Destination: PHU QUOC, Vietnam
I sat impatiently on the bed while rain pelted the rooftop. I was miserable. I shouldn’t have been so naïve in my trip planning but my child-like optimism will never leave me. Let me make an official statement: Planning a trip a week before the monsoon season is not a good idea. Don’t listen to the travel agents. They’re only concerned with your wallet.
Back to the pitter-patter on the rooftop. Having just returned from breakfast, my wife and I sat in our room all hopped up on Vietnamese espresso, trying to play a game of war that seemed to drag on forever. Being confined to a room on vacation in paradise is like getting your wisdom teeth pulled on your birthday.
Said paradise is Phu Quoc, an island off the southern tip of Vietnam, just below Cambodia, which might explain the many attempts to seize this Vietnamese territory throughout the island’s history. I first heard of Phu Quoc from a woman who is Vietnamese working as a nurse in Oklahoma. She told me Phu Quoc was the place where Vietnamese went on vacation. The picture she painted was a stunning one: bright colors, pristine beaches, smiling people and delicious cuisine, completely devoid of rain. In my head I was already in transit.
Reading in the forecast that the heaviest rains of the day had passed, my wife and I looked at each other with wide eyes. We looked at our map and set our sights on Duong Dong fishing village. We were out the door with haste and running down to the beach when the winds picked up again. With the sea breeze in our lungs and sand on our feet there was no turning back now. The beaches were of course bare, save for a few stray dogs rummaging in the trash washed ashore. Palm trees swayed in the wind, echoing the sounds of rain. Despite being soaking wet there was beauty to be found on these beaches.
The beach began to taper in width and the rain slowed to a sprinkle. I noticed a path which appeared to lead into a thicket but as we walked closer I realized that on the other side of the thicket was a road. We emerged onto the pavement and were delighted to see a large group of small houses spattered with bright pastel tones. The air was soon filled with the sound of children playing and the smell of grills being lit. The further we ventured into Duong Dong the more captivating it became.
By the time we reached the market it seemed that the tiny enclave of Duong Dong was lively and bustling, rejuvenated by the sun. As I crossed an old wooden footbridge I was overwhelmed by the number of fishing boats resting in the harbor and noticed a group of young boys swimming in the area. The boys were jovial and carefree until they noticed me taking pictures from above, which sent them into a fit of laughter and unrestrained chaos. I remember thinking to myself that this was the most unattached from the Western world I had ever felt; everything was so unfamiliar to me, but in a comforting way.
The market vendors were extremely outgoing and humored us with their attempts to sell goods they knew we could easily resist. Cages full of waterfowl, small unknown organs and white gelatinous blocks were all on the menu that day; the merchants chuckled at our suspicious and inquisitive looks. Several vendors tried to explain what some of the items were but the language barrier forced us into that all-familiar game of travel charades.
The swarms of shoppers brought the market to life and the constant flow of trade was enough to drain even the most resilient hagglers. The crowds in combination with the heat (which at this point was an inferno) led us looking for a round of drinks. Inquiries were made and we were told that a quaint cafe on the nearby esplanade could fulfill our wish. We ordered then took our coffee up to a second-floor balcony that overlooked Dinh Cau (the pseudo lighthouse/temple near Duong Dong’s lighthouse) and a long stretch of adjacent beach off the western edge of Duong Dong. I thought of the beginning of the day and how drastically the mood of travel can change within the course of a day, hours or mere minutes. This is what travelers as a whole seek; we thrive on the unknown and look forward to the thrill and excitement of the road. Situations like the monsoon we experienced on Phu Quoc helped us continue to be optimistic, always restraining negative thoughts for what lies on the other side of the storm.