Food Glorious Food

One of the problems with  rapid tourist growth on an island is that things get thrown up in an hurry to meet the ever growing demand. Here on Phu Quoc the “strip” from what was the old sleepy fishing village  down to the end of Long Beach is just that a strip lined with restaurants and travel agents selling excursions. The local catch here is squid and prawns plus some local king fish. The rest is brought in from the mainland by boat.  So the locals who threw up a shack with tables and chairs and a makeshift kitchen with the loo in the middle of it were somewhat hampered for choice. Some bright spark ( all puns intended) came up with the idea of cooking the three staples on a BBQ and then tossing some rice or noodles onto the plate and serving it. The rest quickly followed and that is the choice down almost the entire strip. Great for a backpacker getting a few days of rays after a long trek through Vietnam before heading off to Cambodia some 3 hours away but not so great for the two week holiday maker. Then try us on our 4th week here and you realise why we are leaving before planned and also heading off into Cambodia.

I really haven’t been good at recommending places to eat on this blog unlike many other bloggers. One man’s meat is another man’s etc etc. But let me assure you that we have had to kiss an awful lot of frogs to get to being able to say where we most like to eat and we have suffered during the night and often all the next day in that quest to find a prince. Most Vietnamese just don’t know how to BBQ and of course what they don’t use that night goes back in a freezer and then is defrosted again the next day and so on until it is sold. health and safety would have a field day here.

However before we eat we have to have a sundowner or three so where do we go for those? Most restaurants are happy that you sit and just have beer but the majority are on the increasing busy main road so we look on the beach.

This one should be the king of all bars

Headland bar

 

it sits on the headland between the two parts of Long Beach and gets the cooling winds as well as some great views and sunsets

Sunset on Phu Quoc

 

It should be packed but it is run by a gloriously inefficient Vietnamese lady who rushes about doing almost nothing. 20 mins to order a beer and then 20mins for it to arrive. Who knows where she goes or what she does. It is a fact of life and maybe an endearing feature of the local people that they have no memory at all. It is not even the last person they talked to syndrome. Ten paces from the table they took the order it has gone from the mind as if it were never there they wander away and start on some other task and you sit there expecting within minutes a couple of cold bottles of beer to arrive. 10 mins later they wander past your table without a flicker of memory that they ever took an order from you. So you need a bar where the bar person  is close to you and the supply with no distractions in-between. This one is rough and ready but hits the two key objectives

Sundowner bar

 

Yes those are infant school class room chairs and yes you sit on them. It is like being back at the parent teacher meetings where the teacher in oder to rush you along sits you in little Freddies chair so you can view his scribblings, but the beer cooler is 5 paces away and the guy sits within feet of you and has nothing else to do and no real distractions. You can even get squids and fish from him and his BBQ is clever

BBQ

 

a kitchen sink !!! Now before i discovered the delights of an outside wood oven I used to do a load of BBQ and have a Webber at home. I went one time to buy the attachment they sell that gives you a workspace on the BBQ and realised that to buy it i would need to take out a fourth mortgage on the house. This local lad has solved that problem instantly clever fellow.  I’ve never been brave enough to eat anything from him but have seen others do it though to be fair i have never seen them ever again.

So after the sunset and the beer to the restaurant

Canadianand there is the champion after 4 weeks of testing. It is just by La Veranda Resort if you are ever down this way. The place is run by a Vietnamese family but they have a Canadian ex restauranteur as an advisor. He sold his house in Vancouver at the height of the housing bubble and bought a motor home for the summer to tour around visiting friends in Canada and invested the rest to pay for winters in the sun on Phu Quoc. He stayed at one of the cottages the family rent and offered to help out in return for beer and food. He also bought with him his 250,000 tune music library and each day he compiles two playlists one for lunch and one for dinner. As he says the music therefore matches his mood or hangover and we have sat there some evenings feeling maybe he wants everyone to cut their wrists. However the food is good, not a BBQ in sight and because as he in a very unCanadian way boasts that his place is by far the most popular on the beach or on the strip the turnover in food is very rapid.

A second place mention must go to Ganesh the indian restaurant who not only serve great curries but prove that you can take locals and turn them into good waiters. They bring in teams of Nepalese managers, head cooks and supervisors and train the local workforce. it is an impressive organisation with staff eager to serve you and never once forgetting why they are in a restaurant and wandering off to look at the sky.

All this is making me thirsty and hungry so I’m off

 

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White Sands

Never mind riddles off the sand I found some white stuff.

Took a trip down to Bai Soa beach that is on the south east corner of the island some 15 kms from the Paris resort.

The sand as you can see below is white

Bai Soa North

I had expected the beach to be quite deserted but it seems most people with motor bikes make their way down there and by lunchtime the place was very busy. God knows how the riders put up with the dust roads with cars and trucks passing them on a regular basis and leaving them driving in a fog of dust and grit. There can be no real delight in the 45 minute journey.

This is the view looking south along the beach

Bai Soa South

along with the bikers there are plenty of tour buses heading down to the beach that do pick up from your hotel. We chose just to grab a cab from outside and drive down thinking it would be quite cheap. However it is becoming clear that the taxi drivers eagerness to stick the meter on is for a good reason. Everywhere else in Vietnam and indeed in most South East Asia countries it is the first battle to be overcome. In Bangkok last month we were left on the side of the road by a cab that refused to go on the meter and was holding out for a ransom to take us to the airport. Here the guys can’t wait to get the meter on and going. The locals barter for a fare here not the other way around tourists go on the meter. Watching the meter is almost hypnotic as the figures dance round on the screen.

In Mui Ne 2 kms on the meter was about 20,000 dong (70p) here 50,000 dong . Okay not huge sums for a westerner but quite a sizeable mark up for the almost monopolistic Sasco taxi company here on the island. The fare down for 15 kms was 400,000 dong  ( £12) which is double the meter fare for the 20 km trip from Bangkok city to the airport.

Bai Soa beach boasts three bars and restaurants all selling the ubiquitous BBQ shrimp or squid or kingfish the menus are identical as are the prices all very egalitarian.

Bai Soa Beach Bar

Interestingly the bar we used was the first one I have been into where the loo wasn’t in the kitchen. Every other restaurant in 4 weeks here has had it right in the cooking area with the exit pipe from the gents urinals always going into the washing up area. Still at least you get to see how your food is cooked and with the usual lack of a lock and with the door also warped you can ask the cooks how they are doing as well.

On the way back the cab stopped at the Coconut Tree prison and asked if we wanted to go in and visit. Luckily we had been told all about it by a couple of Brits we met in the bar the night before and so told him to drive on.

Yes I know you weren’t there and are therefore none the wiser about such a nicely named prison. So let me tell you the name belies the actual place. the prison was built in 1950 by the French to incarcerate  “freedom fighters” while they battled the uprising . I read Graham Greene’s The Quiet American while in Saigon this time and the book is all about the fighting though no mention of the prison.

It’s real notoriety came however later under the puppet government set up by the Americans. The Red Cross on two visits in 1968 and 1972 reported incidents of torture and the museum there now has graphic graphics of the types of things going on. Nails into body parts and the barbaric idea of slowly boiling prisoners until they told them what they knew about plans etc.

Some 1,200 bodies have been found so far in the jungle surrounding the prison and it is thought some 4,000 perished at the hands of their torturers. A rather sobering part of any holiday down here in Phu Quoc.