It’s a bonus for tourists going to Phu Quoc Island to experience spectacular sunsets and what better way to do it than on a fishing tour?
I spent hours at the beach waiting for the sun to go down off the southern province of Kien Giang, enjoying the fading light as it gradually overwhelmed the surrounding landscape.
Fade out with sunset: Sunset on Phu Quoc is beautiful, especially the moment when the fading light gradually overwhelms the surrounding landscape. — VNS Photos Le Huong
I took photos of the sun each evening, getting bigger and bigger as it descended into the horizon, until a decision to take a sunset fishing tour led me to one of the most remarkable experiences of my travel diary.
Booking a package tour at local Dao Ngoc (Pearl Island) Tourism Company, I was picked up at the hotel by a local guide and taken to the wharf together with other tourists. Dozens of fishing and tourism boats were anchored there and a lot of tourists were already on board our vessel.
The sunlight faded and we enjoyed breezes from the sea as the boat gradually powered away from the shore and Duong Dong Town, centre of Phu Quoc Island, became visible from a new angle. Electric lights from shops were coming on at Dinh Cau Night Market, which was almost in full swing, ready for a busy night.
Dinh Cau Temple, which stood on the top of rough cliffs, looked as if it was protruding into the sea and it soon became the only spot on land we could see. I now understand why local fishermen went there to wish for a lucky trip.
We all flocked forward to take photos of the sun, which was then as bright as a big orange on the sea. I felt I was so small in the middle of such immense nature.
Victory trophy: A tourist shows off his catch – a still-moving squid.
After 20 minutes, the ship anchored for the main event. Darkness overwhelmed the whole scene. The captain turned on all the lights, including white neons surrounding the deck, to attract the fish and squid.
I saw other well-lit tourist boats in the distance with loud music. It was a bustling night on the sea, away from the bustle on the land.
One of the crew showed us how to fish. He spoke slowly while hanging small pieces of squids on hooks as bait.
I took a line already baited and dropped it into the sea. The man told me to lift the line up and down so the hooks floated midway to the sea bed as a trick to lure squid.
Other guests patiently held their lines, gazing hopefully into the depths, from where sparkling florescence darted, hungry squid and fish. Some fish even jumped out of the water.
The man next to me suddenly jerked up his line with a fresh squid hanging from a hook. We were all so happy with his triumph that we took pictures of him with his still-moving squid.
A moment later other guests caught squid but I was not so lucky on the night.
After two hours, when we had lost patience with hooks and lines, the captain announced dinner was ready, which turned out to be fresh boiled fish served with a tasty fish sauce. A bowl of rice porridge with shrimp and the very results of our recent endeavours – fresh squid – which enriched the sweet taste of the porridge.
Also on the menu was sea urchin (nhum, also known as nhim bien or cau gai), which are a black, round thorny species, about 5cm in diameter, stuffed with fried onion and roasted shredded peanuts.
I tried one with pepper and salt. It was strange. The taste was not like any other seafood. Its meat and eggs were both sweet and tasty like those of sea crabs, which mingled with the salty flavour of the sea.
A fisherman told me sea urchins always gathered in schools around cliffs and coral reefs, where they could eat seaweed. The species was popular in southern coastal areas of Ca Na, Ninh Thuan, Phu Quoc and Kien Giang.
He told me when searching for sea urchins near cliffs, he had to use 1m tongs because its thorns were long and sharp.
He added that there were various kinds of sea urchins: white or orange ones with shorter thorns, yet containing little meat; thorny versions with longer and sharper thorns; black sea urchins, which were more delicious, with fatty meat and consequently were overall favourite.
People prepared sea urchins in different ways, he said. In central region, locals stir-fried the inside meat in fat for a short time before cooking it in a rice porridge pan.
In Phu Quoc, locals baked sea urchins over coals, adding onion and oil. Japanese preferred eating them fresh with mustard and lemon.
The fisherman repeated again and again that sea urchins were both tasty and nutritious.
“It’s a Viagra for locals,” he said with a wink.
Our stories on special sea food in Phu Quoc would last forever if I did not hear the whistle of the boat as it reached the dock.
That night I slept well and dreamt of twinkling stars and a soothing sea. — VNS, by Le Huong
Under the sea: On Phu Quoc, locals bake sea urchins over coals, adding onion and oil. Japanese prefer eating them fresh with mustard and lemon.