TodayI am out exploring the island some more. There’s a tentative list of things I’d like to see and do on the island while I am here. So I set off to see if I could find any of them. First stop was Suoi Tranh Waterfall in the middle of the island.
This was a lovely waterfall and pool of cool mountain water in which to swim. I sat under the falls and let nature massage my shoulders for 30 minutes. It was nice, but the much better waterfall experience was just around the corner.
I arrive at Suoi Da Ban after a pretty difficult motorbike ride. There has been a lot of rain, including rain falling while I was driving. At best, the road is packed earth, at worst, it is boulder strewn and a free-flowing mud river. But the challenge is definitely worth it.
There are few paths beside the river, The way to move up or down river, is to walk right up the middle of it. You can go more than a kilometer upriver without getting your feet wet if you choose. The river is a series of small plateaus and the water falling between them. And on this day, a Sunday, the locals were out in force. Everywhere I looked, each new rise in the river, pool of water, or large rock had a family or group of friends on it. Everyone was eating and drinking.
And no one would let me past without inviting me to sit with them and share in their picnic. I was the only westerner on the river and certainly a novelty to some of the people. As one local explained to me the other day, that there is sometimes a perceived prestige associated with having a westerner sit with you. So, I ended up eating with nine families and drinking with about as many again. I could not move through the river without people waving me over or coming over and leading me back to their family by the elbow.
Some people sat around a couple cases of beer enjoying the weather, the water and the drink. Others had much more elaborate spreads. Several families would camp out on a boulder in the middle of the river and find a depression in which to throw some charcoal and make a meal.
I ate chicken, pork, fish, salads of varied descriptions, octopus, squid, spring rolls, and soups. I drank beer after beer and rice whiskey shot after shot. At one point, I thought to myself, I cannot make eye contact with anyone else, I just need to get off this river before I explode or fall over drunk. But this afternoon, these people, it was the most welcoming experience I can think of having when arriving in a new country.
Back on the road, i am headed to the north of the island. There are some well known beaches there, but there are also long stretches of coastline that are all but inaccessible. Roads went from paved to dirt to mud; then I made the journey even more difficult by hopping off the ‘road’ and driving through an old rambutan orchard. But I finally made the coastline and found I had four or five kilometers of beach to myself. Not a soul around for hours.
From here, I am very close to Cambodia. I can see Bokor Mountain, Kampot and Kep…all places I’ve stood many times and looked on Phu Quoc. I find a couple coconuts, open them, and sit on the sand taking in the view. It is perfectly quiet here.
The water is clear and warm, but the beaches are dirty. There is a definite issue with waste management on the island and culturally through this part of the world. It is very common to see people throw any packaging into the street, through open windows, into the rivers and sea. There is virtually no recognition as to ecological impact and there certainly is no shame. The beaches here are evidence to that.
As I continue west along the norther coast, I find other amazing beaches and tiny fishing villages. Sadly, as I turn to head south along the west coast of the island, I come across the Vin Pearl. This is a disturbingly massive hotel and theme park development and (by far) the largest the island has ever seen.
This billion-dollar, Russian-backed project is slated to open next month. It has more than 700 rooms; the next largest property currently on the island has barely 200, and that is more than triple the size of the third largest. What was once, very obviously, a stretch of coastal wilderness, is now scarred by this massive hotel, obscene day-glo water park, 27 hole golf course (alright, I concede this is actually the beautiful part of the project), some kind of boardwalk/main street designed for high-end retail, and the hundreds and hundreds of tents and shanteys that have sprung up to house the workers.
And the (good or bad? – you choose) news for Phu Quoc is that there are dozens of other sizable projects planned or already underway on the island. This island will be unrecognizable in two years.
I finish the day’s exploration back in Duong Dong, the main town on the island. I’ve come to the lighthouse at the jetty to watch the fishing boats go out for the night and to see the sunset. The lighthouse contains a temple for fishermen and is situated well above the sidewalk below, providing wonderful views.
There is a unique breed of dog here on the island, called Phu Quoc Dog. It is noted for it’s back in which the hair grows the wrong direction. These dogs are generally quite gentle, but their hackles-up appearance make them appear to be in a constant state of agitation.