November 10-12, 2015
The 24 hours preceding our arrival on Phu Quoc Island was about as draining as travel can be… an 11 hour, mostly sleepless, overnight bus ride followed by three consecutive flights across three different countries. The salt on this exhausting travel wound was the final ride from the airport, the last half hour of which was on a rural dirt road in the dark with endless crater-sized potholes that rattled the depths of my weary soul.
At this point we could have pulled into the local Motel 6 and I would have collapsed with joy, but as we approached the lovely lantern-lit courtyard in this lush, palm tree-rich countryside and I could hear the ocean somewhere out in the darkness beyond the open-air reception area, I knew we were some place special. How special, I wouldn’t find out until daylight.
Meanwhile, we enjoy the icy-cold drinks we were greeted with while walking to our cottage under a sky bursting with a million twinkling stars, the gentle waves lapping ten yards from our door… and already I know I don’t want to leave here. Ever.
The Bamboo Cottages, a small, eco-friendly, solar powered property, is located on a relatively undeveloped part of Pho Quoc Island, although it looks as if that is in the process of changing based on the construction we saw in the surrounding areas. Still, for now, this gentle bay is a tranquil slice of heaven on the northeast coast of the island and it is magnificently serene… and just what the doctor ordered.
Daily breakfast on the quiet beach boasts the likes of exotic fresh fruits, homemade jellies and jams of mango, banana and dragonfruit, soft and crusty French baguettes, omelettes made from eggs just laid and literally, the best Pho on the face of this earth, which we will later learn how to make… not nearly as well, I’m sure.
Our first day here is all about decompression, so after breakfast under the shade of the palms, some lounging on a chaise with book in hand, and swimming in the tepid, gentle water, we decide massages are in order… and where better than on the beach in an open-air cabaña six feet from the loud, lovely lull of the tide. For this, I would have paid handsomely, but both massages cost us a whole $25 and I wonder if I’ve fallen into a lovely dream.
Late afternoon here might be unbearably warm were it not for the cool ocean breeze, which today has started to pick up noticeably with what feels like the birth of a storm… strong warm winds with an undercurrent of refreshing cold that feels incredible. By nightfall, which comes early here, lightning has started to brighten the sky at regular intervals, but thunder is imperceivable, telling us the storm is still far away. But the staff knows what’s coming and start to pull in tables and chairs, and before long we are eating dinner under the cover of the patio while rain pours all around us and the sky puts on a brilliant show. It is a spectacular end to a luxurious day.
It’s true, not all days are created equal and sometimes you just have to surrender to imperfection, inconvenience and complete incongruence. So after what could have been classified as a perfect day yesterday, we were due for a little difficulty.
Heading out of the hotel property on a rented motorbike we promptly get lost. Street signs, or rather dirt road signs, are nonexistent here and the tourist maps are not of much help when looking for non-tourist places. Normally Google is of great assistance in situations like this, but with our late arrival the night before we have not yet gotten our Vietnam SIM card, so we’re winging it old-school style. Fun!
And it would have been, had we not realized several miles away from our hotel (having already crossed that ridiculously difficult and slow terrain) that we were getting dangerously low on fuel and left all our cash at the hotel. Conveniences like ATMs on every corner are things we take for granted at home, but out here, purchases such as gas and food run solely on cash and ATMs are very scarce. And getting stranded out in the middle of nowhere without phone service was not something I wanted to experience.
Abandoning our plans for discovering secluded beaches and exploring small villages, we turn around, head back and pray the gas gauge is wrong. Thankfully we are saved by the horrific soon-to-be tourist trap theme park that has just been built here, the ATM sign beckoning us from the road.
Having lost a couple of hours we decide we still have time to explore a bit before darkness descends upon us. Having refueled, we regroup and head into unknown territory.
Back at the cottages, the night greets us with another beautifully intense lightning storm over the oceans horizon, providing a much-needed reprieve from the heat of the day.
Before our sad, afternoon departure from this heavenly place, we take a private Vietnamese cooking class from the chef here, who based on the impeccable food we’ve been eating (and I do mean impeccable) clearly knows a thing or two… in fact, I think the food here is perhaps some of the best I’ve eaten to date.
As is always the case when planning a trip of this magnitude, you don’t always know how much time to give in each destination, and so it is with mild remiss that I only allotted three nights here. Alas, that just means I will have to come back. Soon.