Prof. Lee Keun-yeop, Ph.D.
New Year's Day this year meant to me an adio to my octogenarian days. In celebration my wife, Nguyen Thi Viet Hong offered a "full scholarship" Vietnam tour. Our entrouge consisted of my 10th grader daughter Lee Pizza, my wife, and of me.
Before boarding at the Incheon Air Port a woman in her 50s approached me, gazing at me for a few seconds. Instantly I thought she might be my college student. She cordially asked my age. "Not that much... around 90," said I. She called her husband in and said, "Listen, this elder is at his 90. Yet he can freely make overseas tour like this, adding she misses her father who died at 81.
After a few days’ stay in Hanoi my wife offered one week bonus trip to the Phu Quoc Island, the southernmost island of Vietnam. I was thrilled.
We visited the island 5 years ago. We boarded the Vietjet Air, Com carrier of around 300 seats. After one and a half hours' flight, I looked down on the panorama view of the great Mekong Delta below from 7,000 meter altitude.
There were glistening lakes, plantations, and the maze of road network, The Mekong Delta keeps a bitter memory of the Vietnam War. This area was one of the fiercest battle grounds of the Vietnam War.
During 1965-1973, US combat troops plunged into the "mission impossible" theater of Vietnam War, suffering 45 thousand casualties and 300 thousand wounded in actions, and, most of all, the humiliating war defeat.
The majestic Mekong River(ideographically meaning Mother River, or alias Culong River meaning Nine Dragon River) twists itself a dragon's soar, eventually drains into the ASEAN Sea(the South China Sea, this name was dubbed by the European map makers in 19th c.)Far away in the sea a mall patch of dark island was barely spotted.
That's the infamous Con Dao Island (Poulo Condore in French). In French colonial era and later under the former Saigon government, thousands of Vietnamese independence fighters and revolutionaries were detained 'in the prison here, tortured, executed, thrown into the so-called "tiger cage", and shot dead in escape attempts.
In 1998, on my visit to this island I witnessed the cells of Pham Van Dong, Le Duc Tho, Truong Chinh, to name but a few. In each of their cells I saw the leg cuff chains linked to an iron bar that was stuck into the concrete floor of 3 square meter's space. Hon. Pham Van Dong later became Prime Minister throughout 30 years of Vietnam war. Hon. Le Duc Tho, former foreign minister of the south Vietnam's Revolutionary Interim Government, became Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Hon.Truong Chinh became General Secretary of the Communist Party of S. R. of Vietnam.
I laid flowers on the gravestone of the young martyr Vo Thi Sau. She was executed at the age of 16 by the Saigon regime. On the gravestone were laid a tainted plastic comb and a rusty water kettle she used in the cell. Both invited my tears.
Now after two hours' flight from Hanoi our carrier touched down at the Phu Quoc Air Port. We checked in in La HANA Resort Hotel. A staffer answered to me, "HANA'' means flower in Japanese. We also have the HANA Tour in Seoul. I do'nt know the relation of both, or if any. Although buildings of the Resort are all thatched the insides of the cabins are as good as those of the three star hotels. The services of all crew members here were very professional and humane.
Five years ago, due to the construction of the beach side main street was under way. Now the five years of time span brought about a huge changes to the vicinity. The street was lined up by KARAOKE clubs, coffee shops, Café and Restaurants, Indian Restaurant, sea food restaurants, and what not.
There in the street corner, a Hyundai car center was spotted. We see heavy traffics in the air and the streets. The whole atmosphere feels like that of southern Seoul's Gangnam area.
The emerald blue sea water extends to the far away horizon. The breast deep sea bed extends nearly 100 meters from ashore. No surfing here, for it is a sea of perennial tranquility, an ever gently rolling cradle for old folks like me. The Chaps Elysees style hotel buildings add beauty and decency to this coco not tree beach. There we see mammoth beachside hotels are under construction.
Unlike Pataya beach of Thailand the Phu Quoc beach is free of jellyfish' The Thai Air's daily flight whisks host of Thai tourists to Phu Quoc. The cuisines here are as colorful and tasty as those of Bangkok restaurants.
Unlike Brisbane of Australia, not a single shark attack has been reported for a century here in Phu Quoc. I encountered lots of Australians here.
Sea bathers here are Westerners. Ladies from Novocivirsk and Grasnosk of Siberia, group tourists from Vladivostok on their leaves, some from Australia, offsprings of French colons under the French colonial era, and British claiming Pakistani Britons. I spotted paragliders over a hill. The oceanic breeze seems to be fit for this sport.
A cable car travel which links six islands is another thrill. I'd like to call this archipelago Vietnam's Key South after Florida's Key West. From the condora I spotted a huge school of fishing boats harbored in a small port beneath, at the cable car end we set out on a speedo boat sea cruise which 'carried us to a Mediterranean Sea scuba diving above the coral reefs and leisurely swimming surrounded by islets. We were eventually brought to an isolate beach for another dip. If I name here, it's the Robinson Crusoe beach.
On our return cruise a melody flowed out of my mouth, "Down the way, the nights are gay, and the sun shines daily on the mountain top.....", who knows, it's "Jamaica Farewell", a 1950s caripso balad sung by our Harry Belafonte.
After my first visit here five years ago, I advised a friend in Seoul to invest for a golf course here in Phu Quoc. It's within 30 minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City, the heartland of Vietnam's economic throb.
The guide told me that the construction of an 18 hole golf course was finished a few years ago and the CEO is a Vietnamese entrepreneur.
Dear readers, let me add an old saying, "To see is to "believe" the Asia's Miami Beach and land of opportunities.
Editor's note: For Phu Quoc trip Eastarjet's, Incheon-Phu Quoc direct flight is available.