Published: September 11th 2006September 11th 2006
Country number 4...Vietnam; new country, new language and most importantly new beer.
First of all apologies for the length of this blog entry....lots to say!
We decided after much discussion, reading and talking to other travellers to bypass the over trekked Saigon to Hanoi route of Vietnam (up the spine of the country) in favour of touring around the south (The Mekong Delta & Saigon) and the north (Hanoi, Halong Bay & Sapa). Time is limited and this is one long country, so with this in mind we left Phnom Penh to travel by slow boat to Chau Doc in Vietnam. Step one was a comfortable if snug minibus from our hotel to the bus company. We waited a while there and chatted with a tuktuk driver who spoke better Irish than most leaving certs, after about 30 minutes a car (the usual Toyota Camary....about the only make in Cambodia) turned up to bring ourselves and two German guys to the boat. After only minutes driving we pulled up and the bonnet was opened. The German in front nearly had a heart attack when he saw them putting dirty old water into the battery. Step 3...the boat to the
Cambodian border, not too bad but for the gang plank of rotten wood breaching the 6 foot gap between dry land and the Mekong. Eds face was unforgetable as he attempted to clamber across this 2 inch wide piece of wood with backpack on his front and rucksack on his back. Step 4 Cambodian and Vietnam immigation...Cambodian; nada botha! Vietnam; passport check, quarantine check and 2,000 Dong charge (hello we are from Ireland, what do you think we are going to bring into Vietnam?) Step 5 boat to Chau Doc, Vietnam.....We had arrived, good morning Vietnam (well afternoon actually)
So we have ditched the "Lying Planet" as is the fond term used for it in backpacker land for a Lets Go guide and had picked out a hotel (supposedly the best in the Mekong Delta) which was 5km out of town. The usual mix of touts arrived to "help" us, a cyclo driver convinced us, really, he could bring Ed & I and two heavy rucksacks the 5kms. This guy weighed about 7 stone and Ed has difficulty dealing with the guilt but as there were no motos in sight we didn't feel we had an option. Naturally enough
20 metres down the road he decided we were too heavy and offloaded Ed and his baggage to his friend. So off we set...our cyclo friends racing each other, only to arrive at the grottiest hotel to date. We ran out of the place and had to pay our bucks some dosh to bring us back into town. We eventually settled on a place in the centre of town close to the market and after nearly 9 hours travelling were too tired to take in much of Vietnam.
Here comes the geography lesson...The Mekong Delta is one of the largest deltas in the world and the area is the largest rice producing region of the world. We have heard alot from people who disliked Vietnam and for this reason we have decided to do things a little differently to most backpackers, in the hope we will find some little part of Vietnam which is not as jaded by tourism.
The next day we woke early and headed out in the market for some breakfast. Vietnam is different to every where else we have been as far fewer people speak English so lots of gesturing and smiling and pot
luck is required when ordering food! For breakfast we sampled our first "Pho" (Vietnamese noodles) and they were delicious...good start. Next we jumped on board a public bus for a spellbinding trip to Ha Tien on the very south west of the country. If transport in India was packed it had little to compare to the buses in Vietnam...we trundled along tiny roads, surronded by Mekong tributaries while our fellow passengers chuckled and pointed at us. We arrived in Ha Tien in glorious sunshine and loved the town immediately. We were the only tourists around and felt like celebrities...we are attack by kids at every turn, Ed met a group of teenage boys who insisted on having photos taken with him. The seaside town had a real European feel to it and it was a pity this was only a stepping stone to our real destination...Phu Quoc island.
Next morning we got up early (6am starts have become the norm) and with the help of two very friendly moto drivers made the 20K trip to the "ferry" which was to take us to Phu Quoc. When we arrived all sorts of wheeling and dealing had to be done in
Vietnamese while we sat drinking Ca phe sua nong (Vietnamese coffee..delish) we watched a truck load of pigs being loaded to a "ferry", I have never heard a noise like it, they definately knew they were bacon!
Eventually we jumped back on the scooters and were brought down through a dodgy looking slum area to a whole load of fishing boats. It turns out the ferry guy was pulling a fast one and dodging the tax on our tickets by picking us up out of the sight of the police! We were kept entertained by a group of kids who loved our white skin and kept touching us and laughing. Our boat arrived and we clambered bags and all across 4 fishing boats before offloading into a boat which was definately not a ferry! We sat up front with cargo and a bunch of dodgy characters downing rice vodka from plastic bags, chain smoking and keeping one eye always on the tourists. Four hours later...soaked by seawater and still rocking we were dumped unceremoniously on Phu Quoc to the usual barrage of moto touts!
We loved the island from word go! This truly is paradise! All you beach
lovers out there forget over developed Thailand and Malaysia come to Phu Quoc for some real heaven! Each morning we walked the 10 metres from our beachfront hut to the turquoise warm perfectly clear sea and swam until the sun came up properly! Then a short wander barefoot along the shore for breakfast followed by meeting up with our moto drivers who brought us from beach to glorious beach with the odd waterfall thrown in for good measure. The beaches were deserted except for a few local fishermen, the water perfectly clear with little fish, large crabs, starfish and beautiful shells. We saw guys shimmy up trees to knock the coconuts down and dogs with webbed feet for swimming, native to the island. The sun shone endlessly (unusual for this time of year) and we gorged on seafood for lunch and dinners while napping in hammocks to digest and down another beer (bia 333, our beer of choice in Vietnam so far). On our return each evening we were treated to massages and feet scrubs as the sun went down by very persuasive Nen and her band of merry followers. Each day started with sunrise and by sunset we were
ready for bed...sound asleep each night by 9.
Then this morning it all had to end...we woke up early and with a final glance at the beach headed for the port to catch the "Superdong" back to the mainland. This on arrival turned out to be a very modern hydrofoil (I guess a sign of the development imminent on the island)...a very different experience from our trip over to the island.
You heard here...catch Phu Quoc before it becomes Vietnams Koh Samui!
There are more photos below