I heard a Vietnamese woman describe Phu Quoc as the Hawaii of Vietnam. I don’t know whether or not that’s a good comparison – though its tourism industry is certainly picking up since the completion of a new commercial airport in 2012. Riding through the island, there is a lot of construction going on, and it will likely be far more touristic in five or ten years. Phu Quoc will probably lose a lot of its charm.
The island was definitely not Hawaii in the 1900s, where the French built the Phu Quoc Prison to warehouse and torture Vietnamese deemed dangerous to the colonial regime. The Americans inherited this prison in the 1960s and continued to use it in the same manner, housing up to 40,000 prisoners until the end of the war.
Cambodia briefly took Phu Quoc in 1975 before Vietnam fought it back into their control. It remains a contested area to this day.
I will not visit the Phu Quoc prison during my limited 2 1/2 days on the island. A brief tropical get-away can accommodate both heavy discoveries and frivolous pleasures, but an internment camp falls a bit too strongly on the heavy side. This is, after all, an escape from the daily grind of making a living.
Animal lovers may have heard of the Phu Quoc Ridgeback, a highly-sought-after canine bred on this island. A lot of the roaming stray dogs appear to be at least partially ridgeback.
While tourism is picking up, Phu Quoc is still very much a real place. It has a agriculture, and a fishing and fish sauce industry – and as of 2012 had a population of 103,000.
Here’s what I saw in Phu Quoc.
I posted a video on Youtube of the interior of the Mekong Bungalow. Unfortunately, Youtube degrades quality in a big way.
Alright – speaking of motorbikes. I really wanted to ride one as soon as I learned how common they are in Vietnam. So I rented one first thing this morning.
As a regular cyclist at home, it pains me to say this: I fell. Yup. After thousands of miles on a bicycle and never taking one spill, it took me around 30 seconds to fall on motorbike.
I’d reached a stop sign at the top of a small hill, and because of the slope, you need a little extra force to get over it, all while making a turn. I wasn’t yet used to the accelerator. Regardless, it didn’t work out so well, as I explain in the video below. Sorry about the low volume, as I still have no idea what I’m doing with my GoPro.
So I gave the bike right back, went to the bungalow, washed off the blood, and started Tuesday over again, feeling so lucky I did’t break anything. Headed right back to the beach.
Here’s a video of a fifteen minute stretch of that bike ride, including my return to Freedomland. For probably the most interesting part, start at the 11:15 mark, on a street with a lot of pedestrian activity, some cows, and young kids who routinely yell “hello” to passing foreigners.
Tomorrow I will be in Phu Quoc until an evening flight to the much colder capital, Hanoi, over 1,000 miles to the north. Before leaving here, I plan to ride more and see more of the island. It’s not all just the beach.