Today is the day. After a motorbike accident in Thailand almost two years ago, I haven’t really tried to drive one again. There was a brief ride around Sapa before I got scared and returned it. Today shall be different. Phu Quoc is the perfect place to get comfortable on a bike again. There are minimal hills, the traffic is mild, and there are very few buses/trucks/large things that could kill me. Motorbiking is the only real way to get around anyway. Our hostel is at least an hours walk outside the town, and even further from the cooler, more untouched areas of the island. I see hills covered in jungle and I wanna go!
No tour companies have established any trails in the jungle yet, so we would get the chance to explore it completely on our own. Provided that I make it there alive on my bike.
We rent bikes for $6 each. My stomach is turning, but I hate feeling afraid of anything and know I’ll have to face this at some point. We aren’t asked for passports, a license, or any form of ID. Just 120,000 dong up front. I get on my bike, and awkwardly have to ask how to turn it on while simultaneously pretending I’ve done this before. The shop keeper asks me if it’s my first time driving a bike, and I say no. Which is true. I choose not to point to the big purple scar on my ankle to prove it.
I get off to a really unbalanced and slow start, but luckily there’s no one else on the road. It takes me some time to get used to the speed control at my right hand, but after some practice my driving becomes much less jolty. Corners are where I screwed up in Thailand, so every curve in the road fills me with doubt, but I make it through a series of curves unscathed and am instantly more confident. This isn’t so bad! I still drive at a snails pace…but I do what I want.
We head North on the island and through town, to find a road that will take us up to the jungle. There are maybe 5 roads total on the map of Phu Quoc. While it’s a soon-to-be vacation hot spot, it’s still in the process of being built up (which is a huge shame by the way), so for the moment it’s pretty hard to get lost. We head straight North for half an hour before hitting a dead end. A small, gravel side road jets off to our left, and after consulting the map we figure it could potentially lead us to a trekking trail. We decide to follow it.
Feeling extra dodgey and unexperienced on the gravel road, I take it really slow and follow behind Tamara. The road just gets worse and worse. We hit sand, mud, more gravel, large rocks, and some steep slopes. I still don’t know how, but I survive. There are some close calls when driving through the sand, though.
The only things back here are farms and houses. After driving for half an hour and finding nothing, we stop at a fork in the road and discuss turning around. Just at this moment, a group of locals drive by and tell us it’s “same same!” “It’s okay!” and encourage us to keep going. We do. Another half hour of near death experiences passes when we find ourselves at another dead end. This time for real. Luckily for us, the dead end is a small farm and the family is sitting outside. I know that no one will speak English, but I hope that by showing them the map they can point us in the right direction.
I point up to the area that we’re in; the north west side of the map. One of the farmers inspects the map with me, and points to a mid-south eastern point on the map. We are in a totally different place than we thought we were. How have we ended up south east when we thought we were going north west?! I almost don’t believe him. The area he’s pointing to has a picture of a big waterfall next to it. I try to ask him where it is, and he points to a downward sloping tree-root covered trail just next to his home. He points at the motorbikes and I know I will definitely die if I am to drive down such a steep incline in a jungle. We motion to ask if we can walk instead, and somehow figure out that it’s what he meant for us to do in the first place. He was pointing at the bikes for us to leave them. Aha! Good thing we didn’t try to rip down that path on a motorbike when they were telling us to leave them behind. That might have gone over poorly.
We leave our stuff and set out on foot to the jungle trail. It feels so wonderful to walk. We meander, alone, along a sandy pathway and across a stream.
The stream is good news, the waterfall must be close! We skip across dry rocks scattered over the water, until we come across a Vietnamese couple having a picnic lunch under a tree. We say “Xin Chao!” and keep walking, but they stop us, shaking their hands about and saying “no”. They speak no English so I can’t figure out why we’re being told we can’t continue but it annoys me. But I want to keep walking up the stream. It doesn’t look dangerous and I’m almost certain this is the way to the waterfall. I also doubt that they’re any kind of park official. Just to be sure. We reluctantly turn around anyway. They seem pretty adamant that we can’t continue. Rude.
We haven’t eaten yet today so we walk back towards the trail and stop to cut up a mango before going back to our bikes.
After driving along the same questionable, sandy trail all the way back to the main road, we are starving. We stop for lunch at a cheap Vietnamese restaurant in town. I try to order chicken Pho, because it’s cheapest, but am told there’s no chicken so ill have to have shrimp. No problem! It’s only 5,000 dong more and I am on an island after all. Tamara tries to order shrimp fried rice and is told she can’t. She has to order stuffed squid. What? Again, she just agrees but how is it possible that there are no shrimp for her but enough shrimp for me? Nothing makes sense. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a nation-wide joke just to screw with the tourists.
When our food comes it’s delicious though! Pho is even better with seafood, and Tamara’s stuffed squid is unreal.
From here we head South to find a beach. We’ve heard from friends at the hostel that the beaches in the South are even nicer than the one nearest us. We drive for another half hour or so before getting sort of lost again. We know we’re on the right road, but can’t find the side road to the beach. We come across a small turn off with a sign that says “do not enter” in big block letters, but we see a bunch of Vietnamese people pulling in on their scooters, so we follow too. Do not enter doesn’t really mean do not enter in Vietnam.
Just kidding, it does. We make it 20 meters before Tamara is stopped by a man with a huge gun. Like maybe an AK47. I don’t know, that’s the only gun type I know. He’s holding it, ready to go, it’s not just tucked away behind his back. He comes over to us shaking his head and we do our best to stay calm and act stupid. We didn’t see the sign. Isn’t this to way to the beach?? So sorry. Our mistake. Please don’t shoot us. Okay bye. How can I turn this bike around as quickly as possible?
We escape unscathed but WHAT road were we just going down? Hey Zeus.
We find another street jetting off from the main one. Just as we’re trying to figure out if it’s safe to venture down, the two German guys from our hostel pull out on their motorbikes and tell us that the beach is incredible. We’re almost there! Sweet! We have to drive down another sandy road but I feel quite confident on my bike now so I handle it with ease. The sand is white and so soft between my toes. The water is calm and although it’s busier than the beach we were on yesterday, there are still minimal tourists.
We float out in the salty water for a long time before returning back to the beach. I’ve discovered the most horrendous tan on my legs. Motorbiking has worked against me yet again.
As we’re relaxing in the sand I hear a “Hello! You! You! You!” and turn to see a Vietnamese man approaching me. What did I do?!
He asks me to go over and sit with his friend for a picture. Best believe I am not uber comfortable taking photos with strangers while I’m in a bikini. I look at Tamara, then back at the man, shrug my shoulders and say fine. I don’t want to be rude, and I don’t think it’s a creepy thing. It’s just a being-blonde-in-Asia thing.
Tamara is hilarious and gets a photo of them getting a photo of me.
They ask me questions like why I’ve come to Vietnam, if I am married, have a boyfriend, if I liked Ho Chi Minh City, and my age. Some of their friends crowd around and ask questions in Vietnamese to be translated. They’re all visiting Phu Quoc for a weekend from Ho Chi Minh. If I wasn’t sitting in a bikini surrounded by people all fully clothed I would totally love this. They have the best intentions though and I roll with it. One of the girls my age in their group asks if we can take a selfie before they leave. Of course we can!
Shortly after the group of Vietnamese tourists leave, we do too. The sun will set soon and we’ve got an hours drive before we can make it back to the hostel. Tamara gets fancy and takes a selfie of us driving on the bikes during the sunset. It’s so beautiful to see the sky light up and set behind the trees, but I don’t dare try to photograph it.
We return our bikes and get back to the hostel safe and sound. Hoorah I didn’t die!! It’s official!
We meet up with some people at the hostel and go for dinner. We’ve got an early morning start tomorrow to leave Vietnam and move on to Cambodia. I feel excited and sad at the same time. I’ve only got one month of traveling left before I have to go home, but I’m always up for a new place and a new adventure. Bitter sweet for sure.