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Published: January 17th 2013
This is the first blog from our two week trip around South Vietnam and Cambodia over the Christmas and new year’s period.
We flew into HCMC late at night on the 22nd of January, we were both pretty tired from the long flight from the UK but the taxi ride to our hotel gave us our first glimpse of Ho Chi Minh and we were both pretty excited. There is something about Asian cities that I love, maybe it is all the flashing neon lights or the thousands of people that wizz around on scooters. Maybe it’s the fact that you often see families of 4 or 5 squeezed onto one scooter or the vast array of attachments that allows a scooter to be turned into a shop or a transit van that never ceases to amaze me.
We got to our hotel and despite the jet lag we both quickly showered and changed then headed out eager to explorer. For our first night we stayed close to the airport as we had to be up early the next morning for our flight to Phu Quoc so it really was
a flying visit. Because we were staying on the outskirts of HCMC our first impression was that it lacked the craziness of Bangkok (although this opinion changed when we had new years here at the end of our trip) so our first night really consisted of grabbing a few beers and a bite to eat and watching the world go by
Next morning we are up at 7:30am and headed back to the airport for our flight down to Phu Quoc island which is as far south as you can go in Vietnam and is right on the border with Cambodia. Everything went pretty smoothly and by 11am we were at our accommodation Thank Kiuew beach resort which is literally right on the beach on the main strip on the island. We checked into our beach Bungalow and my initial feeling was that this place was paradise and just what we needed after a freezing and rain soaked last few month in the UK. We grabbed a couple of sun loungers and spent an incredible afternoon swimming and reading and just lounging about.
Phu Quoc is still a fairly quiet island, not as quiet
as some of the more remote islands in Cambodia or Thialand, but nowhere near Phuket or Ko Samui. Although with a brand new international airport that has just opened I can see it going that way over the next 5 years. Every available beach space seems to have a new mega resort being built in it, but for now it is still a fairly laid back island.
We were lucky that right next door was probably the best seafood beach grill that I have ever been to. The place was not much to look at with plastic chairs on the beach and a BBQ Grill out front, but the food was amazing, and so cheap. You could get fresh Fish, Tuna, Squid, Prawn plus loads of local delicacies all grilled up for you for about $4 a plate and washed down by ice cold 75cent beers, that is my idea of Paradise. There isn’t a great deal to do in the evenings so you just wander down the beach to see where the action is. It was pretty quiet with a chilled vibe, there was one beach club about 10mins down the beach called Rory’s after the
Australian owner so we usually headed there after our seafood banquet evening meals.
We spend the first couple of days just chilling on the beach drinking cold beers and eating seafood. I had planned on doing some diving whilst I was there but after reading some posts online and looking about it didn’t look that great, so after talking to our hotel owner we decided to book a snorkelling trip to a group of uninhabited islands that form part of a national marine park, so I was expecting it to be a pretty good trip.
We booked the trip for Christmas Eve as the hotel was having a Christmas Eve Gala Dinner and was transforming its section of the beach into a Vietnamese Santa's Grotto. The bus for our snorkelling trip picked us up at 8am sharp, then in true South East Asian trip style, spend the next hour picking up passengers from other hotels until they had crammed enough people in that we were bursting at the seams. The departure point for the trip was on the other side of the island and we were told that it would take 45mins down dusty
dirt tracks. I was somewhat surprised when we stopped after 20mins and told to get out, we couldn’t be hear already?? Nope we had stopped off for a “break” at a local pearl farm and were ushered in to check out the local merchandise.
After a half hour stop we were on our way again heading to the port and 40 mins later we arrived at one of the busiest ports I had seen in a while, a total contrast to the pristine beaches we had been staying on, as this place was full of rubbish. We hoped on our boat and head out with a minimum of fuss once we had dodge all the people trying to sell us stuff, and headed to the national marine park. My first instinct was how incredibly busy it was, there were hundreds and hundreds of fish farms and fishing boats and thousands of people working on them. Our boat heads towards one of the fish farms(a floating shed of wood and corrugated iron) and to my amazement it docks with it and we are ushered onto this tiny flimsy farm that I half expect to sink with all the
people crowded onto it. Here they try and sell us any fresh seafood we want, despite Lunch being included in the trip. After another half hour we head off to the first snorkelling spot which is a bay full of fish farms, and despite the fact we are in a marine park there appears to be plenty of fishing huts on the island. I get ready to take my first dip of the day, but I am told that it is not snorkelling time yet!! Oh no its fishing time, so we drop anchor over the protected reefs and the crew get out about 40 hand lines, one for each of us on the boats and we start fishing trying to catch our lunch!!!
After about half an hour when the crew seem happy that we have caught enough tiny fish (the biggest caught was about 4 inches) we finally don masks and fins ready to jump in. I glance and my watch and see that it is nearly 1pm a full 5 hours after I left our beach resort to go “snorkelling” We jump in quickly to beat the mad rush and head out. The visibility
is pretty poor and the coral is in terrible shape, we make our way from one side of the reef to the other and I don’t see any fish above four inches or any real schools, I am guessing all the people living on the fish farms and the island have fished this reef clean. I can see why the coral is in such poor shape as the group I am with are standing on it to adjust mask and fins, it was pretty sad to see. We have lunch (which was pretty nice) and decided the best use of time is to sun bathe on deck. We make one more quick stop at another snorkelling spot on the way back but conditions if anything were worse than the first so we enjoy being on the water and sunbathing from our deck chairs as we head back.
Although the fun isn’t over yet!! as we pass the last island before Phu Quoc the engine stops!! And we are drifting towards the island and the rocks. Fortunately there is another snorkelling boat about half a mile ahead which does a frantic U turn and heads back, just in time as
we are now drifting towards the rocky shore and my mind is working its way through evacuation scenarios. They manager to throw us a tow line and tow us back to port as a snail’s pace, it certainly was one of the more Bizarre snorkelling trips I have been on!!
Our resort had totally transformed the beach for our Gala dinner complete with a Vietnamese Santa and we had a great evening feasting on fresh seafood and local dishes from the buffet before they lit an enormous bonfire on the beach. We finished the evening with a few in Rory’s, it was a great Christmas eve that I really enjoyed, Vietnamese style. Sadly we only had 4 days on Phu Quoc, I could easily have stayed longer as it was a really relaxed place. So on Christmas day we were up early for a long day of travel as our next destination was Phnom Penh the capital of Cambodia. The only way to do this was a boat to the mainland, a bus to the border, then a 6 hour bus to Phnom Penh so we started our long day by getting a bus to the dock.
I really should know better than to take the “fast Boat” anywhere in Asia, but when planning this trip I thought that it sounded fun. When we arrived at the dock it was blowing a gale, literally a gale, at least a force 7-8 with pretty impressive waves. We boarded the fast boat and instantly I knew this would not be a fun trip as we left the safely of the island and hit open water it was immediately apparent this would not be a smooth crossing. The fast boat was long and thin and shaped like a torpedo and lurched left and right like a rollercoaster with the spray from the wave washing over the top of the boat. This was one of the longest hour and a half of my life and I literally kissed the dock when we finally made the mainland.
The rest of this transfer went pretty smoothly after this, we had lunch in Ha Tien before boarding another bus and heading for the Cambodian border. The Border turned out to be a tin shed that remided me of African border crossings. As the border is technically no mans
land between two countries they are building some massive Vegas style casino's in no mans land which is a striking contrast to the povery that surounds it!! (part two of the blog coming soon)
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