A week in Phu Quoc, Vietnam

Over Tet, we had just over a week off work as the schools shut and everyone prepares for the celebrations. This gave us the perfect  opportunity to get out of Hai Phong a little further than a taxi ride can take us and do some travelling so a big group of us decided to head South, towards sunshine, beaches and cocktails to an island paradise. 

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The panoramic view from the 5th floor of the Praha Hotel, Phu Quoc

Phu Quoc Island is Vietnamese territory and is positioned West off the Vietnamese coast, just South of the Cambodian Coast. There is a spot on the North of the island where you can apparently see Cambodia when the weather is good. While Phu Quoc is a relatively small island, there is plenty to see and do there. 

 

Beaches

Long Beach was right near where we stayed, booked on the advice of a friend of a friend as well as a bit of research. The beach is, in fact 20km long, hence the name I suppose. This lies up the west coast and starts about 10 minutes from the airport, working it’s way up north. The beaches are beautiful, clean and the water is pristine clear blue. Our hotel (which was also amazing by the way) was about a 10 minute walk from the main hotspot on Long Beach so we usually made our way up towards the centre along the beach. There are tons of restaurants, beach loungers, massage places and more along that stretch of the beach so it doesn’t really matter where you decide to stop – you won’t go hungry, lonely, sandy or unmassaged! 

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Day one, cocktail bar one.
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same same
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Can you even?
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Fresh fruit on the beach
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It’s a hard life

We also ventured south east one day to Bai Sao beach for a day which was about a 30 minute taxi ride from where we stayed. Think white sand beaches, set back in a cove so there is practically no current and the water was as still as can be. There’s a swimming area that’s buoyed off and outside of that there is space to go venturing on jet skis or go para-sailing. Restaurants abound here with views of the water and the only potential downfall of this side of the island is that you don’t get to see the sunset from here, and they are pretty spectacular, so worth getting packed up and heading back across to Long Beach to catch the end of the day.

 

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Bai Sao Beach views

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Sim Wine Factory 

Isn’t really a wine factory but whatever the liquor is it’s most certainly alcoholic. There isn’t really very much to see here except some very pretty flowers and you can do a free tasting of a few of the variations including a syrup which they put over ice like a slushy. They’re also pretty strong so take it easy if it’s breakfast time 🙂 

Phu Quoc Pepper

Phu Quoc is specifically known for producing pepper in Vietnam and quite a few dishes, specifically on the island specify that they’re made with Phu Quoc pepper. If you’re looking for THE pepper farm you can find a couple relatively close to Long Beach, but if you keep driving up north, you will see countless pepper farms and again, there’s not a lot to see, except rows and rows of pepper plants, which is pretty cool. You can also buy various types, combined with different spices, whole peppercorns, ground with chili and so on. It was pretty cool to se them on the stem, changing colour etc but don’t expect a guide or anyone to tell you about the process or anything. We wandered around a bit, got a few pictures, bought a couple of bottles and then asked them to call us a taxi to move on to the next place. 

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green
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turning to red
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rows of pepper plants with a view
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for sale

Bee Farms 

The same sort of deal goes for the bee farms as for the pepper farms. There is more than one and there’s not really anything like a tour of the place. Some of them seem to have food while some only have drinks. The one we went to had a drinks menu and a honey tasting as well as jars of infused honey to buy. They were infused with things that would never have crossed my mind, including the ever-present Phu Quoc pepper! 

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freshly squeezed orange with raw honey
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yummmm
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different types for sale
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testing station
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more pepper, anyone?

We had freshly squeezed orange juice drowned in raw honey which was absolutely delicious, and after that I couldn’t possibly put any more honey in my body but Claire tasted a bunch of different ones before buying a couple of jars. 

We wandered around here again, to see the “yoga house” – a wooden hut with a yoga mat in it, the “bee library” – a small housing with some books in it, 

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Bee Wise Library

and the “mushroom house” – a room where a bunch of mushrooms looked they were probably drying out. 

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Just some mushrooms, drying out in their own little house

Also, check out his pineapple plant! I mean, how did I not know that this is how pineapples grow?!?

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The best!

Restaurants 

The Spice House at Cassia Cottage was a revelation. It is one of the highly recommended restaurants in the area and not by mistake. The food was delicious, service was excellent and dessert was spectacular. Three of us ate there and we had the vegan curry and rice, beef strips and pineapple with Phu Quoc Pepper (served in a freaking pineapple), and cheese stuffed chicken breast with ratatouille. I had a Bloody Mary which was also divine. We couldn’t resist ordering dessert as well and shared two between the three of us. We had a chocolate lava pudding which was mind blowing, and ice cream sundae which consisted of 2 scoops of Cassia ice cream and one vanilla. The two couldn’t have complemented each other better – ice cream and chocolate pudding? I mean, come on. 

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The view from The Spice House
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Vegan Curry
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Beef and pineapple with Phu Quoc Pepper (in a pineapple)
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Chicken breast (stuffed with mozzarella) and ratatouille
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Chocolate lava pudding
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Cassia and Vanilla ice cream (OMG)

There was also, naturally seafood for days along the beach front, fresh fruit smoothies in all the restaurants, as well as fruit, chopped right in front of you on the beach. Phuong Binh House does an incredible Grilled Squid with Chili and Salt. You can’t go wrong with a Rory’s Beach Bar pizza, and Jo Jo’s does a fresh Seafood barbecue on the beach, where you go and select your own fish before they cook it, as well as a whole menu, and reasonably (ish) priced wine. 

I would definitely go back to Phu Quoc. I only have a couple of hundred other places I haven’t been before first. 

 

Vinh Bao Saturdays

Once again this morning we had the 6.25am bus out to Vinh Bao for Saturday morning classes. Classes start around 8am but Vinh Bao is a solid hour and a bit drive away so off we trek bright and early. Well, not so bright, but definitely early.

I only teach two classes on a Saturday morning while the other 4 teacher have 4 classes each. This means that I teach my two lessons and then have about an hour and a half to wait before everyone else finishes and we can all go home. Because we’re so far out, the bus only does the one trip each way. While this is not my ideal Saturday morning, it does mean that I get to see some things that not many other people have had a chance to see.

Last time we came out and I had to wait around, the bus driver and my TA took me to a really famous pagoda (I need to find out the proper name and will update).

It’s also the perfect place to get pictures of the iconic scenes of people working in the fields with the conical Vietnamese hats on. Last time we came out I tried to get a pic of two women in a field with their hats on but they insisted on taking them off to pose for the pic!

This morning I spotted a couple of people down the road from the school so I took a wander and got a few more photos.

It is so incredibly green once you get out of town! And I also snapped this lady who was selling treats to the kids as they came out of class.

Ups and downs

I had the most revolting class of grade ones yesterday who were not interested in being in the room, let alone listening or learning anything. Half of them were out running around the courtyard while the rest of them screamed, shouted, climbed on desks, on each other, threw shit around the room and punched each other. It wasn’t my best day and after I left school I went and sat on my own, drank two coffees and smoked four cigarettes to try and decompress before my next class.

This morning though, I sat and had eggs for breakfast at a street side cafe and watched the world go by.

A guy on a bicycle carrying who knows what pipes of some sort, which were about 3 meters long had to stop and adjust everything before it all came crashing down. He struggled for a bit until another guy on a bicycle who wasn’t carrying anything stopped to help him out.

I walked down the road back to the place we’re staying in the other direction from which I’d come and bought a fresh baguette for VND10,000 (about ZAR5) and wandered back past a bunch of Grab bikes (your Hai Phong Uber equivalent).

All seems right with the world today.

Vietnam U23 vs Uzbekistan U23 – Asia Cup Football Finals

Our second week in Hai Phong started just like the previous one, with no expectations of anything being any different to what we had already experienced. Little did we know at that point that it was the week of the semi finals and the finals of the Under 23 Asia Cup football and that this would have a huge impact on the mood of the country. Even though it was only the under 23 team, the fact that they had made it to the semi finals had captured the attention of the entire country.

IMG_4074The semi final match was played on Tuesday night and as we were walking to get dinner we noticed that all of the coffee shops that had TVs were packed with people. Everyone was out to support the Vietnam Under23 team. Scooters stopped in the middle of the road to catch a glimpse of the score, or to catch the rest of the match on their way home. The whole of one side of one of the main roads, Lach Try, was blocked off with row upon row of eager scooter drivers outside one coffee shop.

The Vietnam Under 23s rose to victory after 30 minutes of extra time, on a penalty shoot out and won the match 2-1 against Qatar. They were going to be in the final on Saturday. This was a historic moment. No Vietnam football team had ever made it to the finals of a tournament of this size and the whole country was celebrating already. Glowing with pride (literally, as flares were being let off in the streets), the whole city shone red on Tuesday night.

Every game we played at school for the rest of the week consisted of team names of “Vietnam U23” and when that had been chosen by the first team in my grade 5 class, the second team was then called “Vietnam U11”. Some teams chose to be Qatar simply because they’d made it to the semi finals, but nobody wanted to be Uzbekistan (who they were up against in the finals on Saturday). The schools were wild in all the right ways as the children chanted “Vietnam. Vo Dic” or “Vietnam. Champions” at break time, and before each and every round of any game we played with them in class. The streets of Hai Phong, even wilder.

On Saturday for the game, DTLC, the language centre through which we’re employed in Hai Phong, set up a massive speaker and streamed the game on their enormous TV outside the main office in town. We had benches across the street, Bia Hoi, prawn cocktail crisps, assorted nuts, incredible company and everyone who drove past paused to shout, chant, watch, check the score, hoot or wave. The vibe was unbelievable.

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I should seriously just give up on the selfies
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The skies were a live with the sound of horns and the colour of flares
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Flying the flag

Sadly, Vietnam lost in the second last minute of over time as Uzbekistan scored their second goal of the match, and while there were tears, it did little to dampen the spirit of the city. The skies glowed red yet again as the streets filled flare-carrying motorbike riders. Chants filled the air in spite of the loss. Beer flowed, as did rice wine, among chants of Mot, Hai Ba, Zoi and people celebrated the fact that the team had even made it as far as the finals.

It was an incredible experience and something none of us will forget in a hurry.  

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People kept stopping on the road to catch an update of the match

 

Getting to Hanoi. It was no mean feat.

On Saturday the 6th of January I spent my final hours in Joburg trying to finish packing up my flat before my tenant moved in on Sunday. Needless to say that in spite of weeks of packing, clearing and just throwing things away, there were still a whole bunch of things I hadn’t managed to get to, not least of which included the broken toilet seat, the blown TV which was still mounted on the wall and the broken fridge door handle. All things which I could and had been living with for months (lazy) but could not subject a new tenant to.

I was also still trying to pack my suitcase for my four and a half month foray to Vietnam to teach English. At one point I found myself just sitting on the floor in front of my suitcase with very little idea of where to start or what to do next.

Well, needless to say I didn’t finish everything that needed to be done in the house before I left (thanks mum for picking up the slack) and instead ended up throwing everything that would fit into my suitcase, closing it and hoping for the best.

Bear in mind that it was also 33 degrees celsius in Joburg on Saturday. Fun times.

So off I went to my folks’ place to have a last lunch and a shower so that I could shed my sticky clothes from the morning and don some fresh clothes to take me through to Hanoi.

Little did I know…

We jumped in the car to head for the airport, via my flat one last time because I’d forgotten to pack a swimming costume (and I’m not a UK size 10 which is about the biggest size of anything you can buy in Vietnam) and I was definitely planning on heading to the beach once the weather warmed up. As we were about half way to the airport I suddenly remembered that someone had posted on Facebook just that morning that their SAA flight had been delayed and they’d missed their connection and were basically wishing me luck with my impending SAA flight. I popped onto Google to check My Flights and, behold, my SAA flight from Joburg to Hong Kong was three hours delayed. Joy. Mom wanted to turn around and go home. At that point I just wanted to get to the airport, check in and get on with it, which we did.

When I went to check in I asked the guy at the check in counter what the delay was all about. Answer “Temperature”. So I asked him if it was too hot and he said yes, and I then asked him what the temperature was in Hong  Kong which he didn’t seem to have an answer for. I, along with everyone else I’ve spoken to since assumed he meant that it was too hot for the plane to land in Hong Kong. Sounds ridiculous right? Right. Anyway, I explained that because of the delay I was already going to miss my connecting flight as I’d specifically chosen this flight path because it had a short layover, and I was redirected to the SAA counter in the airport.

The ladies there were absolutely lovely, helpful and reassuring, and as it turns, totally full of shit. I was assured that while they couldn’t re-book my connection then, due to the fact that the temperature was a factor and the three hour delay could potentially turn into a longer one, they would start re-booking connections the moment the plane actually left the ground in Joburg so that when we arrived the SAA staff there would be able to greet us an re-direct us to our relevant connections. I questioned this as it seemed a little unusual to me but they told me that this had been happening all week and that they had been re-booking connections for everyone on each delayed flight as soon as the plane took off. And that there would be no need to collect my luggage in Hong Kong because as soon as they had re-booked the connection, someone would re-tag my suitcase and re-route it to Vietnam on the correct flight. Hah!

Off I went to go and have a drink with my folks (at a restaurant which wasn’t air conditioned), went through security etc and headed to the SLOW lounge (which was not air conditioned), because THREE hours still. I charged my watch, had a couple of glasses of wine, ate some food and checked Facebook, as you do, and then I headed off to my boarding gate (not. Air-conditioned.). Once happily seated on the plane (not air conditioned) we sat and waited, as you do for everyone to board. Somehow, apparently, there were several passengers who were late so we had to continue to wait for them. Half an hour passed and then it seemed as if everyone was on board. Next thing we’re told is that someone APPARENTLY managed to check their luggage in with an expired passport and then wasn’t allowed through security so they then had to go into the hold and find his luggage so they could dump it.  Another 45 minutes has passed and we’re now almost 4 hours delayed. “Just as well they didn’t re-book my connection before the plane took off otherwise I might have missed that one too” I think to myself, all grateful and stuff.

To be continued…

Slowly, slowly

So it’s 9am on Tuesday, the second day of the new year and I’m lying on my bed looking at the chaos that (still) dominates my flat. I’ve made huge progress but still things lie all over the floor, waiting to trip an unsuspecting person without a moment’s hesitation. Yes I’m speaking from experience and have the bruise to prove it.

There’s not much appealing or edible food in the fridge or cupboards which means that there have been a lot of takeaways lately. And seeing as I sold my car back to the dealer on Friday those takeaways have been via delivery. What we do without Uber Eats and Mr. D! (Probably lose some weight but that’s beside the point.) I just had left over pasta for breakfast. It wasn’t that great the second time around. I found a couple of cappuccino sachets in my lunchbox, from taking them to work last year in an attempt to spend a little less money at Vida (I know someone who’s wallet might benefit from this tip…André) so at least I have an almost decent cup of coffee.

I spent most of yesterday horizontal after an awesome evening with friends, which went on till the early hours for some of us and then the next day started much earlier than I may have liked with a skylight and people up and about in the lounge (not to be ungrateful for somewhere to stay or anything). I got hooked on Frontier on Netflix and couldn’t stop the “Play Next Episode” button from sucking me in. I did, however get a decent amount of sleep last night and in spite of the chaos I’m confident that, if I can just be ruthless and get rid of some more clothes (they’re not all going to fit in my suitcase), I will get there in the next day or two.

It’s not like I have any choice. Someone’s moving in here on Saturday and it kinda needs a good clean before that happens as well. So, maybe just one more episode to kick starts the morning and the it’s on to the task of the day. Or the next few days really. Finish clearing/chucking/packing and making this place spotless before I jump on my one way flight to 2018’s first adventure!

Packing up your life

With less than two weeks to go before I jump on my one way flight to Hanoi to go and teach English in Hai Phong, I still have a lot to do here at home. I’ve been in my (very) little flat for over 5 years now and have managed to accumulate an unbelievable amount of stuff. I would never have said I was a hoarder but after the last few weeks of clearing, chucking and consolidating stuff, I’m on the verge of being appalled.

I’ve got life insurance policy documents for a policy that I cancelled over three years ago. Clothes that haven’t fit me since my glory days of university, over ten years ago, which means I have not only been hoarding them in this flat, but have managed to hang onto them through a trip to the UK, living in Durban, in two different houses and moving back to Joburg back into my parents’ place, and now here. That’s some next level attachment.

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One of the problems is that the flat is so small that if you’re not getting stuff out the door it’s only making more of a mess. I need to get to that critical mass point where enough stuff has gone in the bin, been donated or been transported that I can actually see the woods for the trees. Or in this case, the floor for the clothes.

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Unfortunately it seems to be going from bad to worse

I’m hoping that once the chaos subsides a bit (I also have three loads of washing cycling through various stages of getting clean and dry floating around the place) that it’ll feel more cathartic than disaster.

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At least we’re getting beautiful sunsets in Joburg

Finding out about Hai Phong

This morning I received an email from the company in Vietnam who handles all the internship placements at the schools over there and I’ve found out that I’m going to Dangtuan Language Center (DTLC) in Hai Phong.

I was honestly relatively confident that I’d land up in Hanoi as that is where the vast majority of teachers are placed so I haven’t read up that much on Hai Phong. So far the only familiar place in the vicinity is Cat Ba Island which a friend of mine went on a SE Asia trip a couple of years ago and really enjoyed so that’s exciting. It’s also not too far away from Ha Long Bay which I’ve only seen in the hazy mist fog, so would love to see it in the sunshine.

So far I’ve learned that it’s 120km from Hanoi so not too far, although I’d imagine with public transport you probably wouldn’t get there in an hour. That it’s the second largest city in the North of Vietnam . And that it’s a coastal city located at the mouth of the Cấm River. Thanks Wikipedia!

It looks like the weather is pretty reasonable, only dropping to a low of 13 degrees celsius at its coldest and getting over 30 in the summer.

TEFL Internship costs you didn’t think about

So when I started planning this properly, I obviously made a budget taking into account the key factors:

  • The cost of the internship program (which covers your orientation week activities, food and accommodation, placing you at a school, as well as all the admin that they do in the run up to start of the program)
  • Flights
  • Spending money for the first month before you get your first pay check
  • New goodies for the adventure (camera tech, a laptop, suitable clothing for the weather etc)

There have however been a number of costs that I didn’t originally factor into my budget which have resulted in some of my less vital items on the list above falling by the wayside. These include:

  • Vaccinations – there are a variety of things they recommend, some of which are obviously a definite requirement and some of which are up to you. Considering that I’m going to Vietnam and that even though I’ve been there before I’m uncertain of the quality of the medical facilities but am fairly certain they’re not first world so my philosophy on the vaccination front was very much better safe than sorry. This means that (because I already had a yellow fever vaccination which is valid till 2023) I had the following vaccinations:
    • Hepatitis B (even though I had this before I went to Nigeria in 2013, I completely forgot to go back three months later for the booster shot which should have given me lifetime immunity, so we had to start from scratch)
    • Rabies (because the recommendation I heard from someone else’s doc that you should avoid rabid dogs and if you do get bitten by one you must catch it, kill it and take it with you to the nearest clinic really did not appeal in the slightest)
    • Meningitis (because who wants a potentially fatal brain inflammation situation when you’re half way across the world)
    • and Typhoid (because, again, death)
    • I couldn’t get the Hepatitis A Vaccination because apparently there is a world wide shortage of it and the doc isn’t expecting to get any here in SA before April 2018. His recommendation – be very very careful.
      This little lot cost not only severely saw arms for several days but also an unexpected hit to my budget. You can check this awesome website that doctor at the travel clinic gave me to see recommendations and travel health advice for just about anywhere in the world: http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/home.aspx
  • Legalisation of any and all certificates that were issued in the UK. In my case this included my TEFL certificate itself. This has to go through three different entities before it is finalised and can be quite time consuming to do even if you live in the UK, apparently, but felt overwhelming to try and achieve from South Africa. The placement company recommended the Hague Apostille, who provided a discount to us people who did their courses through specific companies so that it would only cost GBP 120. Plus a GBP 50 cost if you need it couriered internationally. (Luckily my brother lives in the UK and came to the rescue on the courier front.) If you convert that lot though it’s another healthy chunk out of the budget. (I only sent my order form through 2 days ago so will try and update with the user friendliness of this service when I’ve received my actual certificate and it’s ready to go.)
  • Clothes that are appropriate for teaching. While you’ve definitely thought about the weather, how hot and cold it gets and how flipping humid it’s going to be year round, and considered which clothes you can take that aren’t going to show up how humid YOU are, you may not have thought about the fact that you have to dress modestly in Vietnam and especially as a teacher. Shoulders and knees must be covered which obviously means no strappy tops and no shorts. No jeans or slip slops allowed so smart-ish trousers, long skirts and smart sandals or closed shoes. This also requires a good re-think of what’s going into that suitcase in the very small amount of space there is to cover yourself for 4 – 6 months. It’s a tricksy one.

So far those are the three things that, rightly or wrongly, I hadn’t factored in to my original budget or really thought through properly. Hopefully this helps you in your budget planning!

The countdown

In just 6 weeks today I’ll be climbing onto that plane to head across to Vietnam to start a new adventure as a teacher. No, I haven’t actually booked a spot on “that” plane that I’ll be climbing onto yet. I should really get on that shouldn’t I?

6 weeks and I still have most of my to do list un- crossed out. And not only that but it’s grown a whole hell of a lot longer too. Having found out about extra things that are required in order for visas to be approved, dress codes that are still uncertain (and might require a serious re-look at my wardrobe), vaccinations that had to be done and paid for and weren’t in my original budget (and were not cheap) and so on, it’s been an interesting week.

I’m a little stressed but now that I’ve started listing things I’ve realized how much I need to get done in a very short space of time. I think it’s time I start panicking!