After only 50 minute flying from Ho Chi Minh City, you will set foot on the tropical paradise of Vietnam and the world: Phu Quoc Island. Fringed with white-sand beaches and with large tracts still cloaked in dense tropical jungle, Phu Quoc Island rapidly morphed from a sleepy island backwater to a must-visit beach escape for Western expats and sun-seeking tourists.
With picture-perfect white sand, the delightful curve of beautiful Sao Beach bends out alongside a sea of mineral-water clarity just a few kilometres from An Thoi, the main shipping port at the southern tip of the island. There are a couple of beachfront restaurants, where you can settle into a deckchair or partake in water sports. If heading down to Sao Beach by motorbike, fill up with petrol before the trip.
Vung Bau Beach
Appealing northern beach reachable via the coastal road. The waves are rough and it’s a little neglected, but it means that you can have the beach without the crowds. Be quick, development is in the works.
Long Beach is draped invitingly along the west coast from Duong Dong almost to An Thoi port. Development concentrates in the north near Duong Dong, where the recliners and rattan umbrellas of the various resorts rule; these are the only stretches that are kept garbage-free. With its west-facing aspect, sunsets can be stupendous.
A motorbike or bicycle is necessary to reach some of the remote stretches flung out towards the southern end of the island. There should be no problem for beachcombers to stretch out their towels on the sand, but you may get moved on quickly if you get too close to the paying guests.
There are several small lanes heading from the main Tran Hung Dao drag down to Long Beach that shelter some of the nicest places to stay and eat. There are a few bamboo huts where you can buy drinks, but bring water if planning a long hike along the beach. Beachside massages are popular, but be clear about what you’re paying for: a neck rub can quickly turn into a foot massage, manicure and leg-hair threading – often all simultaneously.
Ong Lan Beach
Ong Lan Beach has a series of sandy bays sheltered by rocky headlands. Several midrange resorts in this area service those wanting to get away from everything (apart from the comfort of said resorts).
Dinh Cau Temple
This combination temple and lighthouse was built in 1937 to honour Thien Hau, the Goddess of the Sea, who provides protection for sailors and fishers. Sometimes called a ‘castle’, Dinh Cau gives you a good view of the harbour entrance and the promenade is popular with locals taking a stroll at sunset.
Coi Nguon Museum
With displays on Vietnamese medicines, Stone Age tools, a boatful of barnacle-encrusted ceramics, oddly compelling shell-covered furniture and a small room devoted to the island prison, this private museum is an oddball introduction to Phu Quoc history and culture. But did the marine fauna section really require the untimely demise of 14 hawksbill turtles?
Compared with the waterlogged Mekong Delta, Phu Quoc has very little surface moisture, but there are several springs originating in the hills. The most accessible of these is Suoi Tranh; look for the entrance sign and concrete tree from the Duong Dong–Vong Beach road. From the ticket counter it’s a 10-minute walk through the forest to the falls.
Suoi Da Ban
Suoi Da Ban is a white-water creek tumbling across some attractive large granite boulders. There are deep pools and it’s nice enough for a dip. Bring plenty of mosquito repellent. For the falls, the best months to visit are between May and September – by the end of the dry season there’s little more than a trickle.
Phu Quoc National Park
About 90% of Phu Quoc is forested and the trees and adjoining marine environment enjoy official protection. This is the last large stand of forest in the south, and in 2010 the park was declared a Unesco Biosphere Reserve. The forest is densest in northern Phu Quoc, in the Khu Rung Nguyen Sinh forest reserve; you’ll need a motorbike or mountain bike to tackle the bumpy dirt roads that cut through it. There are no real hiking trails.
The island’s main town and chief fishing port on the central west coast is a tangle of budget hotels catering to domestic tourists, streetside stalls, bars and shops. The old bridge in town is a great vantage point to photograph the island’s scruffy fishing fleet crammed into the narrow channel, and the filthy, bustling produce market makes for an interesting stroll.
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