I seem to be writing this blog at a rediculous belated post pace, so apologies are extended. I will make an attempt to catch you up on how my winter woes were nearly absolutely avoided - making an excellent beginning to this year of 2012.
As I have come to be all too familiar with the winter in Beijing settled in with a fury and the typical "joys" of government controlled heating (set by date: November 15 - March 15) no matter how cold or mild, fierce Siberan winds, colds/flus which never quit, and knock-off UGGS falling apart mere days after purchase. (I have repaired mine by sewing them together again with dental floss so many times they look like some freaky frankenstien footwear). Needless to say, this level of uncomfortability is something I had come to expect and accept and never dreamed that I would have the opportunity to escape.
But escape I did!
December 24th found me squeezed onto a flight to Ho Chi Minh city en route to Phu Quoc Island. Friends of mine had recommended an eco-resort which after hearing their endless praise, I was excited to try for myself. The resort was established
in 2000 and has 40 bungalows spread along one kilometer of the beach. For more information about the resort you can check out their website here: http://mangobayphuquoc.com/
By Christmas day I had completed the hour flight from Ho Chi Minh to the island and was met by an extremely friendly man named "Tin Tin" and clattered and rattled all the way to the very secluded resort. The sheer simple beauty of the place was just what the doctor ordered to clear away any and all wintery blues. From being greeted with fresh slices of mango and seated by the ocean to relax to reading the exciting list of activities (and spa treatments!) I was sold on the place. Mango Bay Resort is not your typical cookie-cutter resort. It's effort to add to the existing environment rather than replace it with some sprawling nightmare is quickly made apparent as you see the cows clinking by and admire the natural woods and matierals which make up the buildings. I quickly adjusted to showering at 16:00 when the sun had properly heated my water and really loved the whole open-air bathroom experience.
I was really unsure how I would feel about
the whole "resort" aspect of this holiday as I've always been a bit of an "authentic" travel snob and couldn't imagine a greater hell than spending time with 400 other sunburnt drunk and gorging tourists... but I must say, this place hooked me. I would start my day with an early breakfast (included) overlooking the water and a good book. When the mood struck me I would move over to the beach and relax on lounge chairs there for more reading and many mango mojitos! When the sun was cooling I figured a massage was most likely in order and would wander over for some more relaxing and the occasional swim to cool down. After a truly scrumptious dinner I would stretch out on my deck loung and listen to the Vinyl Cafe stories while watching the sun set and toasting it with a glass of wine (which the staff were always happy to deliver to my bungalow!) This basically consisted of my daily routine with the exception of one Island tour I made. On the tour I once again teamed up with Tin Tin who escorted me to several spots of interest around Phu Quoc. The Island is famous
for it's fish sauce which it exports and I had the opportunity to explore a factory ('Nuoc Mam'
and have the whole process explained to me. Apparently anchovies are caught and then packed in these giant barrels where they are packed with sea salt and then left for 14 months. They are later put through a filtering system and the leftover fish are sold as fertilizer to local farmers. Each of the barrels in the factory can contain up to 14,000 kilo (2500 liters). What was really impressive was observing that everything was done by hand... right up to watching a group of ladies glue on the labels and pack the bottles in boxes! After learning everything I will ever need to know about fish sauce we headed off to a pepper garden where I got to see all different sorts of peppercorn plants and taste my way around. Tin Tin started scrambling up trees to pick fruit for me to try and telling me different folk stories which were connected to each fruit. This farm was really lovely because they also had a small stand set up where they had a variety of pepper mixes to try and taste
with different snacks. I ended up purchasing an incredible garlic-pepper mix which I have been very pleased to cook with. Our next stop was the 'Tranh' Waterfall which had no water, as it was the dry season, so I convinced Tin Tin to leave the beaten path and bushwack our way up the stones where the water would normally be rushing down. He thought I was a ridiculous little monkey-girl, but was good natured and let me have my wilderness moment as I clambered up the boulders, shimmied up trees, and swung down on vines... I was in my element! Later I made a request that we find somewhere to buy mangos before we made our way back to the resort so he took me to the very vibrant and bustling Ham Ninh fishing village. You could literally buy anything and everything there while watching all the boats come and go. To get back at me for making him hoof it all over the jungle, Tin Tin tried to sell me to a boat of young fishermen who were only too eager to get me on board. Tin Tin thought this was hilarious and had tears streaming down his face
as he shook with laughter. Good one.
New Years was spent chowing down on a goregous buffet and gazing at a bonfire. Later more wine at the bungalow and soothed to sleep by the sound of the waves crashing and Stuart McLean's crooning voice, whispering stories from my speakers.
The trip was over all too soon with a couple days in Ho Chi Minh City where some motorists were kind enough to escort me around the city and I explored the War Remnants Museum (which I wandered through with a heavy heart, dismayed at the extent Agent Orange has devestated this country and its people). I sampled Vietnamese coffee, perched on a stool street-side (very local) and am now a huge fan of this delicious beverage! My driver was truly hilarious and his answer to everything was, "Whhhhy Not?" He kept me in stitches.
Flying home to Beijing was painful - but the promise of escaping to Thailand eased the sting
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