If you’re looking for an island where much of the shoreline is untouched, that many say has the best beaches in Vietnam along with the best sunsets, then head to Phu Quoc. The island also makes what they claim is the world’s most famous fish sauce if that influences your choice!
Phu Quoc, which lies in the Gulf of Thailand near the Mekong Delta and the Cambodian border, is Vietnam’s largest island, about 48km long and 19km wide. It’s relatively easy to get to if you’re coming overland from Cambodia and have a visa to let you do that. Or you can fly there from Ho Chi Minh City, a flight that’s short and inexpensive.
Most visitors head for Long Beach because its best known and that’s where most of the hotels are. It starts just south of the main town, Duong Dong. If compared to hotel stretches on beaches in other parts of the world, this one is hardly overdeveloped. But if you’re looking for a place that’s more isolated then there are those too and some are truly spectacular.
There’s not a lot to do on the island and Duong Dong itself is rather uninspiring. So you really need to be in the mood to just hang out. It’s also known for diving and snorkeling. Many of the properties seem a bit like the one in Mama Mia—home grown and a little warn-down. But regulars seem to keep coming back.
I stayed at a place where the restaurant is about three feet from the ocean and I can’t imagine what it would be like in a storm for you feel a little exposed. The atmosphere was casual with people staying in simple cottages around a common area. Based on reviews it seems you either love this sort of atmosphere or hate it. There are more upscale places but that is not the norm although that could change for there’s lots of building going on. The beach here on the west side of the island is very calm in the dry season, sort of like a big swimming pool, but I hear it can be quite rough in the rainy season. It’s a ‘watching the sunset’ place.
A couple of tours are offered by most of the local travel agencies, one taking in the south and the other the north. Some of the roads are in bad shape so the going can be slow. I hired a car and driver and went around most of the island within six hours. You can also hire a motorcycle and driver and ride on the back, a popular and inexpensive option for getting around. Most hotels should be able to arrange this for you.
My driver and I first drove up the coast north of Long Beach and I must say the whole area is magnificent and the waterfront largely untouched. We stopped at what he claimed were the best beaches and I’m sure they would all win gold stars. Close to the northern tip the road quickly deteriorated until it was almost impassable and that’s in the dry season so I wouldn’t advise doing it in the rainy season. There are fishing communities along the way and its the sort of place where you can just stop for awhile and watch the fishermen go about their business.
We crossed to the east side of the island to see the fishing town of Ham Ninh and its market with all sorts of oddities before heading down the eastern coast to what many consider to be the best beach in all of Vietnam, Sao Bay. This is a day beach with some good restaurants and is particularly loved by locals.
Just a little further south is the notorious Coconut Prison (Cay Dua) that was established by the French colonists and later used to hold Viet Cong prisoners during the Vietnam War. The photos and write-ups are rather horrific. At the southern tip are the An Thoi Islands, a group of 15 islands that are popular with divers and snorkelers. There are other interesting stops along the route, such as pepper plantations (black or white pepper, the kind you shake) and a couple of oyster farms.
Quite simply, if you’re looking for a fine place to chill out for a few days and just enjoy the sea views then go to Phu Quoc.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses 2012