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Joe and Sarah's Adventures

Chidley Sibling Reunion on Phu Quoc Island

VIETNAM | Wednesday, 3 October 2012 | Views [1244]

So after our all-too-brief two weeks in Cambodia, we hightailed it back to Ho Chi Minh City to meet up with the other Chidley children! Turns out, thanks to a fun twist of fate, both Joe's older sister, Margie, and younger brother, Sam, were BOTH going to be travelling in Southeast Asia around the same time as us! This was without any planning or coordination-- that is until we all realized this quirky coincidence and decided we should all meet up! Margie and her fiance Greg flew to China to meet up with Sam, who has just finished a two year teaching stint in Shanghai. Together they did some touristing of China before heading down to Vietnam. They were joined by two of Sam's friends from Shanghai, Jess and James, so all together we made a nice little group. We hung out together in Ho Chi Minh City for a couple of days, getting massages, going out on the town, and enjoying the food before Greg had to cut his trip short to head back to the States for work.

Chidley SiblingsChidley Siblings (and future husband/sibling-in-law)

The rest of us decided to head down to Phu Quoc Island for a week of rest and relaxation on its fabled gorgeous sandy beaches. So we took a night bus (Joe, Margie, and my first one!) down through the Mekong Delta, which makes up the southern region of Vietnam, to the coast. Ask us to sum up the night bus experience in one word and we will give you very different answers. Joe and Margie say "Fine," while Sarah says "Horrific". Sam would probably say "Torture". This is because all six of us (Jess, James, Sam, Margie, Joe, Sarah) were stuck in the very back of the bus, where, we would later learn, is where they always put foreigners because we don't know any better and can't speak the language. These are the worst seats on the bus. Besides the fact that they are in the back so every bump (and there are a LOT of bumps) shoots you twice as high into the air, they are also shorter (less leg space for the tallest people!) and are stuck in one non-adjustable reclining position that is not high enough to sit or low enough to sleep. In short, they suck. Mix in the normal hairpin turns, terrible roads, incessant honking, multitudes of motorbikes zooming out of nowhere forcing the driver to slam on the breaks every 5 minutes, and you get the picture. Joe and Margie came prepared with sleeping pills, curled up under a blanket, and passed out for almost the entire 8+ hour trip. Sarah did not sleep at all. However, Sam probably had it the worst-- he was stuck on the lower level next to a lovely Vietnamese family of 4 that had decided to only pay for and squeeze themselves into 2 seats. This is not possible, even for the smallest of bus riders. So Sam spent the night continually getting kicked and smacked in the face by overflowing limbs and then spent the morning trying not to get puked on as the older woman in the group began constantly and violently vomiting.

Joe and Margie Night BusJoe and Margie are not excited about this night bus

Needless to say, with the exception of Joe and Margie, all of us were still exhausted the next morning when the bus dumped us off at a station and we had to find transportation to the ferry dock. This we did with a little difficulty, and after about an hour's wait, we were on the ferry and zipping along the brilliant blue water of the Gulf of Thailand towards Phu Quoc Island. This was a much more enjoyable ride, although I don't think a single one of us stayed awake for it. Once we got to Phu Quoc, after the normal attack by the multitudes of cab and tuk tuk drivers, we found one who drove us to several hotel options before we found the perfect fit. This place was way off the main road on the West coast of the island, down a steep and unpaved drive. The proprietor and her family ran it and staffed the little restaurant that was right on the beach. The "resort" consisted of about 20 bungalows, all with thatched roofs and wooden porches with hammocks. These little huts were spaced out along a palm tree-lined path that led from the top of the hill to the beach. The place was practically deserted when we arrived and we had our choice of some of the best bungalows right down on the beach for $15-20 per night. These were the expensive ones due to their location and they (theoretically) had air-conditioning. As it turned out, Phu Quoc is still undeveloped and remote enough that it experiences daily blackouts so we did not have electricity for most of the week. Thus, no air-conditioning. We thought about complaining to the proprietor, since she was charging an extra $10 per night for aircon that did not exist, and she clearly knew but had decided not to share the information about the island not having power for 20 hours of every day... However, in the spirit of relaxation and an attempt to adopt the Southeast Asian go-with-the-flow attitude, we decided to let it go. These little tests of one's patience are pretty much constant for foreign travelers to this part of the world, as we were increasingly learning, so it really is best to adopt a laid-back attitude and remember to put things in perspective.

View of our resort looking back from the beachView of our bungalows looking back from the beach; Joe & Sarah's is the pink one second from right.

Besides, all the trials and tribulations of a rough few days of traveling can be swept away in one sunny afternoon spent lounging on a perfect beach with a large Tiger Beer. This is what we soon discovered. While Phu Quoc Island is still relatively underdeveloped, it won't be for long. The whole place feels like it is under construction as hotel after hotel go up and soon it will be nothing but western-style bars, resorts and perhaps even a golf course. This is Vietnam's largest island and is actually much closer to Cambodia's coast than Vietnam's. It has changed hands a few times and the two countries still constantly fight over who it should really belong to. For now, Vietnam is quickly developing it into a major tourist destination for domestic and foreign travellers and for good reason. The island is lush with jungle-covered hills and tucked away waterfalls for hiking and exploring. The beaches are fantastic- white, sandy, clean, uncrowded, and lined with palm trees. The villages still depend primarily on fishing for their income, and the biggest town, Duong Dong boasts one of the largest fish-sauce factories in Vietnam (and maybe the world?) For those of you who have never tried fish sauce, it is a pungent and flavorful sauce, similar to soy sauce, that the Vietnamese put on EVERYTHING. You either love it or hate it, but most people love it. Just not the smell as it's being fermented in a factory... yikes. 

View of Duong Dong Harbor
View of Duong Dong Harbor

Duong Dong also has a lively night market where locals and tourists go to eat fresh seafood and buy souvenirs. We spent an evening walking around the town and had a wonderful meal on the street of fresh-caught whole fish. Sam, Jess, and James, having lived in China for some time now, were the experts at how to get the most meat off the bones with your chopsticks and gave Margie, Joe and Sarah some very helpful pointers. The only hiccup was Sarah felt her fish was staring at her accusingly as she ate it, so she had to cover up it's head.

Mmmm dinner
Mmmmmm Dinner!

The island is boosting up its tourist activities to go with its new resorts and guesthouses. We rented motorbikes one day to drive around (this is the only way to get around the island, besides paying for cabs) but our trip was cut a little short as we discovered that driving motorbikes over unpaved, unsafe, dusty roads is not actually as fun as it sounds. We also spent a whole day on a boating excursion around the southern tip of the island. We went fishing and snorkeling, ate a fresh-caught seafood lunch on the boat, and even went around to another side of the island which supposedly had the best beach. Yes, the beach was unbelievable, but also a lot more crowded than our little slice of Heaven back on our side.

Time for snorkelling!
Time for snorkeling!

Besides these adventures, the six of us mainly spent the week relaxing and lounging around our bungalows. We laid in our hammocks and read, or laid on the comfy beach loungers and slept. We swam in some huge waves, thanks to some stormy weather in the Gulf. We got massages from an old Vietnamese woman that walked up and down the beach with an adorable baby monkey trying to attract customers. We drank a lot of Saigon and Tiger beers and ate a lot of fresh seafood at our own little restaurant, or any of the little laid-back joints that lined the beach. We lucked out with the weather as it was only cloudy and rainy the last day we were there. In all, it was a wonderful week and just what we needed. What made it even better than all of this was that Joe, Margie, and Sam all got to spend good quality time together on the opposite side of the world. Unfortunately it could not last forever, Margie left for work and then Sam and his friends left to go spend more time exploring the Mekong Delta. This left Joe and I to decide our next move and with Joe's 28th birthday fast-approaching we decided to save ourselves a little trouble and fly back to the mainland to continue exploring Vietnam. Our next adventure is coming up!

Last night together on Phu Quoc
Sarah, Joe, Margie and Sam- our last night together on Phu Quoc

It can't get much better than this

It can't get much better than this

Tags: beaches, duong dong, fish sauce, ho chi minh city, night bus, phu quoc, snorkeling, vietnam

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