Thursday, January 29, 2009

Island time (Jan. 23/09 - Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam)

Turns out, the boat was just as they had implied at the office - big, modern, and fast. The interior looked more like an airplane than a boat, but we were pleased to find out how smooth a ride it was - no seasickness this time! Other than the blaring karaoke (what is it with these countries and bad karaoke?!) and frigid air conditioning, the trip was pretty benign. 90 minutes later, we pulled up to a big concrete dock on Phu Quoc Island and snagged a mini van to take us to the west side of the island where all the action is. Since we didn't have anywhere to stay, we let the driver take us to a place that had $15 bungalows on the beach. Of course, we expected dismal rooms, but they were great! Individual bungalows with a hammock on the patio and a fridge full of cold 80 cent Tiger beer, who can complain?!

The island is shaped kind of like a 50km long t-bone steak, with the big part in the north. The whole west side is a long stretch of beach, and the town of Duong Dong sits near its north end. Various hotels line the beach, and ours is located near the south end. To get a feel for the island, we rented a motorbike and set off up the wide gravel road. Signs of upcoming development are everywhere - hotels under construction, roads about to be paved - so we were glad to have come ahead of the mobs. Ken did really well to maneuver through the streets of town on the motorbike, as other motorbikes were zooming in all directions. He quickly mastered the horn and cruised along like a local. We drove north for a while past town before deciding to save the exploring for tomorrow. Lunch was our first priority, as we skipped breakfast in anticipation of a potentially rough ferry ride. Priority #2 was to look into diving. The reefs around this island are apparently still in pristine condition, and so we were eager to check them out for ourselves. Five dive shops were clustered along one stretch of the main drag in town, so we shopped around and then settled on one that will be going to the north end of the island the day after tomorrow, where the visibility is better (compared to the cluster of An Thoi islands in the south).

On our way back to our bungalow, we popped into a few other places along the road to see if there was a better spot or a better deal elsewhere. Turns out that everything else was either full or out of our price range, so we considered ourselves lucky to have ended up where we did on the first try! The beach was calling, so we wandered down and went for a swim. If it weren't for the unfortunate amount of garbage that had washed up on the beach and was floating in the water, it would be pretty much perfect. Even still, a swim in the balmy ocean and lounging in the sand in the shade of the fancy neighbouring resort's cabanas was pretty sweet! We passed out beneath a palm tree and were woken by a Vietnamese woman standing over us, screeching "YOU WANT MASSAGE??" Uh no, I want to sleep, thank you very much! Had I not read about these people's general lack of needing personal space, I would have been pretty freaked out when she reached out and brushed the sand off my leg and then grabbed my hand and said "Ohhhh, need manicure." I think she tried to offer Ken hair removal services before she finally realized what NO meant, and walked away.

The afternoon sun turned an intense shade of red before sinking into the sea. We enjoyed fresh seafood on the beach at an adjacent hotel with our toes in the sand to round off our first day of island time.

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