paradises

Pho Quoc Island

Phu Quoc Island is only 12kms from Cambodia and a 50-minute short flight from Ho Chi Minh City.

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Colourful Pho Quoc Island

In less than one hour Ho Chi Minh City locals and tourists can leave nine million residents and six million motorbikes behind and escape to an island paradise that comprises of pristine beaches and minimal crowds.

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Uncrowded beaches

The island can also be accessed by boat from the Mekong Delta via hydrofoil, ferry or cruiser.

Vietnam and Cambodia for many years have claimed sovereignty over this magical island in the pacific. It’s the largest Vietnamese island and these days Phu Quoc is proudly proclaimed as Vietnams own.

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Seafood heaven

Pho Quoc Island main industry is fishing and it has a thriving pearl industry and as large as the pearl industry is it’s nothing compared to its world famous export (no.1 in the world) their fish sauce and black pepper industry.

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Pho Quoc Harbour fishing fleet

The extremely rich fishing grounds off Phu Quoc supply the anchovies needed for the fish sauce industry.

Driving around the island anchovies can be seen drying in racks in the tropical Asian sun getting ready to be “sauced”. Now I know where that saying comes from “there’s something fishy happening here.”

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Local fishing boats waiting to be launched off the beach

Take a stroll through the markets and deciding what seafood to eat is going to provide you with the biggest headache. The choice is endless and the quality and moreish seafood on display is overwhelming.dscn8086

Seafood Markets

Continue down to the harbor and you discover an armada of fishing boats. A kaleidoscope of colour’s fills the harbour of which the blue hulls of the many fishing vessels are prominent. Most of the fishing boats have red and green flags strung across their terracotta coloured decks making a walk around the harbour an extremely vivid experience.

Close to the harbor entrance is a lookout from which a Temple takes top billing. From here you can gaze down the coast and for far as you can see is miles and miles of pristine uncrowded beach. (Perfectly named Long Beach)

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Beach views from the Temple

Strewn across the sand and promenade red plastic seats dot the horizon as locals sit and gather to take in the late afternoon ambience and as some residents told me, “catch up on all the local gossip”.

Tourism plays a massive part in the islands economy and now is definitely the best time to visit as Phu Quoc still exudes an innocent rustic charm

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Locals selling produce on the beach

Beaches are a massive bonus on the island and the sparseness of people is a highlight. To find a virgin spot on the sand to lay your towel is definitely not a problem.

If you’re active the Island is a great place to discover whether walking, hiking, biking or going 4 wheel off road jeep touring. Phu Quoc is still rather undiscovered and adventures abound.

The island reminded me of all the popular South East Asian island resorts without the massive crowds, traffic, multitudes of high-rise developments and hotels. Phu Quoc is still relatively unknown, beautiful and unflustered.

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Recliner beach beds

Infrastructure is changing albeit quite slowly. When we were there the one dirt main road was being built into a two-lane freeway.

The island still runs on generated power. Plans are in place and date has been set for an Italian company to run underwater electricity cables from the mainland and bring Phu Quoc Island into the 21st electrical century.

When we were there crowds were at a minimum. Talking to the owners of Rory’s bar on the beach they explained how low season (August to November) is tough and they count the days to when high tourist season arrives (July to February). The afternoon we were there six people were at the bar. The same bar on New Years Eve in high season had 500 people “rocking round the quoc”

Low season unfortunately brings inclement weather and our most exciting excursion we had planned, night squid fishing had to be cancelled.

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Tasty sea urchin

Before our squid fishing was abandoned we sampled cooked sea urchin on our boat, now that takes courage to have the first mouthful. But what a culinary delight, for something that looks so alien it turned out to be a delicious morsel that will definitely find its way onto my menu again.

MAIN ATTRACTIONS:

Beaches/swimming,

Diving/snorkeling

Fishing/squid fishing

Hiking

4 wheel off road driving,

History of Vietnam war prisoners/prison is still active

Visit the pearl farms and pearl stores

Tour the fish sauce and pepper-making factory

Great bars on the beach

Thriving markets specializing in seafood

WHERE TO STAY:

 La Verandah Resort & Spa

 HOW TO BOOK:

 http://www.paradises.com

HOW TO GET THERE:

 Vicki Gilden

Rose Bay Travel (02) 9371 8166

Words and photos Daniel Resnik

daniel hanoi

Getting to Hanoi, Vietnam

December 2010 is an exciting time for “paradises.com” as we are now commencing a “live blog” and reporting to you from your favourite Asian destinations. Everything you want to know will now be available on line. Whatever information you require to make your holiday an event to remember, will be available 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year as the “paradisesonline.com” blogger is now at your service.

For my first live blog, I could not be in a more fascinating and exciting holiday destination than Hanoi, Vietnam!

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I have only just arrived after a very comfortable flight aboard Vietnam Airlines from Sydney and soon I’m on a $5AUS cyclo tour charging through the narrow crowded streets of the old quarter of Hanoi, Vietnam. Pedal power comes courtesy of an old Vietnamese man with a leathery face and a heart of an Olympic cyclist, as he pedals frantically, dodging and weaving the incredible madness that represents the traffic in this area. What I am seeing on my cyclo, I would never see in the comfort of a tourist bus. Welcome to “The Old Quarter” Hanoi.

In such a short time I am falling in love with this city and its French Colonial influenced architecture, the people, the noise and the colour. Vietnam is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and witnessing the buzz of the old quarter, I now can see for myself why this is so.

There are so many historical, cultural and fun attractions in Hanoi. I will now endeavor to list them in no particular order.

*With the assistance of your “paradisesonline.com” hotel staff and myself you can now go on a discovery tour of Hanoi and what you will find is a city full of cafes, restaurants, galleries and shops; selling everything from local and imported clothes, traditional Vietnamese lacquered souvenirs to quaint music stores where you can buy quality guitars for under $50AUS. It’s a shopper’s paradise.

*Do the city tour at your own pace as I have, but I recommend you visit the Mausoleum of the great and legendry leader of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, who lies in a preserved and embalmed state. Uncle Ho (as Ho Chi Minh is lovingly known as) goes to Russia once a year for maintenance for about two months (around October and November), so pick your time to visit to avoid disappointment.

*The Army Museum is a major Hanoi attraction. It depicts the war history of Vietnam and gives you an insight to the remarkable fighting spirit of this country. For me, seeing the old B52 bomber (US war plane) that was shot down by the Vietnamese into a small lake during the Christmas bombings of Hanoi during the Vietnam War was a highlight. John Lennon wrote his famous song Happy Xmas (war is over) about this incident.

*Hanoi Hilton (Hoa Lo Prison) is a must see landmark. It was once used by the North Vietnamese army to house, torture and interrogate captured servicemen. Visually, the way they have set up the exhibition is very moving and gave me an insight into the horrific suffering that was part of this prison’s history.

*On a cultural theme, take in a show at the Hanoi Opera House. It is a small scale replica of the Paris Opera House and is a beautiful legacy the French have left in Hanoi. I would recommend that if you would like to see a performance, just show up and see what’s on.

*Also see the world famous Water Puppet show that is located near the Hoan Kiem Lake. The music is performed by a traditional Vietnamese orchestra and is a very comical show. The puppets act out stories that have been passed down from generations, with tales of harvesting, fishing and festivals detailing the history of Vietnam.

*The Hoan Kiem Lake is the historical centre of Hanoi. It is steeped in history and tradition and locals congregate there to exercise, socialize and relax. At about 5am each day, locals can be observed practicing Tai chi by the lake. It is a major scenic attraction and is a focal point for the local population. On most days, newlyweds are lining up to have their wedding photos taken there.

*When you visit Hanoi you must have a traditional Vietnamese Massage. It is very different from your standard massage. Your treatment starts with a soak in an old oak barrel filled with medicinal herbs, followed by a spa bath and a professional 90 minute massage. The massage incorporates hot bags filled with herbs that are placed on pressure points on your back. At the end of the treatment you are offered herbal teas and either a chicken or a fish rice soup. When you leave, you feel that the weight of the world has been lifted off your shoulders. There are separate areas for men and women. Two hours of absolute bliss and the cost is just over $10AUS for the whole treatment!

*The selection of food in Hanoi is delicious and Cha Ca (meaning grilled fish) is a favourite dish. Located in Cha Ca Street, Cha ca La Vong is the famous restaurant that Hanoians as well as visitors from around the world frequent. Pho Noodle Soup is another traditional Vietnamese favourite and the ingredients are white rice noodles combined with beef or chicken sprinkled with aromatic herbs. So simple, perfectly put together ingredients that make this a local fave.

To really get the feel of this city, ensure you buy your Pho Noodle Soup from a local street vendor. It is such a treat when eating in Vietnam to eat meals on a little plastic table and chairs set up on the street with the locals. One tip I can give you is; whenever I buy food from the street vendors, I ensure it is busy so that fresh food is constantly being turned over. It has worked for me as I have never been sick practicing this method.

*What I have noticed in Vietnam is the lack of obesity. I can’t understand why as there is so much food available and the locals always appear to be eating. I am so engrossed with the local cuisine that when I get home I want to continue eating Vietnamese food, so I booked into a cooking school for a one day lesson. It was so enjoyable preparing, cooking and devouring my days work. The menu for our class included a green papaya with dried beef salad, followed by rice noodles with grilled pork and finished off with a black sticky rice sweet dessert that was mouth watering. The cooking school I went to is well known in Hanoi. Each year it takes in up to 500 young people aged between 16 and 25. This includes: orphans, street kids, children of poor families, children of war invalids, ethnic minorities and hearing impaired children and they are trained in the art of cooking, in the hope that they will be one day able to gain a career in hospitality and turn their lives around. I had a great day and this is one activity that I highly recommend.

*”Crappachinos and Rodents Roast!” Coffee beans collected from weasel droppings?  S_ _t sounds unbelievable! Well you better believe it. Coffee growers in Vietnam are feeding weasels with coffee beans and collecting the droppings after the beans pass through the animal. The beans are then ground and brewed. The process gives the coffee a musky, smooth flavour. Not only is this a bizarre process, but the coffee is very expensive and is proving very popular in the up market cafes that are fast replacing Vietnams street side coffee and tea stalls. Hang Hanh or Coffee Street is in the Old Quarter and is a favourite for those craving caffeine. “That’s me!”

An excellent café in Hanoi is the Kangaroo Café. It is located near the Hoan Kiem Lake and serves a great range of western and vietnamese food. The cafe is run by an ex pat named Max Hart who has an amazing wealth of knowledge of Vietnam. The cafe is situated at 18 Bao Khanh st. Hanoi.

*health and safety tip… to survive in Vietnam when crossing roads, be sure to cross at a steady pace, do not panic, do not suddenly stop or move backwards, ALWAYS keep moving forward and traffic will magically swerve around you.

For any information on currency, climate, cuisine, shopping or entertainment please leave a comment below….or Email me at…..

[email protected]

GETTING THERE

*Vietnam Airlines flies from Sydney and Melbourne to HMC/Hanoi 

10 times a week

www.vietnamairlines.com.vn

Wishing everyone a wonderful and healthy 2011 and hopefully with the help of paradisesonline.com  we can make your holiday an experience to cherish for a lifetime

Photography and words Kelly Tang

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