Due to a little bit of China, Leslie and I came to Phu Quoc a little earlier than Brent and Wen Juan. Wen Juan, being a Chinese citizen, had to get permission to leave. Her own little bit of travel curse. Everyone needs a little.
We arrived and walked through town, bought sandals and hats, ate Vietnamese baguette sandwiches and tried to rent some scooters. Ice cream at Buddy’s led us to make some phone calls. No rooms. Full. We panicked a little. Found a place with one room. They’d not hold it but if we got there first, it was ours. We paid up and left to get a cab. Turns out December and January are high season on Phu Quoc and there aren’t really enough nice bungalows to meet demand. By the time we got to the place, it was booked but we could try just up the road.
35 dollars would get us a shabby bungalow with stained sheets, 2 beds, cockroaches and urinal cake-scented bliss. The doorway, an obstacle course of hammock, would not welcome a drunk but it wasn’t that kind of trip. The sheets, traced with red wine, smelled of cleaner. The lady, old and wrinkled, exuded trust though her family seemed full of trickery. “I’m in charge of that building. 50 dollars 1 room.” We were fine with our 35, thank you very much. The cockroaches laid in wait while we dined on delicious beach-front BBQ, the sand-fleas, on my feet. Squid and giant prawn soaked in delicious garlic butter sauce, decent tuna steak, veggies and spring rolls!
The night was surprisingly cold and there were at least 5 unfortunate journeys back to consciousness.
The next day, we were out. Calling all the places this Lonely Planet could list. All we could secure was a room for the next night. Fuck this place. This island sucks. Beach packed with barca-loungers, sand filled with fish bones and cigarettes. Oh no, this room is 20? OK we can do that. Maybe this place isn’t so bad. A freshly painted bathroom kept the door open so we stashed our luggage back in our old room. We had to secure our Thursday night at the Beach Club and rode out to do so and as a bonus, got a room at Paris Beach to fulfill our 4th night. A 4 room Phu Quoc whirlwind tour. We hooked up Brent and Wen Juan for the rest of their trip as well. Our return to the $20 room found it not quite done and our stomachs brought us down to the beach.
4 hours, 1 flight, 1 price/room discrepancy at Charm, 1 headache, 7 mango shakes, 1 hippie sleeping in my hammock, 1 Vietnamese-English fusion conversation, 1 room for 20 dollars lost, 1 room for 15 dollars gained and a whole lot of puttering around left our Phu Quoc island fairy tale with a stable room arrangement until departure for all parties involved. 3rd story in the building, no cockroaches in sight but definitely still present (resilient buggers) for 15 dollars (not 50 – damn the English language) and it’s time to hit on the road. Time to shake off some evil feelings about this island, to remove the curse and cake on some dust.
We cruised South. Past pearl farms, endless beach, palms, and red dust.
We took a rest stop at a rather deserted stretch of white sand. Played with Brie the Brittle Star, Hermie the Hermit Crab and chased a whole lot of those sand bubbler crabs. A quick conversation with a surprisingly fluent and worldly self-taught by book Vietnamese man hanging out at his convenience store put a pleasant omen on the evening. On we rode. 2 weddings later, we found the main highway into An Thoi, our spot where we would eat dinner. Passing a family eating dinner outside on the right, I spotted a 4 table restaurant with beer cans all over the floor and a raucous bunch of diners quickly adding to the piles. “There’s a hot and noisy restaurant back there. Let’s give it a try.” Hot and noisy is Chinese for a great restaurant, a place where you can have an amazing meal in a cozy, yet crazy atmosphere. Look for the dirty places filled with happy diners and you’ve about got it made.
“Funny that there’s a hair salon in this restaurant,” Leslie’s observation was shared by all. The stainless steel table was well used and being cleaned by a rather drunk gentleman with a balled up napkin. We sat down. Our fellow diners approached us and engaged us in conversation only seconds later to be joined by cold beer cans from almost empty cases. A few of the younger patrons had a decent grasp on English. We got up and pointed to the table beside us. “We want what they’re having!” Seconds later, a dish of hacked up pigs feet is on the table, sweet chilli sauce for dipping, spring rolls, vermicelli rice noodle bundles, spicy peanut salad, dried squid and beer. Lots and lots of beer.
“Oh! This is your family? This is your house?...” Nervous laughter of the sort that comes after a slight faux pas. “Ah your daughter, his wife, your sister, your daughter…very pretty. Vietnam! Yes. Vietnam. Uhhh…Canada? Adam? Yes. Your father! Vai! Hah…cheers. No, Canada. Yes. Leslie. Vai!!! Cheers. Vietnam! Yes! OK. OK! Oh yes. Very good. Vietnam! Good! Thank you. OK! Vai!!!” And the beer kept coming followed by shots of ‘wine’. We had stumbled upon a family dinner and sat down at their empty table. We were served amazing food and liquor. We gave entertainment.
What would you do if 4 foreigners pulled onto your lawn, sat down at an empty picnic table and demanded to get in on your family bbq? I can only hope that I’d give them the best meal and all the camaraderie they could ever dream of having.
The ride home was arduous if not for the copious amounts of beer and wine that were shoved down our throats before we were allowed to leave (they physically restrained us until we chugged a few with the important family members.) I figured I was in the clear as I left Brent to deal with the snake wine but got hauled in by the family to the right. A couple chugged beers and I managed to slither out of reach. The road was dark, the ride sobering though my mind remained unclouded by the drink. We chittered away excitedly until the cold set in and the ride stretched on. All good things come to an end and each bit of excitement comes with a cost.
Yet another once in a lifetime opportunity afforded by the freedom and generosity of island people, about a 3 hour boat ride away from the last such encounter only 1 year ago. May there always be such pockets of civilization and humanity in the world.
|comments: 5 comments or Leave a comment|