I decided to skip northern Vietnam this time and set route to Phnom Penh via slow boat on the Mekong Delta (that blog will be posted soon). However, just before the final leg of the three-day trek I read about Phú Quốc, a nearby island and actually the largest in Vietnam. It is well-known for its beautiful, sandy beaches, fresh seafood, fish sauce (made from anchovies), unique black pepper and most recently, pearls. So before I could say groper, I found myself embarking into the Gulf of Thailand on yet another new, spontaneous adventure (3hr bus/2hr boat for $18).
Whilst on the journey I met a family from Poland and we chatted the entire way. They asked if I was traveling alone and gave forth high praise for the guts, but I just thought, you’re traveling with two young children through Southeast Asia…that’s respect. I also introduced them to my newfound travel obsession, the National Geographic Travel Guide (http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/city-guides/). Due to its history, culture, religion and etiquette coverage, as well as the details of a true off-the-grid experiences, its like the North Star in the galaxy to all other guide books.
Finally the boat docks and all I can think is, MASSAGE ON THE BEACH. I’ve yet to get back rub here in the land of $5/hr massages but after five weeks, I finally feel like I’ve earned it. Alas, like every country in Southeast Asia, as soon as you depart the boat/bus/train/taxi/tuktuk/minivan, there are always a dozen or more local motorbike men that swarm the exiting passengers like mosquitos hoping you’ll choose them to take you to your next destination. Little do they know, I like the quiet guy in the back who calmly waits for me to inhale/exhale, grab my bag and take a sip of water (or beer) before making my next move. He’s hard to notice, but he’s always there, and I always choose him.
So Yó, my new motorbike friend, and I set off north for the Mushroom Guesthouse ($6/night) in Duonng Dong, the main hustle and bustle hub for tourists right in the center of the island. During the drive, I noticed the freshly paved roads, fancy new airport and a wide variety of restaurants and bars with style and flair, but surprisingly this island is not as touristy or popular as I thought it would be. It’s fast growing, but still developing in a lot of ways.Yó very kindly offered to rent me his family’s motorbike for “cheap cheap” and I had a tinge of excitement at the notion, but mostly a flames of fear.
Why, you ask? Let me tell you something about Southeast Asian motorbikes: They are literally everywhere—we’re talking for every one person in Vietnam, there are three scooters…thats 27,000,000 choppers! Locals pile them full, three or four at a time and/or carry objects that should never be logically transported by a moped (e.g.: TV screens, mattresses, window frames, etc). With thousands of these little revving machines on the road at the same time piling up like mobile rubbish on city street corners, you’d think there must be injuries and accidents abound. But no. The only people I’ve seen with a motorbike injury are tourists, hobbling around Asia like hospital patients—bandaged from elbow to wrist, thigh to angle, head to toe. Forget malaria pills! We need motorlaria prevention! This observation is the main reason I’ve been hesitant to rent a scooter. We’ve neither had the nature nor the nurture to handle this kind of motorbike exposure in such strong doses.
However, I found peace in the tranquility of this island almost instantaneously and concluded that this would be a perfect place to learn how to roll around on motorbike. After all, the literal translation of Phú Quốc means "prosperous country"—how could I not prosper at whatever it is I set my mind to?
So, I turned to Yó and said with attitude, “Yó, teach me how to scooty.”
With warranted apprehension, he rambled out a few incomprehensible driving tips, handed over the keys and set me free. Seconds later, I ran into a building.
Try, try again they say. After two days, I managed to circumnavigate the island (50km/31mi) in bits and pieces, however I did nearly run over a human and maul over an entire vegetable display, as well as passionately crashing face first into two different, incredibly overbearing mud ponds. Let's be real, who has ever prospered without a little failure along the way? I think it’s safe to say I am ready for more scooty in my life, but would never suggest anyone to be my passenger just yet.
As for Phú Quốc, it’s been a leisurely, lively break from the rest of my go-go destinations. I made a new lifelong friend, played limbo with locals, ate my first Discus (fish) and sipped down my first cup of snake/scorpion/seahorse vodka (good for your health, says Mama & Papa).
Next stop: Phnom Pen. For real this time.