: young coconut sprouts. The owner of the restaurant asked some people to chop down a tall young coconut tree and fetch the sprouts. I took a piece. It was crunchy and cool on my tongue. Since I come from northern Vietnam, where coconut palms don’t grow, it was a new experience for me.
I feel at home in remote regions. It seems to me that the poorer people are the friendlier and more welcoming they are to strangers. This is how it is on Phu Quoc.
Whether you meet Mr. Sau Thoi, the owner of s fish sauce production unit, or children whom you encounter by chance in the fishing village on Bac Dao Island, you will be welcome with bright smiles.
Seated in thatch-roofed stilt-house, people sing cai luong (a type of traditional countryside music) that is moving to hear. Their faces are weathered by the wind and sun and their arms are opened wide to welcome visitors to their beautiful homeland.