The sketchy plan for the day is to travel from Kampot in Cambodia via the border crossing at Hà Tiên in Vietnam, then hopefully catch a ferry across to the final destination of Phu Quoc Island to relax.
Crossing a Cambodian border can be a headache at the best of times as “you never know what you’re gonna get”…
It was always going to be a long ‘travel day’ our name for the wasted day getting from one place to another, or one country to another. And after several border crossings in various countries during the past 8 months, this crossing is surprisingly painless.
The minibus from Kampot, Cambodia to Hà Tiên and onto Phu Quoc in Vietnam cost USD$20, and takes us through the border crossing in both countries in just 2 hours.
The minibus arrives at the Cambodian Immigration point, where a helpful English passenger experienced in this crossing takes our passports for stamping.
Everyone waits on a dusty bridge area before heading on to the ‘other side’.
The Vietnamese border side is hilarious.
Everyone just stands in a line in front of a counter. An official in uniform waits behind the counter with a monitor above his head. The monitor is turned on and displays a constant body temperature of 38°C, whilst he collects USD$1 from everyone and waves a temperature stick in front of you.
Today, each of the 20 people in line happen to have exactly the same body temperature of 38°C. Strange, as this is after walking a kilometre in the sweltering heat with our backpacks on our backs.
This small town in Southern Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region is about 7 kilometres from the border crossing and 93 kilometres from Rạch Giá city.
Thanks to this region’s beaches and landscape, Hà Tiên is a tourist destination although we don’t see much of the town as the minibus takes us straight through to the travel office.
The bus ticket from Kampot to Hà Tiên also includes the ferry ride to Phu Quoc Island, which is the final destination for the day. We discover that the ticket does not include the transfer minibus (USD$3) from the Green Travel office in Hà Tiên to the ferry terminal of which passengers were not advised – a minimal fee but there’s always a catch resulting in an additional cost along the way…
Phu Quoc Island
The Superdong comfortable but busy ferry (230,000VND when purchasing tickets separately) leaves at around 13.15hrs on the dot and arrives on the island about 1.5 hours’ later – impressive.
A minibus waits at the ferry terminal in Phu Quoc to take us to our hotel.
The ferry terminal is on the eastern side of the island and about a 20-minute drive to Duong Dong to the western side, in which many hotels and restaurants are situated.
If you think this is going to be a quiet island, then think again.
Even though it’s winter and low season, it is still quite busy with foreign tourists (mostly Russians) and the island’s local population of 85,000.
From the city centre, it seems that most of the locals live on the northern side of the bridge, which is not touristy at all – you’ll get several odd looks when walking around this area. Locals are very friendly. It’s chaos with scooters on this side, especially after the bridge opens to allow boats to come and go. You need nerves of steel regardless of whether you’re on foot or riding a bike.
Take time to visit the bridge when it opens – it’s a mad scrum and fun to watch – also great for photos.
We did have a minor bike accident at the round-a-bout in town today.
A local with a child on the back of her bike didn’t see us and rides straight into us with the child getting a minor scratch. The mother tried to blame us but as it’s her fault, we don’t make anything of it and ride off.
The bridge opens every 2 hours starting from 08:00-08:30hrs up until 15:00hrs, then 19:00-23:00hrs, but as it’s not on time you may have to wait.
There’s loads to do on this island if you have time and money.
Walks, treks, tons of snorkelling and scuba diving, lazing around on the beaches (with all the Russians), and Pearl Farms and Pagodas to visit. Other activities include fishing and night squid fishing tours, adventure Kayaking, visiting surrounding islands, fish sauce manufacturers, Coconut Prison, pepper farms, SIM wine factory, or just generally exploring the island.
Choices are endless and everything is easy to get to, which is designed to make you stay longer on the island. As it’s winter and a little chilly, I give swimming a miss.
An easy ride around the island
Hiring a scooter for the day (130,000VND) is a great way to get around and saves time as local buses are infrequent.
Once you leave the main town, most of the roads are not so busy and also sealed.
Riding from Duong Dong down to An Thoi Town to look around, this area isn’t as touristy. Locals here still stare and it’s more of a small fishing village with a Naval Base.
Then heading north again to Bai Thom and around the corner a little, decide to head back.
Tiny villages dot this part of the island and there’s a distinct lack of flashy hotel chains or restaurants here…
Along the ride, several pepper farms with quite tall and strange-looking spindly trees dot the landscape – I’ve never seen a pepper tree before.
There’s only one main highway on this island and you can’t get lost really.
Although we started by riding down the coast road to An Thoi looking for the War Monument, never finding it, the road turned into little more than a boggy track, which is under construction. Backtracking once more and finding the highway again, we head north.
Bai Tam Sao Beach
Visiting this very pretty beach on a scooter is easy, which has a couple of eating places if you want to stop for a drink and a bite to eat.
Once you turn off the highway to go east to the beach, it’s about a 3-4 kilometre bumpy dirt pot-holed track.
Not comfortable on a scooter but worth the trip.
Hiep Thaoi Hotel Phu on 65 Tran Hung Dao Street, offers a spotless room and bathroom, bottled water and toiletries, good wi-fi, hot water, cable TV, and very helpful staff – especially the owners.
This hotel is a 10-minute walk to the town centre, markets, and the river with restaurants along the walk. bike hire is available from the hotel for 200,000VND/day but down the road is cheaper at 130,000VND – shop around.
Booking the return ferry/bus tickets from the hotel as it’s the same price as everywhere in town and also includes a hotel pick-up.
Food is everywhere on the island.
Buddy Ice Cream & Info Café
On 6 Bach Dang Street, opposite the Marina, the service from all staff here is great. The cappuccino is average, shakes are good, ice coffees and Frappuccino are also good. Sandwiches and spring rolls are OK.
The night markets along Duong Dong ramps up from 18:00hrs and hosts many small open restaurants on the street with an abundance of seafood.
Sadly as a seafood lover, I find the markets this expensive and very touristy, with cheaper local feasts further up from the markets.
Try these tiny roadside stalls, which sell wonderfully delicious baguettes filled with Pâté, salad, and meats for only 15,000VND.
Duong Dong River
Along Duong Dong and close to the opening bridge, loads of street hawkers on the river side sell very cheap eats – also check out the good cheap bakery across the road and a little down from the bridge.
Leaving Phu Quoc
As we’re heading north slowly, decide on a short stop-over in Can Tho as the plan is to take trains when possible and buses only when required.
The lady at Hiep Thaoi Hotel organises the boat/bus ticket (USD$22) to Can Tho and writes destination times and places on an envelope – very helpful and efficient.
Although the pick-up in the minibus from the hotel is supposed to be at 07:00hrs, the bus arrives twenty minutes late.
In true Asian fashion, we drive around the island picking up more passengers until there isn’t any room left before heading to the ferry for a 8:30hrs departure.