A Teardrop of Joy
Nowadays, talk of the teardrop shaped island found in the Gulf of Thailand is quite common. Vietnam's largest island, Phu Quoc, is also one of its most beautiful. Nature's strong presence, white sandy beaches, and kind inhabitants welcome outsiders year-round. I've been fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit the island three times alongside my parents and siblings. The first time I came about visiting Phu Quoc was when my father decided to take his family back to his home country of Vietnam. None of us had ever been to the island, making it a new and exciting experience for everyone. Unfortunately, we were there for only three days and two nights, a period too short to explore all of the island's treasures. Most of our time was spent outside the Kim Linh Hotel where we were accommodated. We were there in March of 2001, and the hotel, the oldest on Phu Quoc was definitely showing its age. Maintenance of the hotel looked minimal, but it wasn't bad. Our stay was still pleasant, and the services provided to us at a moment's notice became very helpful. During our short stay, we began a love affair with the island. My father didn't want to leave without a piece of Phu Quoc; literally. We visited land near the Kim Linh Hotel that was for sale, but because of negotiation problems, we weren't able to purchase it. Luckily for us, after we returned to Canada, my cousin, a former resident of Tra Vinh agreed to come to the island and look around for other available plots. A few months later, we owned three plots of land on Sao Beach, a sign that we were more fortunate than we had thought. It wouldn't be until December of 2001 did we have the chance to see Sao Beach for ourselves. I had just turned fifteen a little more than week earlier, and the opportunity to see Vietnam again was the most amazing gift I could receive. I loved what I previously saw of Phu Quoc, but I wasn't prepared to fall in love with the island all over again. Sao Beach is the "magazine beach". It looks as if it were taken straight out of a retouched photograph, down to the powder-white sand and clear water. By the time we arrived, my cousin, Dung (pronounced "Youm") and her parents had opened their own small restaurant on the land. Business was blooming at the MyLan Restaurant, and more tourists were discovering the beauty of Sao Beach and its neighboring beaches. Unlike the areas of Phu Quoc that we visited earlier in the year, most of this region remains undeveloped. There were no concrete hotels peeking out between the trees, and for the first time, I could feel nature's power. Her beauty is unmatched by any manmade object. This was the perfect place to escape from the rest of the world. My family and I slept outside the restaurant on most nights. We were spread out on hammocks and mattresses under a thatch-roofed structure built to provide shade to the restaurant's guests during the day. The pounding of the waves became our lullaby, and the smell of the ocean reminded us that we were in paradise, even with our eyes closed. On some nights, guests of the restaurant accompanied us at our "sleeping quarters". We woke to the mystifying sunrise, so beautiful, that we forgot what a sunset was. (Sao Beach is located to the east of the island, where only the sunrise can be seen.) It signified a new day, a new beginning, and many new adventures. Even though my older brother, Brian, and I are too young to have a car license here, we were able to take control behind the handles of a motorbike. We took daily trips around the island, something that I miss back home. An Thoi and Duong Dong are the only two towns located on Phu Quoc. Small shops and restaurants line the streets, providing tourists with a taste of the island's culture. Sight is not the only sense that is moved when visiting the island, being that smell is strongly affected. Fishing is a very important part of life on Phu Quoc and it is understandable that the smell of fish becomes overwhelming while in town. In the end, this is all worthwhile because the island's restaurants, including the My Lan Restaurant, serve fresh, mouthwatering seafood. Although I was enjoying myself, I could never repress the sadness that I felt when knowing what the future of the island holds. Hotels and small businesses are springing up quickly all around Phu Quoc. This is great for its economy, but in the long run, the environment could become neglected. I noticed that outsiders took great consideration into preserving the nature of the island by keeping it clean, while inhabitants littered nonchalantly. It was rare that we saw trashcans on the island, and this was apparent to many of the restaurant's guests who commented on the garbage bins that my cousin had every few meters apart. It became routine that my father, brothers, and I paraded the shore with an assortment of plastic bags, strings, slippers, candy wrappers, and other items that we've picked up. We were simply doing our part in keeping the beach clean of litter. My hope is that all the people who live on or who visit Phu Quoc will realize the long-term affects of their laziness and negligence of its environment. It is especially hard to change the minds of the inhabitants, because they have not seen the effects of pollution for themselves. The government has plans to develop the island, one that could end up deteriorating its nature. It is arguable for the Vietnamese people to say that America's development has brought it to where it is today, and that they have the same rights. The best that we can do, is to do anything at all, to help preserve Phu Quoc's natural beauty. Being in Phu Quoc was an experience that I will cherish forever. I had to the chance to observe the other side of the world and its many riches. All luxuries cannot replace the beauty of nature's own. When I'm back in Canada, I can only dream of waking up to that beautiful sunrise once again.
Published on 8/23/02