Phu Quoc, an emerging vacation hotspot in Southeast Asia, is, despite rapid development, still half-built, for all intents and purposes.
The endless expanse of white sand known as Long Beach can be lined with vying resorts for guests, and the new international airport – opened in 2012 – is a significant improvement over the old airstrip. regional, but there is a lot here that remains unfinished, or not yet started at all.
Why you should add Vietnam to your bucket list
Phu Quoc’s main selling points are stunning beaches perfect for lazing around, inviting waters perfect for swimming, and tiny islets to the south designed for refreshing exploration. Life here cannot be rushed even if the fate of the world depended on rush.
Nonetheless, this tiny rock in the Gulf of Thailand has more to offer than perfect sandy expanses and abundant reefs for snorkeling and scuba diving.
Here’s how you can fully immerse yourself in what Phu Quoc has to offer, apart from these amazing beaches.
Mopeds and scooters are the most popular form of transportation on the island, and for good reason – cheap to drive, they’re also sturdy enough that they won’t give in at the first sign of uneven tarmac.
This option is not for the faint hearted, however, thanks to open-minded interpretations of the rules of the road.
A great alternative is to simply hire a taxi in half-day blocks, which will cost around £ 20 for four people to share, with no distance restrictions.
Go over that time and just pay for four extra hours, which is enough to see a lot.
Go down a river in the jungle
The village of Cua Can takes its name from the largest river in Phu Quoc, which originates in the national park dominating much of the northeast of the island, before winding its way to the Gulf of Thailand.
It’s possible to rent kayaks, rowboats, or even commandeer a larger ship – with captain – and cruise down this waterway, which is flanked by thick jungle foliage and flows under many dilapidated wooden bridges that are said to be among the best preserved in the whole of Southeast Asia.
Head to a Buddhist temple
Phu Quoc’s permanent population is around 100,000 and as such the island lacks structures of global significance, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing to see, as evidenced by Ho Quoc Pagoda in an instant.
Although it may look like an ancient place of peace and quiet, construction actually didn’t start until the 1990s. But it offers a lot of peace and quiet, especially if you arrive for the sunrise. – this is supposed to be the best place on the island for morning rays.
Stunning views from the top of the steps, overlooking the entrance and the sea, are truly inspiring no matter the hour, and the mighty drums that signify the time of prayer add even more atmosphere.
Explore An Thoi for real local retail
En route to the southern tip of the island, An Thoi village is a great destination for anyone looking for Kodak moments that scream “I’m in Vietnam”.
Tucked away at the intersection of two busy suburban roads, you’ll need to keep a cool head as you move from side to side thanks to the sheer volume of two-wheelers taking these routes. (The best thing to do is get out and make your way through traffic.)
The village itself is as photogenic as you could ask for, provided you’ve asked for street vendors selling everything from fried chicken feet to bags of lychees, bountiful shops making questionable fakes, and indoor markets though. cramped they give the impression of North African souks like Westfield.
Even if you don’t buy, it’s worth stopping.
Dine at Duong Dong Night Market
The capital city of Phu Quoc is home to pretty little nooks and crannies – a quick read of the pungent but photogenic riverside is a must see thanks to the colorful boats moored against quaint wooden jetties.
The city’s most famous asset, however, is the Night Market, which is a foodie’s paradise.
Seafood is sold by weight here, and the prices are low enough to make you wish there were options for stealing home purchases.
I went for the Queen Fish – a potent prize served with lime and fresh chili, it arrived bigger than my plate and flame broiled to perfection.
Eat on the waves at Han Nimh
On an island of just over 500 square miles, you’re never too far from shore, even amid the protected northern rainforests.
However, few seaside resorts offer Han Nimh’s serenity. Once you’ve passed under the arch that welcomes you to the colony, make your way to the small docks, park, then ignore the large restaurant which immediately tries to pull you in.
Instead, head along the boardwalk to discover floating cabins offering the catch of the day, literally rising from the water beneath you in buckets, prepared instantly, then immediately packaged.
Best experienced after sundown, when tourists are swapped for Vietnamese dinners, laughter and chatter from nearby restaurants float on the waves as the lights of the sea squid slowly rise and fall.
Best of all, you can be back to your Long Beach resort or Duong Dong hostel in 10-20 minutes by car.
Learn about resilience, resistance and terror at Coconut Prison
Phu Quoc’s darkest hours are just outside of An Thoi.
Coconut Prison was originally built by the French to house people considered a threat to colonial rule, before it was used by the United States to intern Viet Cong members during the War of the United States. Vietnam, and I doubt I will visit a more alarming and scary place. place never again.
Now an open museum dedicated to keeping alive the memory of the atrocities committed by the occupying forces, entry is free in an effort to maintain visitor numbers, and attendance should be compulsory.
Once inside the oppressive razor wire fences, you are soon plunged into a nightmare that for decades has been a sickening reality.
Today, models are used to represent the horrors that took place here, which are too unspeakable to mention.
Evacuation tunnels were also dug, giving an impression of how desperate inmates had to flee (claustrophobia to put it mildly), while also painting a heartbreaking portrait of the resilience of the human spirit, even in the face of challenges. seemingly insurmountable.
Arrive in time for Epizode
Launched on New Year’s Eve 2016, Epizode It’s less of a festival than stepping into an alternate reality where things like the time and day of the week are irrelevant other than remembering the time of your flight home.
The two-week event lasted over 20 hours a day, welcoming revelers from Russia, Eastern Europe and Western Europe for total hedonism on Long Beach, with the site surrounded by city walls bamboo which blocked any glimpse of surrounding hotels.
Writing from a plethora of international house and techno artists, this epic yet intimate evening features stunning design, incredible lights crossing the ocean, and a vibe that’s more in keeping with a party than festivals. British style summer.
The second round is scheduled at the same location, between December 31, 2017 and January 10, 2018, so it is best for adventure seekers to put aside the first two weeks of next year now.
Emirates flies direct from London Heathrow to Ho Chi Minh City which is a worthy destination in itself.
Where to stay
Duong Dong has a good range of guesthouses, B & Bs and inns, many of which will cost less than £ 20 per night.
For more luxurious options, several international hotel brands already have addresses on the island, the majority of which are concentrated on Long Beach.
Top photo credit: Getty
MORE: How a trip to the Caribbean forever changed my opinion of cruises – and why you should set sail too