The first 2 weeks of May flew by in a whirlwind of happy reunions, good vegetarian food, sunbathing on tropical islands, and doing very little teaching. We’d barely returned from our trip to Mui Ne when Ellie and Eilidh, school and university friends of Naomi’s, arrived in Ho Chi Minh City. They flew over from the UK especially to see and it felt like Christmas when they showed up! We didn’t know it at the time, but they’d picked a very good couple of weeks to visit as the school term was coming to an end, meaning lots of testing and consequently, classes being cancelled. That paired with a bank holiday Tuesday, meant we got to spend lots of time catching up and showing the girls around our new home. As we were nearing the end of our time in Saigon, they lucked out as we now knew all of the top places to take them to.
Ellie and Eilidh stayed on the outskirts of District 1 in an Airbnb, close to all the action so they could explore while we worked during the day, but also not too far from Botanic Towers. They were able to pop by to see our place and go for a swim in the pool, and we met them in D1 for some tasty dinners. As Ellie isn’t a meat eater, and 99% of Vietnamese street food comprises of meat, the two of us carried out some research before hand and plotted a handful of good restaurants. We feasted on lots of delicious vegetarian food over the two weeks, eating at Sen Vegan Restaurant (grilled aubergines and lemon chili tofu), Hum Vegetarian (amazing Pad Thai), Here & Now (even more delicious Pad Thai and pumpkin rice and deep fried mushrooms). We certainly did the Saigon veggie scene justice.
However, us meat eaters also got our fill of the ridiculously fresh seafood on offer in Phu Quoc. We had taken a day off work on Friday to enjoy a long weekend trip to this Vietnamese island located in the south of Cambodia, just a 45 minute (heavily turbulenced!) flight from Saigon. The island is only 31 miles long and 16 miles wide, surrounded by a beautiful coastline and turquoise waters. Phu Quoc is well known for its beaches, untouched natural environment, snorkeling and its two traditional products: fish sauce, and black pepper.
We stayed in Phu Quoc’s biggest town at a hotel featuring a very cheeky puppy named Pony, just a 5 minutes walk from Long Beach, where we spent our first day lazing around. We filled up on some delicious banana pancakes for a late breakfast and Vietnamese coffee (which we’ve succeeding in hooking Ellie and Eilidh on), lasting us until the sun went down. After a couple of beers on the beach watching the sun disappear behind the horizon, we walked to the local night market. The market comprised mainly of seafood with grilled squid kebabs, lemongrass crabs and lobsters the size of our faces lining the bustling street. Eilidh, Lawrence and Naomi sampled the island’s famous peppercorn sauce over dinner with a hand selected fresh fish BBQ’d especially for us.
The following day involved an earlier start as we had a boat to catch to explore the island’s islands! As there were four of us chipping in, hiring a private boat for the day worked out as a fairly inexpensive option and meant we could enjoy the luxury of directing our captain to wherever we liked, moving on as and when we pleased. We were taxied to the southern tip of the island and then ferried around Phu Quoc’s smaller islands. We had one beach completely to ourselves and the others were only occupied by a handful of other tourists and locals selling seafood for lunch. Fortunately, there were some American-Vietnamese tourists willing to translate the ‘lunch menu’ for us. We were told to swim out to a raft in the sea where all of the live seafood awaited, caught by local fishermen, and to point at whatever took our fancy. It was as fresh as you can get.
There were plenty of snorkeling opportunities for Lawrence to show off his new mask and although there weren’t as many fish to see as hope. It was with great relief that we could escape the scorching sun by plunging into the crystal clear sea, and bob around until our hearts were content.
The impending rainy season made it’s presence very evident on our final night as we ate next door to our hotel for dinner. The rain, thunder and lightning called for another couple of rounds of Rum Lemon Cocktails to tide us over as we would have been soaked attempting to walk back to our rooms.
Our final day was spent on Sao Beach, a location constantly raved about by anyone who had stayed on the island so we had to see it for ourselves. We were slightly cynical about the white sand beaches and crystal clear waters that people praised, as it seemed the beach was certainly no secret and couldn’t possible have remained untouched with that much hype. But we would have kicked ourselves if we left without exploring one of Phu Quoc’s prized locations so off we went in a taxi to enjoy a final day of sunshine. The palm tree lined beach, sparkling ocean, complete with wooden swings tied to coconut trunks for the perfect holiday snap gazing out into the horizon was certainly impressive, however the jet skis and occasional rubbish mound tainted Sao Beach for us slightly. We were glad to have seen Sao Beach close to its prime, as the relentless development of Phu Quoc will surely soon see a raft of resorts taking over the beautiful coastline. Our final day was overcast, which wasn’t the most photogenic lighting to do the beach justice, but this was a blessing as we had two baby skinned English/Scottish gals to take care of. Amazingly, we got through the weekend with zero sunburn all round, a great improvement on Mui Ne.
We returned to HCMC on Sunday evening. Naomi had Monday off school as usual, whilst Lawrence resumed his weekly battle with Grade 1 terrors. The girls had a sleepover on Sunday night, causing much confusion and awkwardness with the Airbnb security guard (we paid a $5 fee for Naomi’s trouble making), and hit Dam Sen Water Park on Monday morning. The park went down a storm during Ali and George’s visit and didn’t disappoint the second time round, although Naomi refused to tackle Kamikaze and Tropical Twister. They’re a do-them-once-and-never-again kind of ride. But brave old Eilidh flew down them all guns blazing.
Ellie and Eilidh spent the remainder of their week in Vietnam exploring all Saigon had to offer, with an additional day trip to the Mekong Delta (the same tour we enjoyed a few weeks back) and Cu Chi Tunnels. We met the girls for dinner every night and dolled up for £3 cocktails at Chill Sky Bar, boasting panoramic views of the city.
It had been a pretty successful week of socialising and catching up, despite our bike breaking down half way to Hum Vegetarian on the penultimate evening, resulting in an Uber-moto ‘pushing’ Lawrence on the bike with one foot, while Naomi sat on the back of the Uber giving directions (easier said than done when you don’t speak the same language). This make shift way of transporting broken mopeds is common in the city but manual ‘pushing’ meant we were half an hour late for dinner. It may be hard to picture how this played out so here’s a visual for you:
Entertaining visitors is always the best distraction from work, and having a little taste of home, albeit for only 2 weeks, makes us feel like we can continue travelling for that little bit longer. Naomi was in need of some female company and having two of her best friends to visit made a huge difference to travelling morale. Having said that, it’s also inevitably tearful when friends or family leave, reminding us how much we miss home. But knowing we can pick off exactly where we left off after 9 months apart is a real comfort.