Just one short month after our placements officially started, we were privileged to get a week off work and experience Tet, or Vietnamese New Year which is timed based on the Lunar calendar and this year, fell on the 16th of February. During Tet, time is spent with family, meaning that people who work away from the place where they grew up, will often return to their home-towns to spend quality time, visit their nearby places of worship and hope for a better year to come.
All over the city of Hai Phong, people could be seen carrying Peach Blossom trees home on their motorbikes and bicycles as this is a traditional decoration for the New Year. Not too different from a western New Year, people wish each other prosperity, good health and success in the year to come. Celebrations include the lighting of lanterns to wish for these things, in various places such as Hoi An, and fireworks in some areas, such as on the island of Phu Quoc, where we spent our New Year.
We had just over a week off work during this time, as the schools shut and everyone prepares for the celebrations. This gave us an opportunity to do some travelling and a big group of us decided to head South, towards sunshine, beaches and cocktails on an island paradise.
Phu Quoc Island is part of Vietnamese territory and is positioned West off the Vietnamese coast and just South of the Cambodian Coast. There is a spot on the North of the island where you can apparently see Cambodia when the weather is good. Hai Phong has an International Airport which is about a ten minute drive from our accommodation, and Phu Quoc is just a two hour flight away.
Apart from the incredible food options – seafood for days – fresh fruit smoothies everywhere you look, fresh fruit, chopped on the beach, and cocktails galore, there were also some pretty great things to see on the island.
We spent a day at the end of the week, when the weather wasn’t idyllic beach weather as it had been for the previous 6 days, exploring the island a little bit. We visited the Sim Wine Factory (not exactly wine, the liquor is produced from the fruit of the Myrtle tree), one of the numerous pepper farms which produce Phu Quoc Pepper (which is also used in a lot of the amazing food on the island) and a bee farm where you can sample and purchase varieties of honey you’d never have thought of (again, including the Phu Quoc Pepper Honey).
We also spent a day on Bai Sao Beach just for a change of scenery. This beach is on the South East coast (which means you’ll miss the sunset from there) but is absolutely gorgeous, set in a little bay so there is very little in the way of waves, except for those that might be caused by the Jetskis or Parasailing boat – so loads of activities to do there.
If you’re thinking of visiting Phu Quoc, I’d recommend Long Beach. It’s on the West Coast of the Island and is where everything is happening. We splurged and stayed at the Praha Hotel which is a 3 Star (excellent) Hotel about a 10 minute walk from the main attractions.
If you walk along the beach, there are plenty of restaurants, loungers and bars to stop at on your way up to the main area, which seems to centre around Rory’s Beach Bar. This is a great meeting point but we found it tends to be a little more expensive, food-wise, than the restaurants around it. If you’re looking for seafood and great Pina Coladas, look no further than Jo-Jo’s on the one side of Rory’s (if you’re facing Rory’s with your back to the sea, it’s on the right) and Phuong Binh House on the other (left).
Straight up behind Rory’s is a little stretch of road, not quite town yet, that has another bunch of restaurants and this is also where you can find Phu House, which is a great hostel where a lot of the people stayed. It has a rooftop bar and they also serve food there, which is just super convenient. There’s also a German Bakery down the road from here which is definitely worth a visit.
I absolutely loved the 8 nights we spent there and would highly recommend it if you’re looking for a paradise island getaway that’s only a short flight away and is still in Vietnam so it doesn’t affect your visa!