What a great move this was. Friends had recommended Phu Quoc island, saying it was chilled out, loads of choice for accommodation, excellent food, beautiful seas and so it went. Now we’re not usually beach and pool-type holiday-makers. We are keen on some diving definitely, but usually we go for the outdoors, crazy cities…Cuba, India, Philippines and so on. We hit the road and we trek, train and check it all out. Chilling by a pool aint our bag. But this was different. I was pregnant, with a nearly-2 year old in tow, and it was hot. So we decided to plant ourselves on an island for ten days with a pool, by the sea, near some local markets. A brief google search threw up Cassia Cottages and unlike the other resorts, the owner at Cassia returned my email almost immediately. I didn’t make a decision straight away and yet the owner, and/or his management team, entertained my endless questions and they won me over. A decision we did not regret.
Cassia Cottages sent a car to collect us from the local airport, brought all our luggage around to the Garden Cottage and sat us in the outdoor covered restaurant for some complimentary refreshments. The manager, Dao, an absolutely beautiful Vietnamese lady, with the most gentle and serene temperament, asked me to come to the cottage to check that they had darkened it sufficiently so that Maple would be able to sleep in there during the day. This had been one of my very specific requests because Mae’s two hour sleep in the middle of the day is a mainstay which we weren’t prepared to forfeit; it gives us a break and energises her for the afternoon. I had totally expected that they would ignore or forget my request, and so I was bowled over to find that Dao had personally hung the windows with thicker blinds and was prepared to do more to accommodate us. We were so so grateful. We requested the Garden Cottage because it was set back in the gardens, away from the two pools, so that we would not have to deal with the sounds of everyone playing and passing by us. A great choice. It was very simply and beautifully done, with the one bedroom (lovely mosquito net-covered bed and our Phil & Ted travel cot) and a huge and gorgeous bathroom with bath and shower. Amelie, a French/Vietnamese girl who had just arrived from Paris to take on the role of Deputy Manager, was also extremely helpful and super friendly. The staff fell in love with Maple and she with them, and at meal time, there was never any sense that we had to keep Mae contained in her highchair as there was always someone willing to play with her, take her to see the fish in the pond or whatever else was her particular delight. There were two pools; one for adults only, and the other for families. We met some wonderful people there, with whom we have remained in touch. The pools overlook the sea, which at that time of year, on that side of the island, was extremely choppy and too rough to take Maple out into, but certainly perfect for beach walks. We took a taxi the half hour drive to Sao Beach for the calm waters. Exquisite beach and totally transparent, crystal waters where we all happily frolicked for hours. Covering up with high factor suncream and hats is essential as the sun has a very brutal sting.
The kitchen staff at Cassia Cottages were extremely obliging at cooking the odd thing for Maple off the menu and I was also encouraged to use the kitchen if I wanted to cook for her, but I actually felt that I would get in the way, so I didn’t actually do this. The night market was a fairly substantial walk away or a super short car ride, and the food looked incredible!! We kept saying that we would go back there to eat dinner one night, but enjoyed the fabulous menu at Cassia Cottages so much that we never got there in time. It is a fairly small market, lined with fresh fish, meats and vegetables on ice. The smells of the barbeques were mouth watering. You can choose your kebabs or soups or share a hot pot (add your own fish and veg to a bubbling broth sitting on a gas stove at your table) and let the locals cook it up for you. Then you sit with a bottle of beer or drink of your choosing and soak up the atmosphere. The heartening thing about it, is that 80% of the customers were Vietnamese, so it didn’t feel like a ridiculous touristy affair. If we had our time again, and we will, we would definitely eat there more than once.
On several occasions we caught a taxi into Duong Dong to the local market. We watched as a tiny tug boat pulled the bridge apart to let a boat pass down the river, and then draw the bridge back together to let a swarm of cyclists, motorbikes and pedestrians cross its rickety planks to the other side. The market is for the locals and it is a photographer’s dream; streets lined with makeshift and colourful awnings; baskets of exotic fruit and veg; buckets of desperately sad frogs with their legs tethered and bleeding waiting to be put in a stew of some sort; fish flip-flopping about on ice; the marketeers wearing the enchanting conical palm bamboo leaf hats, which one immediately associates with Vietnam; rice delicacies wrapped expertly in bamboo leaf by wrinkled old ladies with a twinkle in their eye; bright plastic buckets and super cheap toys which break as soon as they are removed from their wrapping; and the road heaving with motorbikes and bicycles and pedestrians, all doing their shopping. A real market for real people and a must see. For us, this was a huge highlight of Phu Quoc.
We're heading back for Christma and meeting up with friends we made there last June and another family from the UK are joining us. Can't wait.
To read more about this trip and see photos of Cassia Cottage and so on, head over to my blog at http://sweetmotherofblog.com/travelling-in-vietnam-with-toddler/