Paradise on Phu Quoc Island

Andy on our own beach doing some ''tree pose''

 

 

 

A late addition to our Vietnam trip, Phu Quoc Island turned out to be a fantastic location choice…. thank god we made it there as it might just be paradise!

Phu Quoc sitsa little way off the coast of Vietnam in the gulf of Thailand .. its almost close to Cambodia than Vietnam and indeed they do claim it as their own… its a source of great rivalry and we can see why…. it is simply gorgeous.

We were lucky enough to choose a quiet spot as much of the island is undergoing serious development. There are plans to put an international airport on there. Mercifully at the moment it is very unspoilt and you can still have a whole beach to yourself. It rather worryingly has been called the Phukket of Vietnam… so god knows what that will lead to!

We stayed at Ong Lang Beach in a resort owned by a lovely German couple…. they could only put us up for one of the nights we wanted to stay so they offered us a special beach bed… which turned out to be magical, if not a little “ópen” (check out the photo below)

Beachside Bed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was rustic where we were staying but it had its own beach, rickety wooden jetty, snorkelling straight off the beach and a fire pit as well. We loved it!

We took a snorkelling trip on the second day to the An Thoi Islands on the southern tip… fantastic sealife but already the coral was starting to die off from unwanted visitors… so we were ultra careful whilst swimming around. The beaches on the islands have powder white sand and noone lives on them… perfect for a bit of island hopping… although the boat we were on served the worst lunch ever!

On day 3 we took a moped around the island in search of our own private beach and didn’t have to travel for long to find it.

Rach Vien Beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We passed open stretches of sand and tiny little villages with rickety wooden bridges over river tributaries… good honest beautiful people who returned our camera to us when it bumped unnoticed out of our backpack (ooops someone didn’t shut the bag properly!). At the top of the island sits the village of Ganh Dau where we explored the narrow road running alongside the ocean with a shop for every possible need or want… and even an internet cafe for the local kids to play games… the revolution is everywhere… hey?!

Next stop was Rach Vien where we had incorrectly assumed there might be a restaurant for lunch! What was there though was a group of Vietnamese from HCMC on hols who offered us the chance to join them for BBQ squid and beer! With our phrase book and their bits of English, we managed to share lunch and some laughs… then we lay bloated on a perfect beach with an ocean filled with bright pink starfish!

Ah the international language of sunglasses!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We did have a night on the booze on the island… drinking neat brandy with a couple from Canada and a lovely lady from London…. never again… bad heads and beach beds do not mix! The drunkeness did spur us on for a night swim though where we discovered the gorgeous phospherescent creatures in the sea… magical swimming with the stars above and diamonds in the sea with you!

So we decided the stay an extra day and just relax on the beach… to be honest we could have stayed another week! Definitely the only reason to come back to Vietnam… We feel like we have done the country quite exhaustively with no reason to return… but we could be tempted by Phu Quoc!

Mekong Delta

Well, our last moments are running out fast in Vietnam….we’ve toured the whole of the country from north to south and are now ready to leave and cross the border to Cambodia….. But before we do let me tell you a little about the Mekong Delta and what we once again experienced……so the story goes….

Just what you always wanted to do...hold some bees!

Leaving Saigon was easy, we managed to do it  in a pretty well organised travel bus that had all the correct papers and insurance  etc….so getting to My Tho was straight forward. Just to let you know that there are quite a few charlatans out there who operate on a shoe string. (Most of these buses need a shoe string to lock the back doors due to there being so much [“goods”]being transported. Also having some leg room is considered a bonus.

Based on previous bus journeys there were few problems worth reporting once we arrived in the bus station we realised that in order to get into My Tho we needed some more transport as it was about 3 miles out of town…..to where the cheap hotels and the riverside. Within the blink of an eye we were presented with the option of boarding our very first Xe-on taxi or scooter taxi…….”What about the massive backpacks?”……just stick them on the front and off we went.

I’d manage to break Rach in a little with our Bajaj 200cc so this was  easy rider….

Surprise surprise, the scooter rider takes us to his friends hotel, whose other friend also arranges a river tour at a bonus price….he gives a discount because we have the room and the tour booked???.This is easy we think.

The tour includes a boat for 2, coconut candy factory experience, honey bee tea, free fruit and bike to ride and an English speaking guide and takes 6 hours to hope around the Mekong islands….. “meet me outside in 15 minutes”…….we assumed he was our guide, we were wrong……our guide spoke no English. All he could say was VC, VC, VC, …..and could not answer any questions. He did try to explain how the Americans entered the war by flying up the Mekong in boats and helicopters by showing us hand movements and shouting VC,VC,VC….

narrow canals on the Mekong Islands of My Tho

the bea tea was very tasty but it was soon evident the everything was a sales pitch and so it went to the coconut candy factory. We did however buy some that we believed to be coconut but on closer sampling Rach described them to taste of duriam???  I think it smells like bum. The boat ride was funny, we did manage to almost capsize when a log in the water hit the front side and toppled us. The driver, an older lady had to release the throttle by dropping the shoestring from between her toes.

The high light of the experience was when we got to one of the inhabited islands and could take a bike ride around it. It was lovely and also we got some New Year exercise that we urgently required. On the way back we got to see and catch fire flies which was a cool experience as we’d never seen them before. We did say our goodbye’s to the guide who surprisingly looked a little like Willem Defoe.

Our intention in the morning was to leave and head to Vin Long. The helpful hotelier also said he could provide a bus ….we did however say that we would like to travel by the local bus service that operates from the local bus station. “You need a Xe-on to take you there, it is far”……we then get taken to a random cafe on the high way miles from anywhere….one of the xe-on riders waits with us. It was a clever scam ….we never fell for that kind before. (Our experience of Vietnam seems to be more scam infested than in India so be warned). How else do you get commission from tourists?….take them to a place where they don’t know where they are then say the bus,( that they’d told to pick you up, which is a transit van), comes and collects you and asks for 10 times the actual rate…..I was not impressed, and when the over crowded bus stopped and demanded 200,000 dong ($10 each) I said F###off. He instantly dropped it to 100,000 which was still 5 times more expensive. Rach said keep calm and all will be thine. We did have a laugh though as we drove along the high way bundled next to half of Vietnam…..a few hours later we were quickly informed that we’d arrived and our bags were ejected. “This is not the town centre we cried”……”it is that way they said and drove off”.

At least in India you kind of have respect for the transport systems. We did find out later that the police do fine the drivers of these home run businesses for a percentage of the takings, so it wasn’t worth the risk for them to go into town. Communism is a shady business, expect the unexpected……

Sunset over the Mekong

Our spirits were lifted when we arrived in the town an met a lovely guy who offered us a home stay for cheap. He showed us pictures of his family and the place looked lovely. It was on the small island over the river, just a short ferry ride away. We were taken to the house on yet another scooter driven by the guys sister who could barely touch the floor. Hammocks were swinging on the porch and the guys mother welcomed us in with a cup of coffee. We relaxed for a while. We also had some free bike to take out and investigate the island. It was a beautiful experience. The price of $10 each included evening meal which was a whole elephant ear fish with spring rolls and soup and also breakfast. It restored our faith in the Vietnamese.

The next stop on our Mekong Delta experience was Can Tho. It was the best place to see floating markets. The bus ride was straight forward and no extortion took place. When we arrived we found a cheap hotel, was offered a floating market experience by a woman who somehow showed up just after we’d checked in. We thought at least we don’t need a guide for this, just a boat that floats. We even bumped into some people we’d met earlier in Mui Ne and had a few drinks with which was lovely.

Meeting the locals in Vinh Long

Our early morning boat ride was to be a long one, it took about 1 and half hours to get there and then an hour drifting around the market. It was really interesting seeing how natural the river seemed to the Vietnamese. On the way back it seemed to take forever. I think the boat felt like it was power by strimmer motor. Every boat overtook us. The worst thing was that we’d spent 4 hours in the tiny vessel and we only had a plastic vessel to wee into. Rach went first. I managed to get stage fright when we sailed past a bridge full of locals.

In the morning we then set off to Rach Gia to head onto the exotic island of Phu Quoc but more about that later……

Phu Quoc... paradise on earth

 

 

 

 

 

Saigon in 60 seconds……

At first let me just say that expectations and reality are sometimes missleading and not always true. We had very little expectations of Saigon as we arrived at 9.00pm in the evening….. there was loads of traffic, traffic jams, fumes, and bright lights. Not to mention the heat….. Hear we go again….scam men on every corner….cheap drinks and massage girls offering cheap sessions…..but wait

Once we’d got our bearings and took a breath we were pleasantly surprised to see how nice and clean the city was. We arrived in the backpacker area so there were loads of bars, but not so busy. The locals and tourists were blended into the background and the smiley faces of the Vietnamese helped us to see the pathway. Yes the traffic is crazy, but following the simply rule of don’t run just walk, we seemed to be able to cross the busiest streets without problems. The street food in the market was very cheap and also the beer too, obviously the big bars charge more and aren’t that good.

We did manage to find our way to a music bar slightly out from the tourist trap called Acoustic Bar which was a great experience. It was a live karaoke bar with a resident band that were excellent musicians. The problem was that all the singers (who were of a high singing standard) loved to sing power ballad after power ballad….three rather strong cocktails later we found ourselves the last people at the bar and the band had left…..oops….the security were hanging around for us to leave…. You wouldn’t see that in England….

Rachel's new Saigon nose piercing

Saigon is definately worth a few days as there is so much to see. The parks are packed full with people playing badminton and a game that involves a shuttle-cock type football. You do need to keep you bag close to you as there is always the chance that  someone might like it.

Mui Ne Beach Life

After the fantastic experience in the mountains of Dalat, it was time to head beachside for some surfing action. We arrived in the strange resort town of Mui Ne which seems to be a little ‘Russia-by-the-sea’. The place is totally geared up for tourists and in particular kite surfers!

Kite Surfing Beach

Now don’t get me wrong… Kite Surfing certainly looks cool as hell…. but its not exactly accessible for the average backpacker… at a cost of $300 for a day lesson! So there isn’t much on offer for us really here – since surfing is not seasonal in January and swimming is a pretty hazardous pastime with all the razor sharp boards flipping in the air!

The other problem is that every hotel is full – so it took quite a while to find a place to bed down… we did manage in the end though but it certainly isn’t cheap here.

Easy Rider

The main drawcard other than the watersports in Mui Ne are the towering sanddunes which surround the area. Tours head out every day via jeep – but as with many tours… they are overpriced and underwhelming… so hiring a motorbike was the best option for us and our first chance to experience 2 wheel self driving in South East Asia. Blasting out on the highway towards the White Sanddunes, we wondered if we were going the wrong way as there was just so little traffic. We passed some gorgeous windswept beaches, devoid of resorts and tourists and dotted with locals laying their fishing nets from coracle boats. But the development onshore is creeping ever further north so these beaches may not remain this way for long.

Ready for some sandsurfing

Once at the white sanddunes, we paid about one pound each to grab some plastic sheeting and careered down the dunes at semi-high speed. Andy did a bit of a stunt and ended up in the stagnant lake… pure comedy and a video will hopefully be on Youtube soon. It was a good job we were there in the morning as at 10.30am the dunes were starting to get a little hot underfoot! The Red sand dunes offered a very similar experience, but with more tourist-orientated locals… who offered to look after our bike if you purchased a coca cola… they also tried to tempt us to eat in their restaurant by dangling a packet of instant noodles in front of us… shockingly we were not tempted! We saved our hunger for the evening when we had fresh tuna from the BBQ at a local restaurant… who had not quite grasped the concept of a BBQ cooking the fish and keeping it moist… our tuna was cooked within an inch of its life – but the cocktails were BOGOF so we weren’t too interested in complaining.

Local Wildlife at Mui Ne... not getting on that well

So we are leaving here a day earlier than planned to explore the delights of Ho Chi Minh City… I am sure this will be a BIG contrast to the Vietnam we have seen so far… we hear that crossing the street is a near impossibility and that it is scam central!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canyoning in Dalat…..Amen

What does canyoning mean to you?

Maybe some rocks?, maybe some water?, maybe some rope?

A little practice makes perfect

Confident?

Well, we paid $28 U.S.D. to find out. An early pick up from the hotel at 8.45am and off to the waterfalls we went. In our group there were seven of us and three guides. We soon got to know each other quickly on our short drive as it was a cosy ride in the back of the van.

I hadn’t done anything like this before but Rach had some experience of abseiling. I was totally naive as to what craziness we were letting ourselves into. I felt confident that by booking the tour through a proper organised tour operator rather than ‘Joe Bloggs on the street’ then we might have some come back if anything happened.

 

A short trek from the car park and we arrived at the waterfall site. A brief introduction to the carabiner, safety harness and helmet and off we went down the cliff face. I decided that I’d like to go first for some strange reason…….

It felt weird at first but I soon got the hang (get it  hang!?!) of letting the rope slip through my hand whilst leaning into an almost horizontal position……it felt great….just like James Bond…..or maybe Frank Spencer???

Andy on descent 2

The painful and fast rock water slide.. ouch

The tour consisted of several increased descents with the hardest being a waterfall of 30 meters and a free fall of 4 meters. This was clearly the most challenging due to the lack of grip and the surging water in our faces. There was also some cliff jumping ranging from 15 – 25 meters and also some rapid water sliding…..Lunch was also included in the price.

Andy on the monster 30 metre descent

Can you spot Andy about to launch off?

It was an exhilarating experience but not for the faint hearted. Some tricky treking too was involved as we moved down stream from location to location. Expect to end up with a few scrapes and bangs though.

We got back for around 3.30pm so it was a great value from money trip too. Make sure you don’t forget your camera.

Everyone in the group enjoyed it so much that we’re all meeting up later for some beers to help nurse the bruises….even the tour guides too from Groovy Gecko Tours.

I am the egg man…..

A poem to help remember the good times at breakfast…..

There once was a man named Rex
who loved to eat all kinds of eggs,
A normal human eats one or two,
but Rex insists on more than a few.

Anyone for Eggs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where there’s an egg there’s a meal,
so Rex will be close at their heels.
His preference is fried all gooey inside,
but any other style is also worth his while.

The only problem with this addiction to eggs,
is the aramatic smells produced in his keggs.
“They go right through me” you’ll hear him say,
but an egg a day keeps the doctors away.

He is the egg man,
Rex is the egg man,
I am the chicken,
Goo goca choo, googley choo

by Andy and Rach

An ode to Vietnam (so far)

This is a little poem I wrote on our 17 hour bus ride whilst traveling to Hue from Hanoi…..

 

Wham bahm thank you mam for sending us to Vietnam.
Rice paddy fields generate the economies yield of tasty grub.
Thailand is where you’ll find deep fried bugs.
Street food is tasty and cheap,
servings of duck, noodles, dog, tongue, pig,…but regrettably no sheep.
Scooters pack the street and almost every parking space is took.
Be very careful when crossing the road and don’t forget to look.
Especially walk slow, making sure that poppa Rex is in tow.
It’s safer to walk in the road as all the pavements are covered and overgrown,
with scooters, bikes, cycles, and the people of old.
They’re usually smoking on a pipe of bamboo too.
On every corner there is a young boy who’ll shine your shoes.

Vietnam is much cleaner than India by far with loads more scooters than cars,
they clog the roads to an almost halt, shops selling whiskey with a vintage malt.
Everyone goes about their daily lives not getting upset or making each other cry.
All the girls are beautiful and small who ride their bikes but barely can touch the floor.
The city air is dirty and moggy, the sky is foggy, the humidity makes Rex’s shirts all soggy.
Karaoke here is a big thing, unfortunately they can not sign.
Ordering a starter is a difficult task,
arriving after the main even if you ask.
The beer is cheap at 15 pence a glass,
Be warned……you could end up on your arse.

by Andy Shaw 2010

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