Phu Quoc Island
Phu Quoc, 45km the west coast of Vietnam, can be reached by air Ho Chi Minh City, Can Tho or Rach Gia, and there are boats to the island the coastal towns of Ha Tien or Rach Gia.
It’s a large, teardrop shaped island, about 50km top to bottom and around 30km across at its widest point, with a population of approximately 85,000. The island’s north coast is only some 15km Cambodia, and there is a sizeable military presence there, though it is now generally low profile.
Phu Quoc is part of an archipelago of 105 islands in the Gulf of Thailand, of which 13 are in close proximity to its shores. At over 1,300 square km, it is Vietnam’s largest island. It has some of the country’s best beaches, a large forested area, and coral around the small islands to the south. Although fairly underdeveloped until recently, the island is fast gaining the service level to match its idyllic setting.
Phu Quoc National Park
The northeast corner of the island is hilly and covered in dense forest. It was originally designated as a nature reserve in 1993. Although it was upgraded to National Park status in 2001 and its area expanded, the full extent of its biodiversity is not well documented. The park is one of three core zones within the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve of Kien Giang.
Phu Quoc's beaches are by far the main reason for the interest in the island as a major tourist destination. They are considered the best in Vietnam – experienced travellers have described some of them as the best they have ever seen. Fringed by coconut palms, the sands often stretch as far as the eye can see with hardly a person in sight.
The main town, Duong Dong, is half-way up the island on the western side. It’s a pleasant, but unremarkable small seaport with several 'nuoc mam' (fish sauce) factories and Dinh Cau, a temple devoted to the Whale God. The latter contains skeletons of whales and other large sea mammals used by devotees of the mysterious whale cult. Duong Dong’s fresh seafood is delicious. The local market is lively, and well worth a visit.
Stretching south Duong Dong is Long Beach, the island’s most popular beach with direct frontage resorts and guesthouses. If you want more than this spectacular and extensive stretch of sand, there are numerous other secluded beaches around the island, with varying degrees of accessibility thanks to military area restrictions.
An Thoi, a fishing town at the point of the teardrop, is bigger, noisier and more crowded than Duong Dong but decidedly un-photogenic. It’s not worth adding to your itinerary unless you're keen on the smell of rotting fish.
Serious trekking is curtailed by the military area restrictions, but long hikes along the dirt tracks and paths through the pepper and cashew plantations are straightforward, and there are a few established walking trails.
More glamorous, but less well-known, are Phu Quoc's pearls. Once collected the sea, local pearl farms now produce the iridescent gems. A visit is fascinating, and you can purchase the products for far less than they would cost overseas.
Despite a heavy reliance upon ‘dynamite fishing’ by local fishermen, some of the coral reef has survived, mostly around the islets to the south of the island. Boats for snorkelling can be hired in An Thoi.
There are now two PADI diving centres open on Phu Quoc. Turtle Island off the north-west is reputed to be one of the best dive sites in Vietnam.
On the downside!
The tourism infrastructure on Phu Quoc, quite basic until recently, has been developing rapidly. Service levels are rising fast, but keep in mind that travel is a relatively new industry here. Roads off the main drag will be dirt, some are rough and only appropriate for travel by local ‘xe-om’ (motorbike taxis) or hired motor bike.
There are more accommodation options coming online all the time on the island. Guesthouses are common, there are numerous small resorts and boutique hotels, and a few higher end options are also available. Cafes and restaurants are plentiful. Many now offer international dishes, although naturally most feature local cuisine.
Phu Quoc’s unspoilt beaches, laid-back atmosphere and lack of crowds makes it an excellent ‘get away it all’ holiday for travellers or honeymooners not expecting the full creature comforts of long-established international standard resorts.