Published on March 26th, 201212
Diary of a Birthday in Paradise (a.k.a. Phu Quoc Island)
As if my birthday getaway to Phu Quoc wasn’t fabulous enough, I just stumbled across this WAY KEWL befunky.com site where you can easily create some amazing photo effects – right online, no pricey PS required. As you can see, I instantly fell in love with the “cartoonizer”.
- Just an hour’s flight from Saigon, Phu Quoc (a Vietnamese island) lies amid the Gulf of Thailand, and is actually closer (just 9 miles!) to Cambodia than to the Vietnamese mainland coast.
- The round trip flight was just 100 bucks, oh yeah.
- As it was a birthday treat, I opted to pamper myself with a tad pricier digs than usual for this shoestring traveler. Still, my Garden View cottage w/ breakfasts and airport transfers at Thanh Kieu Resort was just $52/nt. sgl.
- Better yet, upon arrival – they upgraded me to a SEA VIEW cottage – gratis!
- Just moments after settling in to my sweet bungalow, I checked off my first goal: I juiced up my trusty GPSr and headed down the beach (just 900 feet) to find my first Phu Quoc GEOCACHE!
- Next order of business, I booked a squid fishing trip (including a sunset barbecue) for that evening (just $15, and it was FANTASTIC!) A purely idyllic sunset, and so lovely to be out on the water after dark. Alas, no squid for us (a lovely Aussie couple, plus two older Vietnamese gentlemen and myself), but we did catch nearly a dozen fish. Interestingly, one of the Vietnamese gentlemen got a bit seasick, so I offered him my (never used/needed myself) little pressure point elastic sea-sickness wrist bands. He felt INSTANTLY better!
- The following day was my birthday and I spent the entire day doing… utterly relaxing things:
- – Reading my Kindle in the hammock on my bungalow verandah;
- – indulging in a full body massage along the beach, along with a full manicure and pedicure;
- – Munching on a shrimp burger for lunch with the sea (literally!) lapping at my feet;
- – A bit of sunbathing (barely 30 minutes ‘cuz the rays are brutal at this tropical latitude!), followed by a dip in the warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand;
- – All topped off with a whiz into nearby “Duong Dong” town for dinner at the Night Market. Seriously, a birthday dinner of all my favorites – SEAFOOD galore: fresh raw oysters on the half-shell, grilled jumbo shrimp, skewered grilled scallops, and my new favorite food on the entire Planet: barbecued SEA URCHIN! I’ve enjoyed them raw before (in Mexico, etc.), but barbecued with a dab of oil, green onion and a sprinkle of crushed peanuts gave these honeys a smokey flavor that’s simply out of this world! And at a mere 10,000 dong each (about 50 cents), trust that I had my fill!
- But a most memorable birthday treat came at the start of my day: As I arrived at breakfast in the main dining room of Thanh Kieu Resort – suddenly the sound system began playing “Happy Birthday”! And shortly thereafter they presented me with a birthday cake with my full name: “Happy Birthday Dyanne Elizabeth”. OMG, how on earth did they know??? Why… from my passport (which you have to submit when you check into any hotel in Vietnam) of course!
- The following day I hired a se om (motorbike taxi) for a half day ($15) to take me on my own private tour of the island. First up, we headed north along the pot-holed highway with dirt road stretches choked in red dust to… why to grab the second of 2 geocaches on the isle of course!I truly have to laugh – I’ve found geocaches all over the globe now, from Bali to Taiwan, to Morocco, to Amsterdam to Egypt, often necessarily with the help of locals on horseback, in boats, etc. And it’s ever amusing to watch the perplexed look on the locals as I ask them to take me to the middle of nowhere, and then I root around for some mysterious (“trust me, trust me”) something. Only when I finally find the cache container, do they “get it” – and they too are grinning from ear-to-ear and yelling “Woo-HOO!”
- Later we stopped at a fish sauce factory (that delectable – albeit stinky – concoction that’s a key ingredient in most any Vietnamese dish – Phu Quoc island is famous for having the very best fish sauce). It’s made from anchovies and gazillions of the tiny fishies are aged for YEARS to get the perfect flavor.
- We also stopped at a pepper farm (another edible the island’s noted for). It was most interesting to see the little round pepper pods (turning from green to red when they mature) and then dried in the sun til they turn black. The farm also had some tasty pepper mixes – a lemon/pepper mix that I’ve loved in many dishes in Saigon, as well as a most delectable mix of pepper, olive oil and garlic. I bought a small bottle of each to tote back to my tiny kitchen in HCMC.
- Actually, I very nearly didn’t visit Phu Quoc ‘cuz all the foreigners I talked to seemed to be headed/had been there. I was afraid that it would be overly “touristy” (like many of the Thai islands such as Koh Samui, etc.) – a malady that I try to avoid in my travels.
- But I must say, I was oh so happily wrong about Phu Quoc! Yes, certainly most all the folks that visit the island are Westerners, but they all seem to favor the serenity of the isle, rather than seeking the usual acky “tourist” trappings of noisy water skidoos, para-sailing, and their ughy like. In my 5 days there, I never heard a single motorized engine break the tranquility of the beach, save an occasional fishing boat putt-putting by a goodly ways off-shore. In short – Phu Quoc is (blessedly) most certainly no “Parrrrty Island”… YET.
- But do visit SOON ‘cuz there’s a new international airport due to open in two years, and already they’re widening the island’s main highway. Sad, as imho, ’tis precisely those many potholes that give the isle its unspoiled charm. ;(
O.K. now for a full array of those luscious cartoons I promised:
If you’d like to see the full set of my Phu Quoc images (sans the gimmicky cartoon effects), check out my Flickr Phu Quoc Album.