Day 5: Phu Quoc at last

The ferry left promptly at 08h30, with, for once me on it. It was a fast ferry, in other words a hydrofoil, with upstairs and downstairs accommodation. Seats sere comfortable, we were given the obligatory bottle of water, and were soon speeding along to Phu Quoc. The journey takes roughly one and a half hours, and you pass by some small islands on the way to the brooding mass growing on the Horizon that turns into Phu Quoc. 

You can, by the way, go ouside to a small deck at the rear, which I did after the Kung Fu films showing in the salon began to pall. I did enjoy the morality tale, however, shown as we were entering the harbour, where a bright-looking ten year old was picked up by the police for impeding traffic on public highways. His

Ferry interior

father came to get him, initially angry, but when he and the police explained he had just been picking up paper as the campaign to keep the island clean wanted him to do. The father began to melt, and broke into sobs when the virtuous boy added « and I wanted to help you, to make your job easier., father, because I know it is part of your job.» It is a shame the human race looks askance at noble sentiments such as these. Mark you, in most places nut just here the boy would have lasted a matter of minutes before either being rushed to hospital or to jail for disturbing the peace. The 21st century is a cynical one, I’m afraid.

It being lunchtime, I walked down to the main road where three or four restaurants were clumped together. Without without to be too hard, they were very much of the beer, chips and omelette type, and advertised everything from burgers through pizzas to gelato. Sandwiched in between were the veggie dishes, and I have to say the news were the equal of any I’ve tasted. The only slight downside was that none served Bahn Mi, the great staple dish created by a fusion of French and Vietnamese cuisine – Phu Quoc isn’t that sort of island. A typical example was Kim’s, which served seafood as advertised, kicking off with fish and chips. Well, you serve what the market wants on resort islands, and they did it well. 

Phu Quoc, which produces the world’s best nuoc mam, is a fast-developing  resort island, where long beaches flank a crystal sea. The hills provide a glorious backdrop – in fact, it is much as the brochures say. The guide books wax lyrical, as do all the reviews in Tripadvisor and the like. However, they fail to mention the two big caveat that applies to many beach-based resorts: You want to be on the beach side, not across the road that runs down the coast. This particularly applies to newer resort areas, where buildings are shooting up with a minimum of time (and apparently planning) to cash in on the boom. Most guides don’t mention this, but, basically the higher the price the better the position. The more expensive the resort, the more likely it is to be on the beach. Sheratons, Marriots, Anantara and the ilk are all going to be on the beach, the mid range are going to be on the other side of the road, and the hostels are going to be clumped together in the towns a fair walk from the beach across several busy roads.

Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with the mid price, resorts, nothing at all in fact, and the facilities are often excellent, just be aware that, if you see yourself whiling away the hours on the beach, alternating between reading, dips, and the odd refreshing beer, you probably won’t find it that easy. My resort was on the other side of the road, and crossing meant dodging the ever-present scooters. They move slowly in Vietnam, so survival rate is quite high, but I then had an 800m walk that took me through two sodden, muddy, and ugly building sites before arriving at the beach. When I got there – and the return of the rain might have jaundiced my view – the only places where I could lie on the beach with the odd ale all charged Sheraton prices. The same was true of the restaurants. As it happened, the rain which was to be a feature of most of my trip precluded much beach-based activity.

In the afternoon I walked into town by road. It isn’t possible to do this on the beach, partly because of the aforementioned building sites but also because the beach is not one continuous strip, but is broken by streams and rivulets emptying into the sea. The formula is pretty much resorts new or under construction on one side, and restaurants, shops, the paraphernalia of any town where supermarkets haven’t killed local businesses on the other. There is a private musem that also functions as a restaurant and hotel, which is worth visiting, especially at the 20000 d price. It is in one of the older traditional houses, which adds to the interest.The jury is out on whether their turning on each room into something that reflects the exhibits is a success, though. The section on coral, which is on the ground floor, has sculpted rooms designed to emulate caves, but the coral, behind tanks and glass, seems curiously bleached, so I doubt it is living. The skeletons of various fish also left me somewhat cold.

I spent some time, in between sheltering in various spots, contemplating resorts and their function and came to the following conclusion:  if you want to stay in a proper resort, as in one where you don’t need to venture outside save for the occasional tour, don’t go for half measures, but pay top dollar, it really is worth it. If you’re not a resort person, then anywhere is fine, just be aware that your beachside experiences are going to be much the same as anyone staying in a seaside town, and that can often be far more varied and interesting, if not quite as relaxing.

I remember once, when touring the Nile on a riverboat, a conversation with the tour guide. It was towards the end of the trip, and we were sat in the shade just down from the valley of kings. I’d been happily wandering around on my own, making my own discoveries removed from the rest. The guide commented on this, and asked me why. I was a little stumped for a reply, but then said something about the rewards of finding things out for yourself, rather than having them spoon-fed to you. 

The guide nodded, and said ‘You know, the trouble is you aren’t a tour person”

He was right, and neither am I a homestay person nor a resort person. 

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