Meet Edgar, a Scuba Dive Instructor and underwater photographer living and enjoying life on Phu Quoc Island. The following is his expat story.
What is your name and where are you from?
My name is Edgars Balodis, and I’m from Latvia, a country in northern Europe with population of 2 million people, and a coastline with the Baltic Sea and borders with Estonia, Lithuania, Russia and Belarus.
When did you arrive and how long have you been here?
The first time I came to Phu Quoc was in 2014 and my original plan was to stay here for just 1 month. I actually had a return plane ticket, but on the day of departing flight I decided to be on a scuba dive boat here on Phu Quoc instead. Then I stayed for an additional 6 months. A bit more than year ago I came to the island a second time.
What do you miss about Latvia that you can find here?
Some snow around Christmas time and New Year’s would be good.
What keeps you here in Phu Quoc?
Positive vibrations, Vietnamese soups and life on island itself.
What type of Visa do you have?
I have a 1 year multiple entry visa
Where do you live in Phu Quoc and how did you find your place?
In the rainy season I was living in Bun Goi, now I’m living in Cua Lap road area. I found my place via a recommendation made by a friend.
If you do not mind us asking, how much do you pay per month for rent?
5,000,000 VND per month or roughly $220.00USD.
What is the cost of living like compared with your home country of Latvia?
Everything depends on your lifestyle, but basic things like accommodation and food here are cheaper.
When did you start diving? How many recorded dives?
I always had an interest in different kinds of water activities, but the first time I tried scuba diving was in 2012 and since then I’ve done approximately 1,200 dives.
What is the deepest you ever dove?
I don’t think about diving as competition or place where to setting records. But I did some dives where it’s “deep and dark”. Exploring sometimes is interesting.
What professional scuba diving licenses do you hold? What organization?
PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor and First Emergency response instructor, as well as deep diving, wreck diving and underwater photography instructor licenses.
Do you have your own gear?
Yes, it’s standard in the diving industry for each dive professional to have their own set of equipment. It’s important to be familiar with your gear and to be comfortable with it.
Who do you currently work for?
I currently work as a freelance instructor with several dive centers on Phu Quoc Island. My working days include everything from try dives and fun dives to courses and boat trips.
Do you have gear for tourists who want to go on an independent dive with you and not with a scuba dive company?
Yes, I will help to organize that.
How many recorded dives in Phu Quoc?
Roughly 500 of my lifetime dives were done here in Phu Quoc. Another big part of my diving life is from Cyprus. The rest of my scuba dives were in the Philippines, Latvia and Estonia.
What is the worst thing that has happened to you while diving in Phu Quoc?
Probably I felt a bit cold. Even in 29 degrees of water it’s possible if the dive is long.
What is your favorite diving spot in Phu Quoc and why?
Few spots in the An Thoi Archipelago comes to mind. For example the east side of Hon Dam Island is a very good dive site. I saw quite a few unique creatures there which I didn’t see anywhere else.
The marine protected area around Hon Gam Ghi is also interesting. I have also had amazing dives in the north as well.
What can the average tourist/recreational diver expect to see while diving in Phu Quoc.
Hard corals, soft corals, to list a few – butterfly fish, parrotfish, pastel wrasse. In general small to medium size aquatic life.
Have you seen any sharks while diving (e.g. bamboo shark, reef shark etc).
I personally have not, but I have heard that other divers in Phu Quoc have seen bamboo sharks.
What are some of the coolest marine life you have encountered?
It’s also about animal behavior. For example I remember a huge barracuda decided to buddy up and follow close to me for 20 minutes. Fun experience. From unusual aquatic life I remember a moving feather star. It’s rare to see them “flying”. Normally they are very passive and can live in one place for long periods of time. I also saw some stingrays and banded sea snakes. Couple of times yellow boxfish. Rare macro stuff like specific nudibranches, Spanish dancers etc. Turtle – only once so far.
If there is one animal that reflects scuba diving here in Phu Quoc, what would that animal be?
It must be butterfly fish. I see them in 9/10 dives
How many different species of nudibranches have you seen here in Phu Quoc, as they are quite popular in the Gulf of Thailand?
Around ten or so.
How would you describe the visibility here?
It’s not a secret that the visibility in Phu Quoc waters is limited, on average it is 5 to 6 m. Rarely does it get better than 8 to 9 m.
North or South, which is a better place to scuba dive and why?
South, because the aquatic life and the dive sites here are more diverse. But for diving in the South the weather conditions must be good. On the wrong day the South can be a very rough place with strong currents. The North is more predictable.
Have you had a chance to dive around the Tho Chu islands?
Unfortunately no. I would like to see how it looks like there though.
Who names the scuba diving spots in Phu Quoc? Are there any standards that all dive shops honor?
Turtle Island (Hon Doi Moi) is Turtle Island for everyone. But dive sites in the South can be named differently for different dive centers.
About standards to honor. I would like to think that each diving and snorkeling boat avoids dropping anchor on a reef and instructs snorkelers not to stand on the corals and divers to treat marine life with respect and obviously no trash over board.
How would you describe the health of the reefs?
There are still healthy reefs around, but over fishing does not help at all to keep them like that.
Have you ever encountered illegal fishermen/netting? If so, describe your experience.
It’s not surprising to see fishing traps underwater. Sometimes we see guys with breathing hoses from boats, jumping from coral to coral and scraping out oysters.
How would you improve the scuba diving offering in Phu Quoc?
A good start would be to limit fishing at least around dive sites and reefs.
Does anyone test the sea water for chemicals, oil spills chloroform etc?
Possibly, I never heard about it though.
How does Phu Quoc compare with those other places in Vietnam? How does it compare with other places in the world?
It’s difficult to compare, there is something unique in each place.
Diving instructors usually stick together, is this true on Phu Quoc Island? If so, where do they hang out?
Mostly hanging out with colleagues from the same dive center, but everyone shares the same harbor and dive sites, so more or less we know each other and have friendly relationship.
If someone wanted to work as a scuba dive instructor or in the scuba dive industry in Phu Quoc, what advice/guidance would you give them? How can they find a job? What is the average monthly salary like? Is there demand?
Best bet would be first to explore as much as possible about island and diving here, find out info about dive centers and then send out CV's.
Highest demand is before high season starts. Salary depends on experience and center.
What is your favorite beach? Which one is your least favorite?
Vung Bau beach usually is not to busy and that’s what I’m looking for when going to beach. Sao beach is the opposite.
Where do you buy groceries?
I’m not cooking by myself often, but for fruits sometimes I go to the local market next to Duong Dong River.
What is your favorite bar? What is your favorite Vietnamese beer?
The Rabbit Hole Irish bar is a good place. Saigon and tiger is ok but I prefer some cocktail or wine.
What is your favorite food? What is your favorite restaurant?
For local food my top choice is bo kho soup at local eateries, it is definitely my favorite.
I like “The Fish” restaurant/hotel. A cozy place to relax and eat or drink some coffee/juice.
What is one thing you like about Phu Quoc? What is one thing you don’t like?
Roads are good, traffic could be better.
If we had just one day on the island, what should we not miss?
Why just one day? Extend it at least to week.
What is 1 thing, from your view, that those visiting Phu Quoc must absolutely do above all else.
Take a boat trip to the southern An Thoi Islands.
What do you think about all the changes happening on the island?
Changes and development itself is ok, as long as the environment is preserved.
Is there any piece of advice that you would like to tell others about living on Phu Quoc Island?