Phu Quoc Island Paradise
Treat yourself to Phuket of two decades ago. Only a 50-minute hop from Saigon lies Phu Quoc, Vietnam's, indeed Southeast Asia's best kept secret. A National Park, the 16-island archipelago of Phu Quoc (aka "the Emerald Isle") lies about 40 kilometers west of Ha Tien and, to many traveler's delight, is located within the Gulf of Thailand which has better weather than Vietnam's coastline destinations such as Nha Trang.
The major island, Phu Quoc, is an 27 miles long and covering an astonishing 732 square miles. Lying only ten miles off the Cambodian coast, the island is disputed territory that also claimed by the Cambodians but the Vietnamese are beginning to develop the island. Phu Quoc Island boasts lush tropical forest and mountain zones. The island is about the size of Singapore, but only about 75,000 people live here. Phu Quoc is blanketed with the largest remaining swath of tropical rain forest in Vietnam. The main activities are fishing and manufacture of the country's finest nuoc mam (fish sauce); about 18,000 inhabitants live mainly in the town of Duong Dong, on the west side of the island.
Phu Quoc has the desolate, pristine beaches Thailand had over thirty years ago, especially in the south (there's one called Kem Beach-Kem meaning "ice cream"). These beaches, unlike others along the wind-swept South China Sea coast in the rest of the country are more like those in Thailand, with calmer with miles of deserted white-sand. Large-scale developers have had there eyes on the island for years as the next Phuket, but as negotiations drag on the place remains pleasantly tranquil and free of tourists. A short one-hour hop from Saigon makes it our top beach recommendation if you are traveling in the south, less developed without the crowds and often windy weather of Nha Trang and Phan Thiet.
Phu Quoc is also known for nuoc mam, a pungent fermented fish sauce. Nearly half the island' s population is dependent on its production. There are coral reefs around the island, good places for diving and snorkeling, offer a chance to see beautiful tropical fish and other marine life. Marine sports focus on deep-sea fishing and snorkeling. There's also bird-watching at a rainforest located in the north of the island. Another minor attraction is the Pearl Farm, which sits about a third of the way down the length of Long Beach. Again a bit of a filler for a very slow or rainy day, the farm includes a small educational display about pearls along with the opportunity to spend a motza on a few sets of earrings.
Hotels are standard, local resorts and there are no high-end luxury properties are yet available. For nearly a decade, Phu Quoc has been of significant interest to resort developers and the government is beginning to take initial steps for formal development agreements, including the completion of a new airport. The island has the potential to rival popular destinations in the region such as Phuket and Krabi. Keep in mind, the island's lack of development means little to do or see, but it's a great escape if your seeking to relax on the sand.
What to do on Phu Quoc?
Despite over a thousand miles of coastline, snorkeling is disappointing in most of Vietnam due to the South China Sea being more like the Atlantic and not the aquamarine tropical seas popular in Thailand. However, Phu Quoc is also on the Gulf of Thailand and offers sublime snorkeling and diving.
When to go?
Visit November-May (June and July can be hot, but very wet); January and February are ideal months. For summer, consider Nha Trang to the north which has much less rainfall during June and July and is where the Six Senses Ninh Van Bay and Ana Mandara Resorts are located.
Also consider Koh Yao, in Thailand for an equivalent getaway in that region. Note: around late December and early January and the lunar new year, hotels fill months in advance.
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