Vietnam is renowned for its ever-growing legion of scooters, and they are the preferred mode of transport even on Phu Quoc, a remote southern island that I and my husband, Jeff, made sure to include on a recent two-week tour of the country.
While we were hesitant to leave our newfound hotel hideaway, the Mango Bay Resort, Jeff and I knew we would regret not venturing out to see what Phu Quoc was all about. After a few words of advice from one of the hotel staff, we rolled out on our rented scooter with map in hand.
Fish sauce and flimsy bridges
This out-of-the-way island, Vietnam's largest, is best known for production of nuoc mam, a potent fish sauce that is served with every meal. Black pepper is another popular export, and numerous pepper plantations dot the island.
More than 80% of the 31-mile-long island is protected national forest. Even with the limited number of roads, we still managed to take an unintended detour that led us through a string of fishing villages connected by what I would loosely define as "bridges." These patched collections of boards, hovering above salty inlets, looked like they would collapse under the weight of a mere child.
Jeff had more confidence in the structural integrity of the bridges and, as an experienced motorcyclist, in his riding ability. So we left the villages intact and without any fanfare wound our way up the coastal road, along ribbons of beautiful, isolated beaches.
Unfortunately, the farther north we went, the more we saw signs -- literally and figuratively -- of changes to come. While the southern part of the island along Long Beach is populated with a growing number of budget hotels and full-service resorts, signs of impending development can be found all along the west coast. Billboards advertising luxury resorts and construction crews laying down new roadways interrupted our scenic ride.
Covered in a film of red road dust, we turned around and headed back to check out Duong Dong, the island's capital city. We weren't in town five minutes before we made a left turn and found ourselves riding through the busy central market. Jeff expertly avoided vendors, small children and the occasional Phu Quoc ridgeback, a medium-size dog found only on the island. A quick stop at Sung Hung Pagoda and then we scooted right on back to our little oasis by the sea for an afternoon of snorkeling. The rest of Phu Quoc would have to wait.