Tim Rann lives in Hanoi. While working for an adventure travel company, he worked for a company that hosts tours for socially-conscious travelers who want to give back during their travels. He currently works in “social businesses” — sustainable enterprises that address social inequalities, providing training, employment, and career growth opportunities to women who have suffered extreme human rights abuses.
“With a week off of work, I began thinking of traveling. An advertisement for a resort in Phu Quoc appeared in my Gmail window. For many years I had taken in the beautiful view of Phu Quoc island from the shores of nearby Kep, Cambodia. I had always wanted to visit that vast, mountainous island that is, at points, just four kilometers away.
Fun Fits in a Dry Bag
My goal while traveling is to carry as little as possible for the greatest amount of freedom. My pack raft, a Sea Eagle FastTrack 385 rolls up into a 20 kg backpack, and I fit my other belongings (a cook pot, jungle hammock, steel hobo cup, change of clothing, some granola bars, coffee, and a few books) into two dry bags. I’ll buy food and anything else I fancy on the island. Thanks to the free PDF map from Visit Phu Quoc I decide to leave my GPS at home and focus on the scenery. With everything I need on my back for a week of adventuring, I set off to Phu Quoc.
Day 1-2: One of the Most Beautiful Beaches in Vietnam
The airplane touches down at 11:30AM. I check into a hostel and am paddling along the aptly named Long Beach by 12:15.
As the sun begins to set, I paddle ashore near the lighthouse in Duong Dong Town and pack up my kayak. With an hour or so to kill until the night market is in full swing, I wander around the lighthouse and sit down at a cafe for some pomelo juice.
Soaked in seawater and carrying my Sea Eagle, the touts at the night market seafood stands know they have a hungry customer – kayaking burns a whole lot of calories. I settle on a grilled baguette with garlic butter. A few BBQ fish and grilled potatoes later, I am waddling slowly down the road to my hostel.
My plan is to spend one more night in the main town, Duong Dong, before heading to the more sparsely inhabited northern part of the island. I hire a motorcycle driver and head to Sao Beach, often highlighted as one of the most beautiful beaches in Vietnam. It absolutely lives up to its reputation – certainly the best beach I’ve visited in Vietnam.
After a lunch of grilled shrimp with fresh peppercorn sauce I pack up my boat and return to the other side of the island to watch the squid fishing boats head out to sea and I paddle around until sunset.
Day 3-6: Vung Bao Beach Solitude
Early the next morning I catch a taxi to Vung Bao Beach. I inflate my Sea Eagle kayak and paddle out into the bay with no destination or itinerary – I just want to enjoy my movement in the water, see what I can see, and spend a whole lot of time in solitude.
I paddle along a long, empty beach and pull into shore near a willow tree for a respite from the lovely sun. I hop out of my kayak into the clear, warm water and pull my kayak onto the beach. The willow tree embraces me as I roll out my favorite mat and lie down.
I wander up the beach a bit. To my delight, I find a beautiful river behind a small dune. I run back to my kayak, paddle up to the dune and portage the kayak across the five or so meters of sand that separate the river and sea during low tide.
Kayaking Deep Into Phu Quock National Park
In the calm river, my kayak glides along silently. Winding around a small mountain, I let the river guide me deeper into Phu Quoc National Park. Birds sing a welcome tune, while monkeys hoot to each other in the distance and toss themselves from treetop to treetop. At times, the river flows through mangroves and splits into various directions. I am fully aware this is the only time I’ll be here; that this trip upriver and this calm tropical day are gifts.
With the sun beginning its descent, I reluctantly head back to the bay and search for a spot of sand to rest for the night. Setting up camp is one of my favorite activities. It’s funny how I daydream and plan trips that get me away from my normal routine, yet they thrust me into a new, arguably more menial, one: unpack kayak, deflate/roll-up kayak, clear campsite, check for fire ants on trees (a critical step!), string up hammock, scavenge lots of driftwood, pull out necessities, hang extra bags, bathe.
I do all of these tasks in deep, peaceful awareness – a prayer with all of my body participating. This late afternoon is a gift; from whom or what is another question entirely. I’ve pushed aside philosophy and theology on this trip, for I want to experience my connection to the world. I thank everything around me for this gift: the tree for providing shelter, the sun for its gentle warmth, the water for cleaning my body, and the tiny crabs for the companionship and endless entertainment on this lonely beach.
As the sun melts over the trees in the distance, I build a small fire to keep me company. It’s only seven-thirty, so I lie down, watch the stars and let my fire slowly consume itself. I’ve come to realize, there’s plenty to explore on the surface of our lovely, albeit fragile, planet.
Kayak Bought on a Whim
I consider the fact that I don’t know a thing about kayaks or kayaking. I only learned how to swim properly two years ago, and I bought my pack raft on a whim after hearing a friend talk about how much he loved his. Along with my bicycle, I suppose, it’s my vehicle to experience the world. I don’t paddle or cycle for fitness (though being fit helps make journeys more enjoyable). My kayak, then, is quite literally my raft to the other shore, as one extraordinary individual put it before.
I awake before dawn and coax my fire back to life. I have a couple of hours before it is light enough to set out, so I boil a few fresh, speckled eggs and meditate next to the water. I sense something in the tree behind me. I turn around slowly and, much to my pleasure, a hornbill has settled down on a low-hanging branch. I’ve never seen a colorful tropical bird in the wild before – quite a special treat on a cold, breezy morning. At that moment, I am in awe of nature’s chaotic beauty. We share a glance at each other and then it flies away.
Just a Visitor Experiencing Beauty
Excited for another day of wandering, I pack all of my belongings and push my kayak into the calm morning water. I am simply a humble visitor and the trees and beach will go about their changes as they have for millions of years – high tide, low tide, sunrise, sunset. My only semi-permanent mark will be sharing this story.
I paddle my kayak between a tiny islet and the rocky tip of the bay. As I round the corner, a new stretch of beach slowly appears. I have no destination or schedule; just a desire to see what is around the next bend. Free from any established path, I can experience this beauty however I choose: I can view the whole area from afar, drop my rock-rope anchor and go snorkeling, paddle in closer to see the details of the fishing boats and beach, or land my kayak and wander around on foot. My kayak moves fast enough to stave off boredom, but slow enough to allow me to soak in every detail. It is a lovely way to take in new sights.
I paddle around one last outcropping and, just a few strokes later, Cambodia comes into view. I paddle onward, fried fish w/pepper sauce on my mind. I arrive back at my campsite just before sunset and settle in for the night. I wake up late the next morning.
This was a trip of gratitude. A trip I needed to confirm that, indeed, I am a small part of this world but at the same time connected to it, in debt to it and in awe of it. I don’t find it important who or what I should direct my gratitude. What matters is that gratitude has been cultivated and experienced, and I can draw upon it as from a well. So, I give my thanks to all that was around me on this trip: the hornbill, the mangroves, the tin cup of hot coffee, the kind woman selling chicken eggs on the road, campfires, my kayak, the flying fish, and many more. It is not often that one has the opportunity to sit and get to know oneself for a few quiet days. As I paddle past the islet, I drop my makeshift anchor and lay down in my kayak to watch the sunset one last time on Phu Quoc.
Read more about Tim’s travels and adventures on his blog.
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