I'm going a little off the chronological course here (we went on an exciting tour the night before we left for the island, which I'll write about later on), but I thought I'd take you on a little beach break as a breather from the Saigon hustle and bustle. Plus, I'm going to introduce you the cutest puppies I have ever laid eyes on, and if that doesn't perk you up mid-week, I don't know what will!
When we were planning our trip, we knew that we wanted to go somewhere by the beach for a couple of days to relax and basically do nothing. After much research, we decided on Phu Quoc Island, which is about a 45 minute flight away from Saigon (the flights are also very cheap), and we found a little gem of a hotel - Bamboo Cottages. Not only did it sound like exactly the kind of hotel we love (family run, non-corporate, small, boutique), it also fit in perfectly with my Year of Mindful Living. Bamboo Cottages is 100% solar powered, an independent business run by an American/Vietnamese family, and through being completely "off the grid", they minimise costs to help donate some of their proceeds to educational scholarships for local children. I fell in love with their ethos (and the beautiful pictures of their private beach didn't hurt either!), and we headed there for 2 nights of blissful peace, fresh air and the salty sea.
Let me talk you through the highlights...
As the hotel is located in a remote corner of the island, the beach that we were staying at was pretty much only used by the hotel guests, and the occasional visitor from a neighbouring resort. Although it's not pristine (I don't think any beaches in Vietnam are, from what I gather) and there were debris being washed ashore, the water itself was very clear and so warm (honestly, like a bath!), and we loved swimming in it - the gentle waves made it all the more fun, and it was deliciously refreshing (<- insta video!). We walked to the next beach along, which was also beautiful, and we also went kayaking to a little island about 20 minutes away. It was pretty hard work, I'm not going to lie! Once there, we snorkelled a bit (there were some colourful fish swimming around, but obviously not quite on the same level as the Maldives!), which was cut short by a hilarious E who was terrified, having just seen a jelllyfish and insisting he was going to get bitten. It was a very fun excursion, I got to try out a waterproof camera we won off ebay for a bargain recently, and we arrived back hungry and happy. (Oh, and E catapulted me out of the kayak just as we were about to get out, which I wish had been caught on video.)
The food. (and the coffee!)
It goes without saying that E and I have high expectations when it comes to food, so although we were half reassured by the raving reviews of the food at Bamboo Cottages, we were still crossing our fingers that it would be as good as we'd read. Since we were only on the island for two and a half days, and were there purely to relax and soak up some Vitamin D, we wanted to stay put at the resort and not have to seek elsewhere to dine out (especially as the quiet location of the hotel made it far away from anything of interest).
Well, I honestly cannot tell you how wonderful the food was at this hotel. Considering they only have one large fridge due to the solar powered electricity, they have a large enough menu to offer variety for at least a long few days, and we actually ordered the same things a few times as they were just so good! You could tell that everything was made with such care and pride, served beautifully, and for European standards, everything was extremely affordable (it probably cost us about 10 pounds each per day, for lunch, dinner and drinks). We had their summer rolls (probably our favourite that we tried in Vietnam!) basically every meal, their homemade sweet potato crisps were amazing, the fish clay pot was superb and neither of us could fault a single thing we ate there.
For breakfast, we had a choice of omelettes, pancakes or pho noodles, and of course I went for the pho, twice! It was just incredible to be tucking into such a fresh, healthy and filling breakfast - I could seriously eat that stuff every day. We were also given coconut bread and fresh fruit, and... drum roll... the very, very best coffee either of us had ever had. It was phenomenal - not at all bitter but strong and velvety, and had a hint of caramel to the taste. We drank so much of it, I'm pretty sure I suffered caffeine withdrawal headaches for days afterwards!
Of course, all this delicious food was eaten outside from morning 'til night, right on the beach with the ocean waves for company. The tables were all spread out so we often felt like we were the only ones there, and those utterly relaxing and tranquil meals with E are some of my most treasured memories from the whole trip.
We chose a beachfront cottage, which faced the sea and was just a few steps away from the water. The bathroom is a half open air, but completely private and not visible from the outside. The amenities are fairly basic - being solar powered means electricity is used sparingly, so there are no air conditioners or standard mini fridges. It did get quite hot in the evening, and while I was ok with it as I'd grown up sleeping in the heat of Tokyo summers, E did suffer a bit. Nothing we couldn't handle for a couple of nights though!
There was a lovely reception/common room area where we played pool, borrowed some games, and we saw a few people taking cooking lessons there which looked great. They really make an effort to add extra touches to make it a home away from home, with punch hour (free drinks), movie night, yoga classes and other activities.
The staff were always friendly and we felt so relaxed and comfortable our entire stay. But I've saved the best for last...
Yes, they deserve a category all on their own, because they were just that adorable.
As we were playing pool (and I was getting crushed by E as usual... but I won at Boggle so it's ok.), I noticed a little bundle of fluff by the entrance of the reception. When I walked over and realised it was actually a pile of 4 puppy brothers, I completely fell in love and became obsessed with them! Their mum soon came over and started waking them up to feed them (<- insta video! your heart will break), as it was their lunchtime (my heart could barely take it), and it was one of the sweetest sights I have ever seen.
I pretty much stalked them from then onwards, and it took all my strength not to smuggle one in my suitcase on our way back to Saigon. I miss them so much!
As you can tell, we loved our mini getaway to Phu Quoc Island. I think Bamboo Cottages is a very special place and I love what they stand for. We saw couples like us having a lovely stay there, as well as families with kids who were clearly having the time of their lives playing in the sea, and the whole setting was incredibly serene and we came back to the city well rested, a little browner and ready to tackle our last couple of days in Saigon.