Last year we had promised ourselves that we’d have a beach holiday at Christmas and we also agreed that we’d go somewhere where the temperature was around +30, somewhere to soak up warmth and unpolluted air to help us get through the coldest, most polluted months of the Mongolian winter that followed. After searching around and saying I didn’t really want to do 3 flights each way, we ended up doing 3 flights each way – more flights in one holiday than I’ve probably done in a year prior to our international teaching – this gave us a ‘tropical island’ destination that we’d promised each other. That’s how we ended up on Phu Quoc Island, off the south Vietnamese coast, in the Gulf of Thailand. We stayed for 10 days so here are 10 memories from the holiday to share:
1. Smoothies – in every café, restaurant or beachside bar, they made delicious, refreshing smoothies with fresh tropical fruit and at 80p these were a regular treat.
2. Fresh fruit – sometimes good quality, fresh, tropical fruit is in short supply in Mongolia (or is extortionately priced – to reflect the distance it has to come and difficulties of that journey), so to see it all around in every shop was a feast for the eyes and stomach. Even better than this was the fruit man on the beach closest to our hotel who spends his days strolling up and down the beach with 2 baskets of fruit stopping whenever a foreigner waves across at him. He then expertly peeled, sliced and chopped your chosen fruits and presented it to you with a straw, cocktail stick, in a plastic bag, whatever was the most efficient method. All of this without a Lakeland Mango slicer in sight. What pleased me, as a mother, was the children’s excitement when they spotted him coming and their sheer delight and pleasure in eating such juicy, fresh mangoes and passion fruit, not once did they ask for an ice cream on the beach.
3. Snorkelling Adventures – when on a tropical island, such as Phu Quoc, one must partake of a boat trip. The day we decided to do this we discovered was particularly windy, due to the tail end of the typhoon from the Phillipines, but this was only noticeable once we got out to sea.
Not to be deterred the boat anchored near Turtle Island along with several other tour boats, the tour guide handed us snorkels, fins and life jackets and explained which direction to swim in. Turtle Island was a small patch of sand with a dozen or so trees on it, so we figured we’d head to it, have a break and then swim back. I swam with Erin, gazing down into the sea at some beautiful fish swimming around the reef below, she couldn’t get on with the snorkel too well despite having practised at the pool. Once we got near the island, the reef was pretty close to the surface and having told the children we shouldn’t touch the reef it was pretty difficult to reach the island without doing this, especially as all the time we were actually being buffeted around by the waves. Once we made it though we sat on the sand, rested and took stock of where we were – or at least Pete and I did – snorkelling in the Gulf of Thailand, doesn’t get much better than this.
Haha, then we decided it was time to swim back to the boat and realised as soon as we entered the water that the wind had helped enormously in getting us to the island but now we wanted to return, we were going to have to swim against the current and the wind. I opted to take the boys this time, Seb was pretty self sufficient and enjoying it and Noah seemed to be going with the flow – unusual for Mr Health and Safety. I can’t deny it the swim back was tough, I did glance down at the fish and enjoy the beauty of them but after a while Noah tired and clung onto my back, kicking a bit to help out. Thank goodness for the life jackets which meant we could stop periodically and just float and gaze at the fish. Once we reached the boat I have to say I was immensely proud of the boys – at no point did they complain, moan or seem to show any concern for how long and hard the swim was, they just kept going. Pete and Erin did the same, however, they returned to the wrong boat, so we had to go on a little rescue mission, to the amusement of all on board.
4. Hot, hot, sun – we wanted heat and we wanted sun on this holiday, and that’s what we got. A constant daytime temperature of +28, blue, blue sky, and burning hot sun, the type that sometimes you are grateful for a little cloud cover or the air conditioning. We certainly topped up our vitamin D levels.
5. Traditional fishing village – we took a trip out on New Year’s Eve to explore a couple of other villages around the coast, one of which was Rach Gia. A remote village in the north of the island, as yet unspoilt by tourism, reached by a dirt track. Wooden and metal shacks lined the beach, and long wooden jetties led out between them to restaurants at the end. You can choose your fish from the huge nets outside and watch while they cook it for you. This was another windy day but as we walked back along the jetty towards the palm tree lined beach, once again I took stock and tried to savour the moment.
6. Friendly people – the Vietnamese that we met were friendly, smiley people who despite some language barriers did their best to please you and keep you happy. Noah was a novelty like in China, much to his annoyance one of the cleaners liked to pinch his cheeks every morning.
7. Great food – Buddy’s Ice cream parlour, numerous club sandwiches (Noah discovered a love for them), whole barbecued fish on New Years Eve, most delicious prawns ever, trying sea urchins, noodles, rice and chocolate muffins for breakfast and pizza on the beach for Christmas Dinner.
Buddy’s Ice Cream Parlour
8. Relaxation – the children, and me and Pete, took instantly to just chilling by the pool, on the beach, in the sea or in our room (good TV channels helped). Everyone adopted a slower pace of life, needed in the heat but also reflective of the islanders around us, on our shopping list when we return to the UK is a hammock, so we can just lie and chill. Nobody ever got bored of doing nothing!
Fun and chilling out by the pool and on the beach.
9. Christmas Day – this year I didn’t stress over the details of Christmas Day, I just decided to go with the flow and see what happened. Father Christmas managed to find us and deliver presents to our resort in Phu Quoc.
After breakfast we wandered along to the village, bought some snorkels and a bucket and spade set, and then returned for a swim in the pool. The afternoon meant a walk to the beach, building sandcastles, swimming in a delightfully warm sea, spotting stripy fish, eating pizza for tea and laughing at how next year we’ll probably be sitting in the UK watching the rain drops on the window panes reminiscing about last Christmas in the sun! Of course we missed everyone back in England and friends around the world but the alternative wasn’t too bad.
10. Fresh, humid, sea breezes – it was great to feel the sea breeze on our faces, smell the tropical, sea air and breathe in huge lungfuls of it. In Mongolia the air is very dry and therefore your skin is constantly dry and at this time of year, the pollution is just getting to its worst, you daren’t open the window at times because all you can smell is pollution – to be honest sometimes you don’t even need to open the window to smell it. The smell of the sea is something we miss so I loved opening the door everyday and getting hit by the warm, humid, clean air and breathing it in.
This was a great holiday, where we created more great family memories, but also one where we reflected on how extremely lucky we are and how very precious life is. Next year, Christmas will be in the UK, as lovely and amazing as these holidays look, we are looking forward to roast turkey, Christmas crackers and spending time with family and friends.