The scheduled tours were all-day group tours and included things we were not interested in doing, so we decided to hire a car and driver for four hours. That’s long enough for us. I was glad when a nice young lady, Quyen, came along as a guide. First we went to the Pearl Farm, well not really a farm. There were fishing boats out on the water but basically it was a store with high priced pearls. The only saving grace was they had a short
demonstration on how the pearls were harvested. We made a quick stop at the market in town – Doung Dong. We have been to many night/street markets and we don’t really shop so that was a short visit. There is a nice museum however that covered the history of the area from prehistoric times to the present plus displays on sea creatures, traditional medicine, and spices.
Next stop was a Pepper Farm. The pepper plants were interesting. They look like tall slender trees. The island may be noted for pearls but pepper has been one of their biggest crops. In fact Vietnam is the world’s largest producer and exporter of pepper; however, some are now switching to grapes hoping to get a niche in the wine industry, which is more profitable. Today spices are relatively inexpensive but at one time they were a luxury item for Europeans because the most desired spices such as pepper, ginger, vanilla, and cinnamon could not be grown in Europe. At that time sugar was considered a spice. To “spice” up their foods Europeans used herbs. Wars were fought over control of the spice trade routes. The search for a faster, safer and less expensive way to get the spices led to the Age of Exploration.
The last stop on the trip was to the Phu Quoc Prison. Many people know about the “Hanoi Hilton” prison where Sen. John McCain and others were held during the Vietnam War (the American War to the Vietnamese) but little is said about similar camps in South Vietnam. The prison was built by the French colonialists and called the Coconut Tree Prison but was later used as a Prisoner of War camp to incarcerate those who fought on the side of North Vietnam. The displays using life-like
mannequins were upsetting as many show horrific tortures such as incarceration in a “Tiger Cage” and severe beatings were common. I realize that the tortures were not any different that what the North Vietnamese did to the Americans POWs. Most of the