Wandering around Auckland has been fun, but I’m dying to see some of what New Zealand is most famous for – it’s beautiful wilderness and beaches! I’ve found that getting around is almost impossible without a car, and while I made sure to get my international driving permit before I left Canada…I’m still not sure I’m ready to drive on the other side of the road. I still haven’t even gotten used to walking on the opposite side, much less driving.
3 weeks have never flown by so fast. I feel like I just arrived in Athens, but somehow today is my last day. If I had the money to survive here longer, I would love to stay and keep working at the refugee residence.
It stormed in the middle of the night, cleansing the air so that today feels fresh as opposed to the usual 32 degree, muggy heat. It’s actually breathable.
We dive right in to our day of tourist activities by driving to the Drogarati cave.
Committing to an 8:30am tour feels like the biggest mistake I’ve ever made. I didn’t go out last night, I had a very chill day, but I haven’t had to get up early in weeks. My body clock is rejecting this. But hey! I’m goin’ to see a cool beach (famous Shipwreck) and some caves so I do eventually drag myself out of bed.
Yo. While I think this island is crazy and might as well belong to the UK, I’m here. So I might as well immerse myself and get into the nightlife, right?! DJ MK is playing tonight at some “white only” party (attire, not people) and Abi got us tickets.
In a fun turn of events, Expedia has actually written me back to let me know they’ve refunded the 60€ to my account! Bless their little souls. Lesson learned kids, always complain until you get what you want.
The lawd has blessed me with another job interview this morning. My life is about to become hella hectic though, because I have to move out of the hostel, into my apartment, and be at this interview… all before 10am. I groggily pack my bag, take the fastest, weakest shower of my life, and beg the front desk to let me leave my bag with them for an hour. I don’t want to pay the 5€ fee that they charge for a full day. Hell nah. They say if I’m back before noon I don’t have to pay. Sick homie, I can do that.
I hop on the metro and essentially RUN to my interview. It’s 10:05 when I arrive and I apologize for being late but my interviewer laughs and says he felt unprepared because expected I’d show up closer to 10:30 anyway. I check, and the e-mail definitely says 10:00. Spain is too chill. I can’t imagine what would happen if you showed up 30 minutes late to an interview in Canada. They’d probably laugh too…and then slam the door in your face.
It becomes clear about 2 minutes into this interview that they’ve already decided to hire me. Classes start Monday, so I think they’ve been like “awhhhh shit we don’t have enough teachers”, picked up my resume, and said to themselves, “sweet let’s do it”. It’s less of an interview and more of an explanation for how it’s going to work. That’s all good with me because I’m hireddddd! 17€/hour is very acceptable. It’s only 2 hours a week though, so I’m still poor.
It’s a fun little project though, that teaches young kids after school, and is built around the idea of “traveling around the world”. So day 1, we’ll be making fake passports with the kids. Day 2, filling up a fake suitcase, and teaching colours and other vocabulary as we go. I think it sounds really fun, and it’s nice that I’ll be apart of their first time trying it.
I go back to my stinky old hostel for the last time, so I can pick up my bag and get the hell out. Byeeeee! See ya never!
I take the metro 5 stops to my new hood, get in the teeny tiny elevator that takes me to the roof, and I am home. It feels wonderful to take my things out of my backpack and hang them up, or fold them and place them on a self. The majority, however, go in a giant pile destined for the laundry machine. Another perk to this apartment. In suite laundry! It’s Europe, so there’s no dryer, just hanging racks, but I am not complaining at all. I don’t know how they go without dryers in Ireland or England, but in sunny Barcelona it works just fine.
Feeling stoked on life after I’ve unpacked and settled in, I message my French boys to come hang out at the beach with me. Lindzee is in Paris all weekend so my friend group is even smaller than usual. Only Mazen gets back to me, so he comes to my metro stop, and we walk 30 minutes to the beach. Yes, that’s right, my house is 30 minutes from the beach. And the good beaches, at that. Not the super touristy ones in Barceloneta. I’m living the dream.
I get a great photo of Mazen, who doesn’t have Facebook for it to be his new profile picture (tragic), so I will share it here. My photo skills must be improving!
Later, we get a text from Francisco who’s doing a DJ set tonight, so we go downtown to meet up with him at his bar. He invites me to come learn how to DJ, steps away to take a picture of me doing it, but instructs me not to actually touch anything…
Visiting Francisco of course leads us to another bar, and another, but I dip out on our way to the next. I’m sleepy, and it’s such a boys night anyway, I need Lindzee to return to me so I can have some estrogen back in my life. It occurs to me that she’s literally the only other woman I know here. Even though these guys are lovely, I need to make some female friends.
I wake up to the sun shining through our hostel window. Wait, why is no alarm ringing?! What time is it?! No!!!! My phone is dead. It is most definitely later than 8:30am, when we were due to catch the ferry over to Koh Rong. Sigrid was going to meet us at the pier and everything, oh my god, I am a terrible friend.
In my defence, the entire hostel room is without a single wall plug. In the hostel’s defence… It’s $1 to sleep there. Rats.
I wake Tamara, tell her we’ve missed the boat, and we scramble to get our stuff together before heading downstairs where there are a plethora of plugs to be used. I see that it’s 9:30am according to the clock above the bar. I order some breakfast while I wait for my phone to charge, feeling so guilty all the while. I’m used to being a bit late, but it’s rare that I miss something entirely.
The first thing I do when it finally turns back on, is message Sigrid. She’s surprisingly chill about us missing the boat, and says she’ll come back to the pier for the next boat at noon. I hope it isn’t too far from where she’s staying. She’s found a room at a guest house for all three of us to share when we do finally arrive. I’ve heard accommodation can get pretty expensive on Koh Rong, but apparently this place is only going to cost $4 each a night. Sweet!
We get our stuff together for 11am and make it down to the pier…on time. We pile onto a relatively large boat with a bunch of other backpackers, and take the smooth ride across to Koh Rong. When we arrive, we are directed to CoCo’s bar where we have to listen to a small lecture they call a “safety meeting”. It mostly consists of important information like; don’t try to ride the wild water buffalo, be aware that the power goes out every night between 3 and 9am, don’t go hiking alone in the dark, watch out for snakes, expect to get infected bug bites, and watch out for theft. Apparently, because Koh Rong is still so newly available to tourists and mostly consists of simple wooden guesthouses, they’re easily broken into and many things mysteriously go missing. When our lecturer starts advising us on which restaurants to eat at, we silently slip out and go to meet Sigrid. Ain’t nobody got time for that when there’s a beautiful island to be explored!
Luckily, the pier is about 10 feet away from our guesthouse, so even though us being so late wasn’t cool, Sisi didn’t have to walk too far or waste money on a tuk tuk or anything to come meet us. Koh Rong is even smaller than I imagined. There isn’t a road in sight; just a beach lined with modest guesthouses and bars. Nothing fancy, just bare minimum, bamboo, closest we’ve come to untouched, tropical beauty. Crystal clear tael water lies just steps from the doors of each building, making any lodging along the beach an ideal beach front property. You can’t lose. Sisi shows us to our $12 guesthouse. It’s just one queen and one single bed with a small table and two bug nets protected by four flimsy wooden walls. That’s all we need anyway. It’s perfect. We drop our stuff, leaving everything behind except for our towels, and head down to the beach. We walk 10 minutes down the shore just so we’re not so close to the “central” area, next to Coco’s bar and the pier.
We lay in the sun and take in our surroundings. It truly is a paradise; the most beautiful island I’ve ever been to. A few long tail boats are anchored just off the beach, and a couple even smaller islands are visible on the horizon.
A few hours later, Devin arrives. He’s earlier than the last boat is due to arrive from Sihanoukville, but definitely too late to have come in on the morning boat. He tells us he tried to save a few bucks by opting for the $9 slow boat, instead of paying $15 for the regular ferry which took us an hour. He was told the slow boat would take 2 hours. 6 hours later, after picking up and dropping off fruit at other neighbouring islands on a boat filled to the brim with people, he arrived in Koh Rong. He says it wasn’t worth saving $6.
We have a lazy day, playing frisbee in the crystal clear ocean water and laying in the sand. The sand flies are pretty relentless, but a few bites on my legs here and there is a minor sacrifice to make for this island paradise.
When dusk rolls around we head down to the other end of the beach past our guesthouse. Before we even arrived in Koh Rong people were raving about Sigi’s; a food stall owned by a Thai chef who once lived in Manhattan, but left that busy world behind to live a humble life on Koh Rong, selling delicious Thai dishes for $2 to hungry visitors. I order something called “drunken noodles” which I’d never seen before while visiting Thailand. It’s mildly spicy and entirely scrumptious. Definitely worth $2. We get there early enough that we can sit down and chat with Sigi a bit while he cooks. He’s only about 50, but exudes wisdom and inner peace. He lives in a simple tent on the beach just behind his food stand, and I’ve never met someone so happy. I foresee more meals here in my future.
We all sit outside Coco’s bar with some new found friends from all over. Chile, Denmark, Germany, the USA, and some fellow Canadians. We order round after round of the ever-cheap 2000 riel (50 cent) Klang beer and sit chatting in papasan chairs along the beach. I’m not sure exactly how this comes about, but Devin and the other Canadian guy, who’s name happens to be Kevin, manage to convince the German guy, Levin (I’m not making this up) that they are brothers. Devin’s from Calgary and Kevin is from Halifax, literally opposite ends of the country, but Levin doesn’t need to know that. At some point the joke escalates and they manage to slip in that their “fathers” name is Evan. It takes everything I’ve got to keep myself from bursting into a fit of laughter, but I don’t want to ruin the joke.
When the power goes out, and there’s nothing to light the sky but the bright white face of the moon, we go on an adventure. Phosphorous plankton surround the island, and someone has heard that they are best seen on Four Kilometre Beach; a 15 minute walk through the forest from where we sit now. I swam with phosphorous plankton in Thailand for the first time, and still value that night as one of my fondest travel memories. Regular swimming has never been the same since. I can’t wait to go and have my body movements lit up by the tiny little glowing blue plankton.
I grab my phone as a light for pathway to the beach before we leave. We can’t exactly be walking through the forest in the pitch black, with the natural moonlight blocked by the tree canopy, or we’ll never find the place. There’s a faint pathway to follow that has no doubt been created by the footsteps of other plankton chasers of the past.
At the end of the trail, we arrive at a short rocky beach. This isn’t what I had in mind, but it must be the place. We strip down and wade into the calm, dark night’s water. I can’t understand the hype about this beach; it’s million little rocks digging into the soles of my feet as I try to walk deep enough to swim. The tiny blue plankton glow beneath the surface, illuminating nothing but my legs as I struggle to find a way to swim. That’s when I hear Tamara, who has made it slightly further than I, shout back to me that her foot is burning. She quickly makes it back to shore, and I pull out my phone to inspect her foot with some light. She has at least three or four black sea urchin needles lodged in the bottom of her foot like splinters. We panic a little bit. Aren’t these things poisonous? We’re at least 15 minutes from the main beach, and I’m sure that the one single doctor on the island is asleep.
Shortly after we start looking at the splinters under the light of my iPhone, Tamara’s burning sensation goes down. Devin comes back to the beach with similar needles on his knees, but doesn’t seem too concerned, so we just carry on. No one seems like they’re dying.
We head back to the main beach anyway, in search of a more comfortable and less rocky swimming area where no one has to worry about being poisoned with sharp black urchin needles.
I put my phone in Devin’s bag and dive off the dock into the sparkly plankton-full water. Doing my best to soak up my incredible surroundings to be sure this moment never leaves my memory. Cambodia, and Koh Rong in particular, is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I love it here. Going home in three weeks is going to feel painful.
When the beer haze and our infatuation with the plankton start to fade, we call it a night and climb back up to the dock. Devin reaches his bag first, and blankly states that it’s been ransacked. I laugh, assuming he’s making some weird joke, but then I see some of his things scattered around the ground.
My phone was in there. Please dear god tell me it wasn’t taken!! I NEED that! I look around, panicked, and looking for any possible culprit, but there’s nothing but an empty beach and darkness around me. Devin loses an iPod full of music and a camera with 11 months of travel photos, I lose my precious iPhone, and our two Chilean friends both have their wallets stolen. I feel like an idiot for even bringing the phone out with me tonight, but we needed a flashlight! There’s no electricity at this hour, so I can’t even use someone else’s wifi to track it down. It’s gone.
I go back to the guesthouse and fall asleep feeling foolish, angry, and grieving the loss of my phone. It will surely be an adjustment… I don’t even have an alarm clock to wake myself up tomorrow.
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.
The first thing we do when we wake up is to find some food. We find a small restaurant down the street with decent prices, and each order a plate of “seafood noodles”. The plate comes full of vegetables, squid, and shrimp, which are cooked to perfection. It hits the spot.
We spend the rest of the afternoon lazing around on the beach. We are the only people all afternoon, besides Claudio, the Italian pasta cook who made us dinner last night. He comes to join us mid-way through the day. We’re craving more fresh fruit but pretty far away from anywhere we can do some shopping, so Claudio offers to drive us down to the market on his motorbike. He was going to pick up some more fish anyway. Awesome!
He can only fit two of us on the bike, so Tamara decides to stay back and trusts me to pick up a good selection of fruit and veg. We’ve got a pretty regular order now; mangoes, bananas, pineapple, carrots and cucumbers.
Getting on Claudio’s motorcycle feels less than stable. It’s old, and every bump in the road makes me wonder if a piece of the bike might just go flying off. We make it into town alive but I hang on for dear life. We buy a whole lot of different fruit, including some stuff I’ve never tried before, and Claudio picks out a big red fish. Neither of us know what kind it is, though. We stuff all the fruit in my backpack, including an entire watermelon, and tie the bagged fish to the back of the motorbike to drive home.
When I get back, Tamara and I enjoy a delicious mango and try the mystery fruit. It’s red and shaped a bit like a bell pepper, but much smaller. It tastes like an Asian pear and is quite refreshing. I still don’t know it’s official name.
For the sunset, we walk back down to the beach. I make sure to bring my camera this time. Devon, a fellow Canadian, joins us as we climb up the rocks for the fabulous sunset and we all chat away, exchanging travel stories. He’s been traveling for almost a year so far, and doesn’t plan to be back in Canada for at least another two. I always envy these people who just leave everything behind to go wherever and do whatever they want for such incredibly long amounts of time. It’s so cool, and I think a lot harder than it sounds. Living in hostels for three years wouldn’t be a walk in the park, but the things you would do and see in those three years would make it all worth it I’m sure.
After the sunset we’re all hungry, so Devon drives us into town on his motorcycle, which is much sturdier than Claudio’s. All three of us squeeze on and drive ten minutes into the centre where we find a place called “SwissFoodViet” who’s sign boasts to have the “Best Burgers in Town!”.
I don’t know when burgers became a Swiss dish, but we all want to indulge in a big juicy burger anyway. It just happens sometimes. We all get a burger with Swiss cheese, which I guess kinda makes them a Swiss restaurant? They taste incredible. So far the food in Phu Quoc has been amazing, but I make note that I should be eating more seafood and less burgers because I’m only on this island for another couple days.
We stop for an ice cream on the way home, and have a relatively early night. Tomorrow, a group of people in the hostel are leaving, and Tam and I plan to do some trekking or motorbiking around to explore the island. There is a huge spider in our room and Tamara bravely murders it with a water bottle, which I highly appreciate.
Okay, so that’s not the spider from our room…but it was in the bathroom which still counts. Our room spider was much smaller, but still creepy.