Lying in hammock, looking out over a glassy Gulf of Thailand glowing amber from the setting sun, consider yourself lucky to be in the know about one of Vietnam’s best kept secrets. Covering a total area of 574 square kilometres, Phu Quoc Island gets almost none of the press as those islands over in Thailand — and yet with its rugged jungle, seductive sands and sparkling waters, it more than matches them. Sadly, developers have taken notice of the island’s potential and change is afoot. With a new international airport, cruise ship port and an enticing visa-exemption scheme, Phu Quoc is being primed for mass tourism.
Long Beach is the star and it is bearing the brunt of the boom. In the dry season, the 20-plus kilometre stretch of yellow sand that runs from Duong Dong town down the central west coast of the island is the liveliest beach of the island, the entire length offering beachfront accommodation and places to play, laze and dig into seafood while digging your feet in the sand. Being one of the few beach destinations in Vietnam with a western coast, at the end of the day everyone gathers here to worship the memorable sunset.
If beach bustle isn’t your scene, it’s possible to find that wild, unspoilt feeling that first drew travellers here. Phu Quoc’s freshly paved arterial roads coupled with dramatic scenery make it a fantastic place to explore by motorbike. Ong Lang, Bai Vung and Bai Sao are just a few of the beaches you should consider staying at or at least visit. Anyone with a window seat on the plane will be struck by how staggeringly green the island is. More than half of it is national park and in 2006 the island was included in the UNESCO designation of Kien Giang as a World Biosphere Reserve. The north and east coast remains relatively untouched by tourism. If you want to experience what the island was like just 10 years ago, head out on the dirt roads that will take you past lush jungle and the island’s many famed pepper plantations.
But surf and sand is what you’re probably here for and whether you’re after PADI certification, to find Nemo through a snorkel mask or just want to splash around, a day on the water is a must. Better yet, charter a boat to discover paradise in the An Thoi islands, an archipelago of 15 islands and islets off the southern coast where you’ll find secluded coves, soft white sand, azure waters, coral reefs and no people.
If for some reason you get bored of the beach there are some minor sights to hold your interest such as pearl farms, a night market packed to the gills with seafood, an old prison, Suoi Tranh stream and a museum – they’re easy to find. You can also follow your nose to the fish sauce factories in town.
Jerry’s Jungle Tours are popular and the private-only tour is customised to your interests, be it the main sights or off-the-beaten track jungle, beaches and villages. We weren’t able to experience the tour ourselves – he was booked solid for three weeks, a testament to his popularity. Needless to say, if you’re interested book in advance. Motorbike tours are about US$44 per person a day, a driver included should you need one. T: (093) 822 6021; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://jerrystours.wix.com/jerrystours.
Phu Quoc is at a crossroads and while the days of snagging a $20 beachside bungalow are almost over, reasonable accommodation can still be found. Reasonable accommodation does not include Vinpearl Resort, the behemoth 750-keys hotel that defies all sane reason. Opened in 2014 and devouring what once was considered the prettiest beach of the island, the complex includes Vinpearl Land amusement and water park, an aquarium, golf course and the new Vinpearl Safari, which claims to host more than 200 rare animals. One can only shake their head and wonder where and how they procured a Bengal tiger, rhino and lions. Next on the “oh please no” list on the same stretch of coast is Grand World, a casino, resort, condo and shopping mall development.
The island’s still-unspoiled natural spots are really worth seeking out and many make Phu Quoc their final stop in Vietnam, only to find that a couple of nights just aren’t enough. Do yourself a favour and plan for extra days, or stay a week if you can.
Visit Phu Quoc before it becomes the next Phuket.
The upside down tear-shaped island is 48 kilometres from top to southern tip. It is a 1 hour 15 minute fast-ferry ride from the border town of Ha Tien, 15 kilometres from Cambodia, or 2 hours 30 minutes from coastal city Rach Gia. The northeast of the island is heavily forested and includes the Phu Quoc National Park.
An increasingly popular way to get to Phu Quoc is by flight. The airport is nine kilometres south of Duong Dong town. Several flights daily run from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, and more flights are expected to be added.
Dry season lasts from November to April. Peak tourist season is December to February and Tet holiday, when rates skyrocket and hotels are packed. There’s a small spike during Vietnamese summer holiday from June to August, but low season rates still apply. Rainy season lasts from May to October, when you can expect rough seas and regular downpours, with April and May being unpleasantly hot.
ATMs are found at the airport, on Long Beach and Duong Dong town. If you’re staying elsewhere, especially on a more remote part of the island, stock up on cash in town.
Motorbike is a popular way to get around the island and all hotels and guesthouses have rentals. The speed limit in town is a strict 40 kilometres per hour, on the highway 50 kilometres per hour. However, by law, in order to drive a motorbike, foreigners must have an International Driving Permit. This is enforced through regular traffic stops and if you’re caught, expect to pay a fine. See our Transport section for more details. Do take care when driving on the dirt roads, which require some experience and finesse. It’s not uncommon to see people hobbling into their hotel with a tale about hitting a slippery patch of sand.
Phu Quoc was designated a special economic zone and international visitors can get a 30-day visa exemption. It applies to foreigners who enter, exit and transit by air (you must show proof of a round-trip ticket to/from Phu Quoc) or those who arrive by cruise ship. If you want to go elsewhere in Vietnam after Phu Quoc, you need a Vietnam visa.
By Cindy Fan.
Last updated on 14th October, 2016.