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. 

 

Vietnam: Three weeks in

Hanoi

I cannot believe it’s already been three weeks since we finally arrived in Hanoi. Orientation was a bit of a blur to be honest. We arrived at the hotel the Monday evening when we finally got here, dropped our bags off and went straight out to the welcome dinner, followed by a visit to beer street which ended up with us staying out till about 3am that night. Tuesday through Thursday were a combination of weird hotel food, intense practical sessions in the mornings and Vietnamese lessons in the afternoons, interspersed with lots of coffee, trips to the Vinmart (local 7eleven type shop just down the road which sells snacks, basics, water and beer), getting new sim cards organised and buying airtime and data so as not to have to rely on the WiFi at the hotel and various coffee shops.

Friday morning was our final session which was do’s and don’ts, what to expect specifically in Hai Phong as well as a bit of Vietnamese culture. The expectations for the hotel we were to be staying in was played down significantly (although in hindsight, probably still not enough) and warnings of rats, cockroaches and various other creepy crawlies were put out there. We then had a free afternoon for the first time since arriving which I spent re-packing my suitcase, the contents of which had managed to find their way pretty much to every corner of the room, and to have a bit of quiet time. Having been on planes and in each other’s pockets for almost a full week, sharing a room in Hanoi and spending days on top of each other, it was a welcome relief to actually have  an afternoon of nothing. I had the TV on, playing old movies in the background (something with Owen Wilson and a bunch of kids, the title of which was the name of Wilson’s character but for the life of me I can’t remember what it was called) and grabbed a tin of Pringles and a Coke from the Vinmart for a taste of familiarity.

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The wall outside the coffee shop
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The place that became our regular for the week 
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chocolate and caramel iced coffee
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The view from our room on the 5th floor

Farewell Karaoke

Friday night was our farewell to orientation week which saw us across the road from the hotel with Karaoke Microphones, Bia Hoi (a kind of home brew that is way cheaper than anything else, and also a bit lighter) and 130 odd people singing, dancing and going a little crazy. The knowledge that we had to check out on the be on the bus to Hai Phong before 8am on Saturday did little (nothing) to dampen our spirits. When the Karaoke place essentially closed around 11.30 plans were made to purchase excess and take it back to the hotel to carry on with the party. Which we did. I think I made it another 3am-ish night and was up and finalising packing at about 6.30am to head down to check out and get breakfast before leaving. Which only happened after 9 in the end (something which we could have predicted had we really thought much about it). The bus that arrived to fetch us wasn’t big enough for everyone let along everyone and their luggage and so another had to be organised before we could leave.

 

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In the beginning

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Closer to the end
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The view much earlier in the morning on the day we left

Hai Phong

The drive to Hai Phong wasn’t long and after the first half hour or so I think most people drifted off to sleep. I have to say the noise cancelling headphones Rhys sent over from the UK have really been a life saver. From the plane, to a noisy hotel and sharing rooms, it really makes sleep easier when you can’t actually hear anyone else, including on the bus when I had a little nap. We got to the hotel and got our room allocations (more sharing for the weekend) and then lunch was delivered. Banh Mi. I couldn’t eat mine. I’m not sure if it was a combination of a week’s worth of drinking or if there was something in it that didn’t agree with me but I had about two bites. Apparently it was from the best Banh Mi place in Vietnam. I’ll have to try something different there and actually check it out.

We went for a wonder around the hotel coz we had a couple of hour before we needed to be at the language centre for our first Hai Phong orientation session. We got a coffee and had a quick look around. Walked a bit and discovered the dusty, dirty streets. Even though I’ve been to Vietnam before, I’d never been to Hai Phong. It’s not exactly your ultimate tourist destination…

We spent the weekend at the language centre, breaking for meals and a bit of exploration. For dinner on Saturday night we went to Texas BBQ which is about the most western restaurant there is around. I got a burger and chips which was really good after a week of unusual food, a lot of tofu, pork and fish sauce in everything. It was also good to pick something up with my hands on purpose instead of because I’d dropped it out of my chopsticks! Sunday morning saw us teaching practice lessons to our peers which was about the most nerve wracking thing I’ve had to do in a really long time. We then had a culture workshop, schedule allocation and handout of materials (chalk, dusters, magnets, flashcards and so on), ready for the first classes on Monday. I got allocated Monday off so I guess it was an easy start. Also, I woke up sick on Sunday morning with a cough and a sore throat and a nose that needed blowing every few minutes so it was a bit of a relief that I didn’t have to go an teach first thing on Monday.

 

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On our way to Hai Phong
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Apparently the best Banh Mi place in Vietnam
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phê sữa đá – Iced Condensed milk coffee 
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The coffee shop near the language centre
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An interesting version of a Banh Mi – pretty damn tasty
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Morning Glory. Yes, I’m serious. And just a touch of garlic.
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The view from my room…
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Fishing around the corner
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Pizza and beer – you can’t really go wrong

Teaching

And so it began. With a grand total of about 3 days of practical sessions and a 120 hour online theory course, off we went to class to go and teach English as a Second Language to a bunch of people. The girls were mostly allocated to primary schools, meaning we would be teaching children between the ages of 6 and 12, or secondary which is 12 – 15 years, while the guys were allocated to high schools, teaching the older kids more advanced English. Not sure why it was done this way. It just seems to be the way it goes here. The little kids are super cute, except for when then they tell me “Teacher, you so fat”. The Vietnamese people are generally a pretty small nation, height and weight wise so that’s a fun part of my day, mainly with the grade ones.

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At break time the kids all line up and do some exercise type stuff before they get to play
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For a second I really thought my taxi driver was drinking beer. It’s Red Bull
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Authentic Kids H&M?
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Memory Coffee Shop – so pretty
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Really good cup of coffee
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There’s a temple just down the road from us
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One of the guys bought Hai Phong decorated cake 
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Bunny Rabbit chilling under the warm stove while we had dinner
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Beef fried rice. One of my best meals here so far.
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White wine is expensive and there’s not a lot of variety. Sad Face.
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This cucumber comes in some kind of pickle/vinegary sauce – so good.
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Unknown broth. Totally delish
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When we were told that the drivers don’t care about what’s behind them I didn’t believe them. I do now.