Phú Quốc – a very lazy day and a night market

My plan for Wednesday – my only full day on the island of Phú Quốc – was to take it very, very easy. To chill out as much as possible; so I’d only made one plan for the day.

I woke up still feeling full from my dinner the night before, and by the time I got showered and dressed I had just missed the full-blown breakfast on offer at the resort, so decided to go for a coffee instead.

A chilled morning

Disappointingly, the café at the hotel wasn’t named after a university faculty but was just called “French & Co”. Walking past the resort’s athletics track, I soon spotted it in the main thoroughfare after taking a quick look at the beach first and spotting what I suspected was the offspring of the cat that had joined me for dinner the night before.

French & Co was absolutely spotless – and quite empty too – although it was during the week. As well as teas, coffees, smoothies and cold drinks, they had a selection of delicious looking cakes and some local goods for sale too. There were Vietnamese cooking books, chocolate, coffee, and some small goods branded with the resort’s logo. I decided to pick some souvenirs up later, and placed my order at the counter before taking my seat.

As I tucked into my americano, Diet Coke, and petit but delicious pastry…

…my phone started to buzz – it was “taxi” messaging me on Line – i.e. the taxi driver who had dropped me at the hotel the day before. Thanks once more to Google Translate I managed to have a full conversation with him in Vietnamese about my plans for the day!

Looks impressive anyway! I told him I’d just be taking it easy for the day, and that while I had plans for the evening, the hotel would be taking care of transportation.

After my mid-morning snack, I walked back to my room and sat outside, again catching up on emails and writing more of my blog, looking up every now and then to gaze at the view.

I’d been determined to keep on top of my blog while I was away, but it takes ages to collate photos and write everything up, so as always I’d fallen (and still am) a bit behind.

Three hours later, I’d published my first post from Vietnam and went in search of lunch. I decided to have lunch by the beach – in a restaurant called Red Rum which was situated in what I’d describe as a bandstand.

Frustratingly, yet again I’d missed out on the best seats! All the tables situated at the edge of the restaurant overlooking the beach were taken. Thinking about it now I should have just sat on the outside patio, but instead I settled for the second-best spot – still facing the beach, but with another table in front of me.

I decided to go semi-traditional for lunch, ordering a Bàhn Mì for lunch – or a pork baguette. This one came with braised pork neck, orange, dried smoked chilli, beans, garlic and pickled red onion. It sounded delicious – light and fresh was just what I wanted given the heat.

Pretty quickly it arrived, with a side portion of french fries that I can still taste. Delish!

The baguette was light and fluffy and the filling tasty – it was perfect for a light(ish) lunch.

Beach time

After paying for lunch I headed to the resort’s reception. Although I’d already booked an activity for that night, there were a couple of others I’d read about that I was interested in too.

One involved making lanterns – of the kind that I’d seen the night before on my walk to the bar. I thought it would be cool to make one and take it home to give a part of my new apartment an Asian feel. There was just one problem though – how to get it home in my suitcase. 

So at reception I asked if they could check out how much it would cost for them to post the lantern home. The efficient receptionist promised to check that out and get back to me.

I decided to wait and make a decision on whether to attend the lantern making class based on the price. In the meantime, I booked myself on two other activities for the next day.

I grabbed some photos of the impressive reception area…

And “university” memorabilia…

And took a slow stroll back to my room – en route passing whimsical little signs…

…still not quite sure what that means 🤔 and illustrations on the sides of buildings….

I suspect the entire resort is actually very new, but the architecture and little touches like those make it seem like it’s steeped in history which I thought was clever.

By now it was already three o’clock, and I was determined to get in some quality time at the beach. I picked up my book in my room, grabbed my sun lotion and headed to the part of the beach where loungers had been laid out. 

Pretty quickly it became apparent that the sun would soon be disappearing behind the back of a building, but I made the most of it, moving my lounger around to chase the sun as much as I could.

Unfortunately, the position of the sun meant I was also facing away from the water, but it was still extremely pleasant just lying in the heat reading. Thoughts about anything else just seemed to drift away. It was bliss.

When the sun eventually disappeared behind the building, I turned my lounger around and just took in the view. It really was pretty perfect – light sand, clear blue water, and palm trees.

I watched people attempt to paddleboard, secretly hoping to see them make a spectacular splash, but they always just managed to gently sit down on their board before falling in!

The only things slightly spoiling the view was the occasional security guard walking past which I found a bit unnerving (I’d have thought Vietnam was a pretty safe place for tourists) and resort employees dragging nets filled with plastic out of the water. I thought it was a bit depressing that they needed to have people doing that, but I guess I could understand it.

I leapt out of my skin – to both our amusement – when someone spoke very close to my ear, but it turned out just to be a waiter offering me a fresh fruit kebab, which I gratefully accepted.

With the sun away but the heat still pleasant, I decided to move from my lounger and headed for a hammock strung between two palm trees. There’s just something about hammocks, isn’t there? I don’t know why they’re so appealing. I managed to clamber into it with my dignity still intact, and lay there for more than an hour – reading, dozing, and gazing at the water. If only I had the money to spend every day like that!

I had a quick dip in the infinity pool outside my room before noticing the blue sky was gaining puffy pink clouds.

I headed back to my room to shower and get changed.

On top of the sideboard, I’d been left a little present – a bamboo dragonfly. Reading the accompanying card I discovered it balances perfectly on fingertips, and trying it, that’s exactly what it did.

It was a really small thing, but I thought it was a really nice gesture and I wrapped it up safely to take home as a reminder of my stay.

I also then received an email about the cost of shipping my lantern home if I attended the lantern making class. £42! I decided just to leave it and replied saying thanks, but no thanks. I just didn’t feel it was worth the price. It also turned out I’d missed the last lantern making class during my stay anyway. Next time!

Dương Đông’s night market

I made my way back to reception for just before six o’clock. That night I’d booked myself on to a trip to one of Phú Quốc’s main sights – the Bach Dang night market in the island’s main town of Dương Đông. I was keen to see a bit of the main town on the island rather than staying at the resort all the time, and I thought the night market sounded like it would be interesting.

The hotel ran a shuttle bus to the market – so I jumped on that with a couple of other people and we were soon on our way.

We took a different road than the one my taxi driver had taken when I’d arrived, and what I saw on this journey showed just how built up the island’s become – a lot of it seemingly due to tourism.

We passed a big pearl farm building which glowed in the night…

And other buildings with big lit-up displays which seemed really out of place with their surroundings.

As we approached the town the landscape became even more built up with hotels.

After about a 40 minute journey we were dropped off down a side street, and left to our own devices to explore the market.

Rather than enter the market via the main entrance, I had a quick look down another street before working out it was really the end of the market, so walked back to start at the beginning.

Pretty quickly I sussed the market was really an operation pretty much run for tourists. And the place was packed with them! Most of them either British or Russian.

If you’re looking for an authentic Vietnamese night market experience, I would suggest the Bach Dang market isn’t it, but with a good two and a bit hours before the bus returned, I headed off to explore it anyway.

I did see Santa – who I didn’t know they had in Vietnam. That picture kind of sums up what the market is like!

Most of the food on offer seemed to be seafood – and there were a lot of peanut stalls too, with staff standing outside keen to press samples into your hand. I’d read a bit about the market during the day and discovered that most of the seafood on offer isn’t actually fresh from local waters, but bought in frozen from elsewhere. 

The most likely-to-be-local food on offer apparently would be squid.

Stalls were packed in along both sides of the street, with hot barbecue grills a common sight.

Every now and then you’d come across a larger restaurant, but most of them either seemed to be empty or purely targeting tourists. People stood outside them trying to thrust a menu into your hand.

After walking the length of the market and gazing at everything available…

…I decided to try something from a stall, beginning with a familiar local foodstuff – a Vietnamese pizza – although this was more of a folded pancake. It was cooked up for me within minutes. It wasn’t nearly as good as the Vietnamese pizza I’d had in Ho Chi Minh, but it wasn’t bad either!

Across from that stall were some selling packaged foods – but most of what the packages contained remained a mystery to me. I’ve never seen anything like these… fruits?

Rounding another corner took me into a bit of the market selling clothes and electronics – I didn’t bother having much of a look there and decided it was time to try some more food.

I had a good walk around the whole market again, deciding where to eat. I ruled out the bigger restaurants as looking too touristy and had another look at all the stalls on offer.

I’d just reached the end of the street when I heard someone shout “Simon!” My immediate thought was “surely not!” Followed by “who could that be?” Turning around I saw an Australian guy and his girlfriend that had been on the Mekong Delta trip I’d taken a day earlier. I’d known they were also visiting Phú Quốc but it was still weird to see them and I sounded like an idiot as I tried to think of something to say. I think I actually said “What…. how…. when?” before any proper kind of conversation began. We chatted for a while and then wished each other all the best for the rest of our trips as I set off to choose a stall to supply my dinner.

Eventually I settled on this one – staffed by a lady with a wicked laugh and smile (unfortunately obscured by a light here), and what looked like her daughter. 

The English spoken was pretty rudimentary, so before ordering I stood for quite a while, working out what things were and more importantly how to eat them!

First up I went for something extremely simple. A rice roll filled with shrimp. One thing I’m still not sure about is that each time I’d tried a rice paper roll in Vietnam they came with two long strips of something like spring onion but which seemed too tough to eat. This one was the same and as I couldn’t work it out then either I just discarded them.

It was tasty and light.

Next, I was determined to be a bit more adventurous with what I chose. But I didn’t have a clue about how the dishes I wanted would be served up or how they should be eaten, so I hung back for a good ten minutes waiting for someone else to order the same. Finally a group of Brits came up and ordered one of the things I wanted and had been particularly unsure of. After I watched it being cooked and them eat the sliced up pieces whole I went for it!

First to be ordered was sea urchin. I’d had this one before – in an expensive Japanese restaurant I’d been taken to in Tokyo. Served raw, I didn’t like it. While I didn’t mind the taste, I just didn’t like the texture – the only way I can describe it is being like a creamy tongue. 😩

This time they were cooked on the grill. “Life’s too short” I reasoned with myself so I ordered that and a squid – picking one from the dish below.

After a couple of minutes, the sea urchin was handed to me in a polystyrene tray. A topping of nuts and something else (I’m not quite sure what) had been added, and I scraped the flesh from the urchin’s shell and tucked in.

The tongue-like texture had softened with cooking but I didn’t find the taste that memorable. Sitting here now trying to remember it I can’t really! So I couldn’t describe it as pleasant or unpleasant – just ok.

Next up was the squid – which was served up with some sauce and mayonnaise.

This was the one I’d been most worried about eating – I wasn’t sure whether you just ate the ‘outside’ bits or the whole thing. It looked like it had been stuffed – but I’m not sure what was going on. I could kick myself for not just having asked how it had been prepared prior to it going on the grill!

Squid’s inherently chewy but I like it – and I liked this too. The filling – whatever it was – was umami rich and tasty.

I even ate all the tentacles although that wasn’t entirely without a struggle!

Service came with a smile, but I really have to say I was pretty embarrassed by the way some tourists behaved at the stall. Some of them just came across as really rude and aggressive – particularly a Russian lady who picked food up and waved it in the lady’s face while her raised voice asked “how much?!” There’s no need for that!

Walking around the corner again while on the lookout for a bit of dessert I came across a toilet facility – and luckily I had the 3000 dong entrance fee handy! That is literally one pence, so I really was spending a penny.

After dodging more peanut hustlers…

…I settled on an attractive looking stall to order my pudding from. Ice Cream rolls are apparently a Thai invention, but they were popular here too judging by the number of stalls offering them.

There was a long list of the different flavours you could have so I decided to be adventurous yet again – going for coconut and durian. Durian in an extremely unpleasant smelling fruit. I couldn’t smell anything unpleasant at the stall so can only assume its fragrance disappears after it’s been chopped up or processed? 

I got a quick video of my dessert being prepared….

After a good bit of that, a chocolate biscuit roll was stuffed in the tub and that was it. Hmm! It didn’t quite look as exciting as the pictures the stall promised, so I asked if I could add some sauce.

The durian added – from what I can work out – a kind of bittery sweet taste – it’s hard to describe, but I didn’t mind it. I think I’d have to taste the fruit just by itself to offer up a real opinion though.

By now I’d felt I’d really seen everything the market had to offer, so I wandered down some of the surrounding side streets instead, but there wasn’t that much to see. They were lined with small hotels, a couple of stalls and some petite supermarket type shops – one of which had a row of caged song birds in it.

I walked back to where the bus would pull up and saw some more communist looking signs….

And what I think was the local government headquarters…

Before walking back to get some more shots of the entrance to the market from across the busy junction.

The bus journey back to the hotel was uneventful, and by quarter to ten I was arriving back at my room.

I tucked into the little snack of grilled ginger with honey that had been left by my bed…

…and read for a while before falling asleep. I’d be seeing a bit more of the island the next morning!

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