Monday, January 4, 2016
Phu Quoc! Let's go south.
The water was crystal clear and WARM. The beaches were endless and beautiful. The small fishing villages were simple and bustling surrounded by small pepper farms, fish sauce factories (not sure I'll ever get back my sense of taste or smell), cashews and coconut trees, sugarcane and bamboo "forests", dragonflies and HUGE black butterflies and myrtle winery (what can I say!).
We even went snorkling -- although after seeing the small sharks, sea snakes (not so small), BIG shrimp, BIG snails, BIG fish, seahorses I was some reluctant to invade their space.
Currently approximately 70% of the island's economy is related to fishing (how many anchovies does it take to keep more than 100 fish sauce factories producing on a daily basis?!), but Vietnamese tourism is expanding on the island. And increasingly foreign tourists are arriving. We heard plans for a casino and saw signs announcing new developments everywhere. Already many fisher families have been relocated off of prime coastline into new housing developments -- not sure how prices were established for such buy-outs.
There is a lot of construction -- road improvements, new hotels, new and renovation housing everywhere (we noticed LONG front porches here to better catch the soothing ocean breezes), a brand new airport that can handle international air traffic. And lots of funky home stays, hostels and bungalows for easy-going tourists.
So what do you want to know about growing and harvesting pepper trees? Off the same tree these islander families (averaging 1,000 trees per farm) grow three colors of peppers -- so much heat from a little round spice!
And cultured pearls -- now we know how they are cared for and harvested, "graded" -- and sold, of course.
There are still plenty of wild areas for hiking, biking and swimming. The best way to see the island is on a bike or motorbike for sure.
The island has its heroes and history -- part of the struggle against French colonialism and sites such as an old French-era prison for political prisoners.
One thing that was new for us was sharing a short tour with several off-shore Vietnamese families -- one large family group was from Switzerland, one from Australia and one from Germany. Is was interesting watching the Vietnamese tour guide function mostly in English while "navigating" some of the political opinions and biases of these families, some of whom (older generations) had repeatedly visited Vietnam while younger generations were complaining about lack of pizza.
We continue to experience Vietnam as a vital, dynamic people and place with so many connections to us Americans!