When I got to Phu Quoc Island, located in the Gulf of Thailand I was more than happy to be in Vietnam. The Island is 222 sq. miles, making it the largest island in Vietnam, and has a permanent population of 103,000. Their economy is fishing, agriculture and a fast growing tourism sector. Vietnam was second on my list of “most excited to visit”, Myanmar being my first. I had originally planned on doing a one month visa here. However, one month has not been enough in any of the countries, and many other travelers had suggested I go for the 3 month visa. I’m so glad that I did, it’s nice to take my time and stay longer in places I really enjoy.
There are many things to do around the island, but most of them are geared towards the wealthy vacationers. The island has a theme park, water park, several beach resorts, the worlds longest cable car, shopping, boat trips to other islands and plenty of high end western restaurants and cuisines. I decided against any tours because they were very pricey and I’m not a fan of tours. The only logical thing to do was rent a motorbike and just hit the road, or the dirt, I guess.
There were two other girls staying in the same room with me, named Isabella and Antonia, and on my second day I started chatting with them. They had rented motorbikes the day prior and were planning on exploring the island as well. I asked if I could join them, and they agreed. They planned on visiting a temple that day. I’m pretty templed out lately, but I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity for company. So, I reluctantly followed along.
The temple was gorgeous, as they all are. It was set up on the hill from the coast and offered beautiful views of the ocean. It wasn’t overly crowded with tourists and I was able to get some really amazing photos. It was a hot, clear day and the ride to the temple was fantastic. I’m really a fan of riding motorbikes here. I don’t think I would enjoy it in the states, because it would terrify me. In SE Asia it’s such a huge part of the culture and everyday living. When I’m on a motorbike I feel like I belong. Not to mention the wind in my hair and the breeze to cool me down. Plus, woman on bikes are sexy right? Good, that’s what I’m going for.
When we left the temple it had become unbearably hot, so we pulled off the side of the road and found a path leading to the beach. Both the girls got in the water but I opted for the shade in the sand under a giant rock. The shallow water of the beach had several jagged rocks and I’m pretty sure without water shoes or sandals I would gauge myself and that didn’t sound like a fun adventure. Isabella is pretty much a mermaid in a biologists body and was in heaven with her snorkel. She’s quite the avid shell collector and she reminded me of my sisters and I collecting shells when we were kids. She came back with handfuls of shells. How she transports them is beyond my comprehension.
Our final stop for the day was in a small fishing village. We walked the main street and shopped for goods and tried not to barf from the overwhelming fish smell. An adorable young boy came up and gave me 2 starfish, just because. He didn’t want me to pay for them. He was very shy and I tried to speak to him in English. We couldn’t communicate and if his dark skin would allow his cheeks to redden from embarrassment they would have been bright red. I giggled with him and just smiled and thanked him for the star fish. The girls both bought pearls, I think they were farmed pearls but simply gorgeous. I wish I could wear jewelry in this heat, but I cannot. I was starting to get hangry at this point so we headed back to town to get food.
That night Isabella and I walked down to a little bar on the beach that I had read about called Rory’s. It’s located ten steps away from the ocean in the middle of Long Beach. Long beach is definitely the most popular and busy beach on the island. It’s called Long Beach, because it’s very long. A very creative name. Anyways, I wanted to walk along the beach from our hostel to Rory’s to catch the sunset, which I read was one of the best spots. I had forgotten how hard it is to walk long distances in the sand. It’s a serious workout. I was over it after about five minutes but I had committed, and drug Isabella along with me, so I couldn’t be a pansy. But seriously, never again. Rory’s was a fantastic sunset spot and I was rewarded with 1700 (not really) sunset photos. So here you go…
The next day Antonia wasn’t feeling very well so she stayed behind to rest. Isabella and I set out to find some secret, less touristy beaches and hit the national park in the north. Luck was not on our side and we drove right into a wicked rain storm. We stopped to buy ponchos and kept going in hopes that it would let up. It did not. Riding in a rain storm is like having someone constantly spray you in the face with a hose. It hurts and it’s nearly impossible to see. We stopped at a little coffee shop to try and dry out and check the weather radar. The storm had taken over the north and it wasn’t going to leave. We regrouped and decided to head south where it was supposedly clear. We decided to go to the Coconut Tree Prison which was used during the Vietnam war to imprison and torture Vietnamese soldiers and political leaders who opposed the war.
The prison was built by French colonists in 1949 and it is said to have detained over 40,000 people. Many very barbaric torture methods were used at this prison. The entire outskirts of the property has layers of barbed wire, honestly a sick amount. They have many clay figures within each exhibit depicting different gruesome practices that were used at the prison. Probably the worst to see was a torture method called “tiger cage”. A tiger cage is made of barbed wire and is nearly the size of a human. The prisoners were made to stay in the cages for days and couldn’t move or switch positions without gauging themselves with the barbed wire. They also packed prisoners into shipping containers like sardines and left them in there for days. They had to take turns laying down if there was even room for that and had to go to the bathroom right where they were. There were no windows or ventilation. This stop was hard, as they all are. I just can’t comprehend how people can treat others this way. War is so far past my understanding. It never gets easier for me to learn about war and the lasting damages it causes.
Last stop for the day was a popular beach called Sao beach which was wildly disappointing and we didn’t even stay for more than 20 minutes. Some of this was due to the weather but mostly the beach was just dirty and crowded, even with it raining. There was garbage everywhere from people on the beach as well as from the sea. It was just disgusting. I have no idea what makes this beach so popular. Luckily the next day we found some way more secluded and impressive beaches to explore.
Our final motorista day we were determined to see the north, rain or shine. Antónia had left that AM heading back to the mainland, so it was just Isabella and I again, ready to take on the world. We fueled up, refused to notice the looming rain clouds, and set out. We did quite well avoiding the rain for the first few hours which was great because we got to see a couple really beautiful beaches and covered a good stretch of the northern coast.
When we were trying to find one secret beach on some dirt paths that had been washed out by rain I dumped my motorbike. Stop freaking out, it wasn’t that bad (sorry Mom 😬). The bike went into one of the little pikes created by massive water flow and the bike just tipped over on me. The bike pinned my left leg under it. I had to struggle slightly to get my leg free. Isabella had been in front and didn’t notice I had fallen until a ways up the path. I picked up my bike and took off again just as Isabella was frantically running back my way. She had hopped off her bike as soon as she realized I wasn’t behind her. Bless her heart ❤️ thanks friend! We continued on to try to find our next beach. As we were riding the storm caught up and started dumping on us. My ankle was starting to hurt pretty bad at this point and the rain was sending me over the edge. Not to mention I was hangry, so we stopped for some food and to wait out the storm.
After the rain stopped we headed off again to find a floating village. It was about a 30 minute drive and my ankle had its own heartbeat at this point. When we got to the floating village I was hobbling around trying not to put too much weight on it. The floating village was so fascinating to see. They have long rickety wooden bridges that lead out to the different restaurants and homes out on the water. I couldn’t imagine living like that. I was especially freaked out because the weather was so bad and I thought a major storm might just wipe this whole village out. We walked through the village and took some pictures but we were both getting pretty tired. It was time to head back into town before it got dark. That night my ankle continued to hurt no matter what I did with it. I was leaving the next morning and traveling with a bum ankle was really worrying me. I went to bed slightly freaked out.
Don’t worry guys, the next morning my ankle was sore but was fine to walk on. I was so relieved! I got picked up by a minivan from my hostel to drive me down to the SuperDong (still dying laughing). I was the first person picked up but then we continued to pick up 16 more people, one small child and everyone’s luggage. You read that right. 18 bodies and tons of luggage in a minivan. Just when I thought, surely we can’t fit more people in here, we would stop and pick up a few more. On top of having a dangerous amount of people in one vehicle, the driver was surely training for the Indy 500 and never once took his hand off the horn. When he stopped the minivan at the dock I praised the lord, out loud, and those who weren’t crying, laughed along with me. Hey, at least we were alive. Welcome to Vietnam my friends!
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