1 Month on Phú Quốc Island, Vietnam
I’ve been on the road living an itinerant, nomadic lifestyle for 23 years (I started when I was 18 and I’m 41 now), but the last time I wrote a travel blog was 4 years ago in 2015.
That 2014-2015 period was when my real, deep understanding of health and happiness (wellness) really began, and 4 years on, I feel now is the time to start blogging about all I have learnt, and share my adventures again.
Phú Quốc Island
Phú Quốc is a Vietnamese island off the coast of Cambodia in the Gulf of Thailand.
After spending a total of 9 crazy, incredible months in India (something to write about another time), and with my girlfriend Nina returning back to Europe for a bit, I searched for a cheap flight somewhere in South East Asia with one plan – chillax.
I found a cheap flight from Dehli to Phú Quốc via Kuala Lumper in Malaysia (cheaper than flying only to Kuala Lumper, which is insane, but often the case, so I always bear that in mind when searching for flights).
The Telegraph touts Phú Quốc as a “secret paradise island” which only opened up its shores to tourism in the form of direct flights from Europe in November 2017.
Could be worse places to chill for a month. So I bought the cheap flight. Thanks to skyscanner.net
Visa Waiver on Arrival
I’m a Brit, so before flying I always check gov.uk entry requirements. If you take a look at Vietnam, you can see that you “can enter Vietnam for up to a maximum of 15 days” without a visa.
That sucks. When you’re backpacking with saved cash, no time limit, and no plan (except to relax), two weeks goes really fast, so I always look for destinations with 30 days entry or more if possible.
But, I was in luck. Did you spot it? Further down on the gov.uk website it states “The Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc has an additional option for visa-free entry of up to 30 days, but this is valid for Phu Quoc only”. Well for me, that’s perfect! Boom!
A lot of airports require proof of onward travel either when you check in, or when you arrive; it often does not say this in the gov.uk travel advice, and it also often just depends on the mood of the person checking you in or stamping your passport.
There are websites where you can buy a cheap onward travel ticket that expires after 24 hours just in case someone asks to see some proof. I’ve used them before. They’re good. They work.
However, I’ve come to realise that they’re not necessary. Save your pennies. Just go through the process of booking a flight online until you get to the payment section; obviously don’t pay, but simply take a screenshot of the booking information, and present that if asked.
Here is an example that I just did for the sake of this post. Perfectly suitable!
Oh. Just make sure you don’t show an Air Asia onward flight when you’re checking in at an Air Asia check in desk, for example. Why? Cause it’s really easy for them to check it! Show them a different airline. A customs officer on the other hand won’t care two hoots as long as you can show something.
Arrival at the Airport
So when I arrived at customs in Phú Quốc, I explained to the officer that I wanted to stay on the island for 30 days. Just like when I said I wanted to stay 30 days on arrival to the island of Mauritius back in 2017, the poor guy seemed quite confuddled that I wanted to stay so long.
But I showed him my ‘onward travel ticket’ and told him that I am just here to relax. The guy shook his head with an “OK” and stamped me in. Simple.
Getting some Cash
First, make sure that before you fly, you have installed a currency converter app on your phone, or at least know how much of the local currency equals £1/$1/€1 (or your currency back home).
Do this before you fly because you might find WiFi is not available or free at the airport when you leave or arrive. Of course you can ask someone on arrival (which is what I actually did on arrival in Vietnam this time because I forgot).
Just don’t leave it until the point when you’re standing in front of the ATM and need to choose how much money you want. As you grab your phone and try to work it out, the machine will start beeping at you, people behind you will huff and puff, and – worst case scenario – your card gets gobbled up!
But yes, forget about changing money. That is so passé. 😛
It’s a very rare airport indeed that does not have an ATM nowadays. If you’re from Britain, an absolute must is the Halifax Clarity Credit Card which has zero fees (no charge to withdraw cash and no transaction fees). Amazing! Just don’t get it nicked by some sweet little girls asking for money like I did in Delhi.
Back to Phú Quốc airport, there were three cash machines as you leave the airport. Now, what I always do is choose one machine, stick my card in, and if the machine says it will charge me to withdraw money (ie. a charge by the foreign bank), I cancel, take the card out, and try the other cash points.
Chances are that one ATM will be cheaper, or have no charge to withdraw cash at all. This was the case for me this time too. Vietinbank does not charge me to withdraw money in Vietnam. All the other cash machines do.
Getting to your Accommodation
I always google buses from the airport before I fly. Buses are always much cheaper than taxis. In the case of Phú Quốc, I found this link. However, on arrival I found out that the mentioned shuttle bus does not exist anymore.
The link did tell me that a taxi should cost me about 100,000 Vietnamese dong to Long Beach, which I’d kept in memory.
I always expect to get a little ripped off when I first arrive in a new country because I have no idea how much things cost, but with this information, I just slowly, calmly, with no hurry, talked to the taxi drivers to see how much they want.
One taxi driver from whom I got an intuitively good vibe told me ₫100,000 to Long Beach, and that was good enough for me.
How did I know that I wanted to go to Long Beach? I used booking.com.
Try it. Open booking.com, type in Phu Quoc and dates for one night, 1 adult, and search. Then click on ‘Price (lowest first)’. At the time of writing this, I can see Phu Quoc Backpackers, and also Purple Place. You too?
Phu Quoc Backpackers is “Very Good” with a “Beach Nearby”. Purple Place is “Exceptional” but further out. Both cost £3 a night. That is how I chose my accommodation.
The first 2 nights I stayed at the Backpackers near Long Beach while I asked at scooter rental shops for their best deal on a scooter for the month; then I drove to Purple Place and arranged a price for a month’s stay there. Easy!
Places to Visit
I don’t travel with a guide book anymore. I ask around. That’s not a recommendation. It’s just the way I like to do it. I like to let the universe make the plan.
At the Backpackers, they gave me a free tourist map. This map turned out to be all I needed to visit and explore the island.
Starfish Beach in Rạch Vẹm was my favourite more-secluded beach. Far in the north where few tourists still go and construction has not yet reached, you can walk or swim into the warm water among the starfish, or walk along the beach itself for miles in peace and tranquility.
Suối Đá Bàn
Đá Bàn was my favourite fresh water place to go. It is a long stream that runs over rocks and through rocks creating pools of water. The Vietnamese come here with food, beers and karaoke machines and leave all the pools and rocks swimming in empty beer cans and food packaging that never get cleaned up (read the reviews on tripadvisor if you think I’m exaggerating).
But wait. Walk past all the people and their waste until the last rock pool, jump over it and continue on the path into the jungle. No one else seems to do this!
The path will take you to this huge pool above, and if you then keep walking just a little further, you reach the waterfall in the first photo where you can bathe and shower all alone in nature (naked if you want. I did!).
Tranh stream is more for Western tourists. The area is cleaned regularly, it costs twice as much to enter, and once you reach the waterfall, people have a dip and leave.
However, once I reached the main waterfall pictured (which, don’t get me wrong, is really nice and I did go for a swim), I once again just kept walking along the path through the jungle which took me to a beautiful secluded part of the stream with a nice little pool and bathing spot in the middle of nowhere. Yup, sunbathing naked again (I learnt it from the Germans).
Both of these streams have much heavier more impressive waterfalls after rainfall, but while I was there it was always so bloody sunny! Typical.
Hàm Ninh Temple
There are several temples (Buddhist) on the island. This one was in Hàm Ninh village. I’m not sure how Buddhism works in Vietnam but, to be honest, I found the temples rather drab.
Inside each of the temples is a small table with a couple of cheap looking ornaments and no space to sit down. In a church and mosque you sit and pray, but in these temples there is no place to sit, pray, meditate, or do anything. No chillaxing here. People just come, make a sort of blessing gesture, and leave. But maybe I just need a Vietnamese person to explain it to me.
That was my scooter! The forest walk was back up in the north, and virtually no one ever stops on this road. I walked for some hours in the woods and it was peaceful and fun, if not a little spooky (some empty wooden huts deep inside). It does not have so much of a jungle feel though. It is as described. A nice walk in the woods. Think more Blair Witch Project than King Kong.
This stilt restaurant was a random find. I just saw a road with some signs on it that caught my attention as unusual and drove down it to see what was down there.
I came to this ensemble of thatched huts built on stilts. Each hut was a restaurant seating area with a wooden table (no chairs) and a food menu. Some with locals inside singing karaoke. Super interesting! And very unique! (at least I was surprised by it).
You’ve heard of crashing a party, and maybe you’ve seen the comedy Wedding Crashers; well, I found this beautiful beach outside a very expensive resort and decided to go for a gander in the resort itself.
Then, as you do, I decided to go for a swim, make a video of my lovely evening, and even returned for a second day’s swim a few days later. I think you can call that ‘resort crashing’. LOL.
I am actually cheating here. This pic is Starfish Beach again, but Sao Beach in the south has the same white sands and blue crystal clear water; only without the starfish, and instead with lines of sun loungers.
That being said, Sao Beach is beautiful, and the better beach to hang out at all day if you want some extra comfort due to its well constructed, pleasant eating area with toilets, showers, hammocks, restaurants and snack bars where you can buy various drinks and foods and souvenirs in between ‘dips’. (get it?)
Dương Đông Town
This picture may look pretty but don’t let that deceive you. Underneath this bridge is Dương Đông market. Stall after stall of vegetables, but also not a place for the faint-hearted. For you will also see every part of a pig on a hook, every part of a chicken, duck, dog (yes, dog!) plus every type of half dead, half alive fish and seafood imaginable.
Still, you can buy fish as fresh as it comes. Straight from the fishermen. Meanwhile, the night market further down the road is designed with Westerners in mind. Clean streets with ice cream rolls, assortments of flavoured roasted nuts, plus pre-deaded fish and seafood for you to order and eat.
The town itself is packed with scooters and cars travelling in all directions. Driving in Dương Đông is still a doddle though for those who’ve experienced driving in India. LOL.
This post’s featured image is a picture of super-skinny me (more on that soon), super-friendly and kind Hai who is the lovely owner of Purple Place, and her equally kind and friendly French boyfriend Yann who looks a little bit like James Bond (Daniel Craig, obviously).
I slept in a dormitory room – clean, big beds, and with very few other guests while I was there (because it is supposed to be the wet season); it basically felt like I was renting and living in a house instead of a visiting tourist.
That is the amazing thing about backpacking. You are in no hurry. When your saved money is gone, you have to get more, but in the meantime you are free to move as fast or as slow as you feel at that time or, in other words, just go with the flow.
It is very liberating. You feel free. It makes you feel very much ‘alive’.
Other beaches worth visiting are Bãi Gành Dầu, Ông Lang and upper Long Beach on the outskirts of Dương Đông. You can also island hop in the south, visit Vietnam’s largest safari, or ride on the longest oversea cable car in the world. Then there is also infamous Coconut Tree Prison if you want to remind yourself how hideous people can be.
The Power of Projects
I’ve often heard people say that if you’re not working, then there’s nothing for you to do, and you’re gonna end up “bored stupid”. That is very possible, but only if you don’t have projects!
Personally, I never have enough time in the day. During this particular month, I have focused on two projects:
After learning the amazing science and benefits behind producing ketones, I’ve decided to try fueling my body on fat instead of glucose (carbs/sugar) and see what happens. One thing that happened – I got even skinnier!
I started with a 5 day water fast (no food, only water) and then continued with a ketogenic fat-for-fuel diet after that. As I write this, I haven’t fueled my body on carbohydrates (potato, pasta, rice, etc) for 17 days!
The day I started the fast, I also stopped smoking too, and this time it has been so easy. I’ll write more about the whole experience so far in a different post.
For me, one of the best things about going ketogenic is that everything about how you eat turns upside down.
Suddenly, it’s necessary and healthy to eat loads of butter, oil, fatty meat, fish and even SPAM! (yes, people who know me, I’m eating animals again. I’ll cover that in another post too); meanwhile, eating potatoes, rice, pasta and anything that we normally eat to fill us up is an absolute no-no.
You also have to keep your carbs below 20g in order to start producing these magic ketones, so you have to work out how to make healthy meals, and get really creative.
I guess you can see this as an adventure or a pain in the bum. For me, I’ve been getting really into it!
Fresh fish straight from the ocean, salads, and I’ve been scouring the island to find cool ingredients such as avocado oil, walnut oil, cacao butter, duck eggs, flax- and chia seeds, all sorts of random leafy greens and, yes, I even found American SPAM.
In fact, my landlady, Hai, started mixing up vegetables and scrambling eggs for dinner the other day (in Vietnam the food is simple with few ingredients and spices), and she told me she decided to “mix things together” because she had learnt from me.
I don’t know if she was only joking, but it was nice to hear.
In a Nutshell (conclusion)
If you want to hang out at a nice beach or resort for a week or two, then you can certainly do that on Phú Quốc. The island has some really nice spots to walk, swim and relax, but – to be honest – not many.
You see; once you start exploring around the island, you’ll also notice the problem with these direct flights that began a few years ago; namely, the island is being decimated in the name of tourism.
Huge expanses of land have been ripped up to build more and more hotels, and many of them have currently been left half finished because there simply aren’t enough tourists to fill the rooms.
Travelling the world, I have seen this time and time again. Big companies/corporations start creating massive holiday complexes as soon as the flights start coming in only to find that there aren’t enough customers and they get left empty or half finished.
This island is nevertheless determined to reach 80% tourism and 20% locals at the rate it is going. Half of the island is supposedly national park, but that doesn’t seem to stop construction.
It is a major shame, but I am not complaining. It’s just the facts, man!
I had an amazing time on the island of Phú Quốc. I cannot cover everything here, but I met some great people, gained an interesting insight into the life and ways of Vietnamese culture (food, habits and behaviour), while also spending a lot of time beginning new projects to improve my health. Who could ask for more!?
If you’re not bored yet, I’ll just finish with some interesting facts, and an Easter day horror story!
First, the interesting facts: Vietnamese people twist their wrist from side to side with their hand facing upwards to say “no”. Vietnamese people don’t stroke their pet dog on the head (no, they don’t eat it either); they pat their dog on the head, but quite hard – rather like repeatedly smacking the dog on the head. Oh, I did see my first roasted dog here too!
But that’s not the horror story. This is:
Vietnamese eat everything it seems (though a Spanish guy told me he’s travelled in Vietnam for months and never seen a cooked rabbit).
Anyway, on Easter day (of all days) I bought 10 duck eggs, took them home, and cracked one open into a bowl. An egg came out. No surprise there. Then I cracked another one. Blood and a developing duck embryo came out. That was a surprise!
That’s not the worst of it though. I had 8 more eggs, so I decided to check. Each one I hit with a knife, blood came out. I threw them all in a bag to take to a bin somewhere far away from inside the house, but then with the last egg in hand I thought “Hai has a dog” and “Why throw this last embryo away when the dog can eat it? At least it serves a purpose, right?”.
Yeah, probably not what most people would think, but anyway, I opened the last egg on to a plate, and what came out was a baby duck with blood and yellow yolk for an ass and a fully formed top half with feathers, head, eyes, beak – and it was breathing!
It was one of the most disturbing things I have ever seen! It took some serious jiggling with my own mental processes not to let this put me off buying eggs for life.
Anyway, I asked Hai about the eggs, and guess what. Yup, in Vietnam they sell deliberately fertilised duck eggs, boil the half developed ducks, and eat them!
In fact, I’ve just googled it, and they are called balut, a supposed aphrodisiac; these poor half developed living fetuses are eaten in several Southeast Asian countries apparently, including Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. Yuck!
So What’s Next?
I’m going to Thailand for 6 weeks. But not too eat balut!
I do know some of what’s gonna take place, but I’ll keep you in suspense for now.
So this post comes to an end, and it signifies the beginning of me travel blogging again. Did you like it? Was it interesting?
Did you make it to the end? If not, how are you reading this? LOL.
Do leave a comment below and let me know that it was worth it.
Seriously, what are your thoughts about this post? I’d love to know!
And if you haven’t already, please consider subscribing.
Until the next time, all my love for now,
Rob (aka robito)