After two months of discovery in East Asia, we were happy to leave winter and cold to find heat and sun in South East Asia. And what better way to start our trip in Vietnam than to make a small break of one week on Phu Quoc island, in the West of the country, very close to Cambodia? We take you in our backpacks at the discovery of this island.
The ”new” Phu Quoc
Before you go on the island, it is important to know that the Vietnamese Government aims at making Phu Quoc the next Phuket. There are huge construction sites everywhere on the island. You are warned when you arrive at the airport in full work. New location, new terminals, we can feel and see the investments made to attract tourists. We expected to see resorts, but not to see construction sites every 10 meters along the beach. And these are not only along the coast. As we stroll in the land, we could see whole fields burning to destroy vegetation in order to build new homes or resorts. Large panels hang out along the road, announcing construction of the future programs. Although this sounds like a dream to some Western tourists (it’s mainly for us that they build these concrete palaces and not for their inhabitants), we were rather disappointed.
Past this little preamble, we can now tell our discovery of the island, which still contains many wonders. 😉
The beaches and the sea for the “aqua-philes”
Long Beach and Bai Sao
For the fans of sunscreen and “pancake ones” on sunbeds, you will enjoy it on Phu Quoc … but mainly on the resorts’ private beaches. We had not chosen an expensive beach hotel, and it was quite difficult to find corners where the beach was public, shaded, clean and without jellyfish. The resorts maintain beaches outside their hotel clean. But you have to pay if you are an outsider and if you just want to enjoy the sea… Welcome to tourism business! And this isn’t 1$ or 2$. No, on Long Beach, the largest beach of the island, we were asked 15$ for the day on one sun lounger (with access to the pool of the hotel). No need to tell you that we looked for a small coconut tree a bit further…
More seriously, the Long Beach is ideal for end of day walks, feet in the water facing the sea and a beautiful sunset. We did it and we enjoyed a beautiful view.
If you are not afraid of riding on a scooter, we recommend you to go on the Sao beach, on the east coast. We found it more beautiful and wilder than Longbeach. It is also a little bit cleaner and you will easily find the shadow without having to pay for a sun bed. Anyway, we enjoyed a lot this side of the island.
There are many other beaches on the island, but we have not tested each of them. We preferred to ride to the discovery of other riches of the island.
The discovery of the seabed
One of the highlights of the island, as we read, is diving or snorkeling. Vietnam is not known for its diving spots as are Thailand or Indonesia for example. So we didn’t expect something exceptional. But it was an opportunity to make our first sea cruise and see a few corals and tropical fishes.
Many hotels and residences offer tours with John’s tour Agency, which is the most established on the island. Our residence offered a day excursion at sea with snorkeling to two isles in the south of Phu Quoc, for 15$ per person (17$ full price). Banco! We trimmed our swimsuits, ready to see little Nemo, Dori and their friends. After a morning fishing (empty-handed for us), we reached the first spot by the end of the morning, just before eating. With our fins and snorkels, we swam 20 meters before arriving on coral reefs and see our first fishes. A few bans, most corals bleached… we beheld a sad sight. inhabitants do not protect yet this fauna and flora, and capitalize on it for the pleasure of tourists. Some were even walking on corals or touching these while it was forbidden. We went back to boat, a little saddened by the spectacle we saw.
After the gargantuan meal on the boat, new diving to an another isle. This time, we should swim a little further because it is deeper. The seabed is more interesting and impressive here. But again, we feel that the flora is ill and that if Vietnam does nothing, these nature reserves will soon disappear.
We’re happy to be able to dive and cross a few small cute fishes, but this has especially increased our feeling of massive tourism development, without real ecological awareness. Ours on the other hand, has jumped…
Traditional villages, our favorite
Everything is not all black. Phu Quoc is a beautiful island and we were able to enjoy a few beutiful places during our stay. The scooter we rented several times allowed us to escape and go exploring, out of the city and the main roads.
We were able to discover the charming fishing village of Ham Ninh, at the exact opposite of there where we stayed. Located on the east coast of Phu Quoc, it is interesting to arrive here very early in the morning to see fishermen out at sea, or like us, late in the afternoon, when they come back and they sell their catches to restaurants, directly on the dock.
During our road trip to the north of the island, we arrived on the villages of Gánh Dau and Rach Vem. The first is nice to have a beautiful panorama on the sea full of small fishing boats. But the beach is not clean at all, and you’d better continue your path if you want to take a dip. Continuing the road until the floating of Rach Vem village, we ran into a memorial to Dinh Nguyen Trung, a resistant who fought against the french colonization on the island.
We loved the small village of Rach Vem, really wild and authentic. Here, tourists are not legion, as you must take a small dirt road to get there from the forest. Once the scooter was parked, we were able to walk on the pontoons that reach the middle of the water. From here you can admire sea stars, at the bottom of the water, and fish ponds where a few small local restaurants keep fishes alive to cook them at the last moment. We walked over basins filled with small sharks, walked on the pontoons where residents were napping in a hammock, drinking their famous iced coffee, or singing Vietnamese karaoke music. A nice break on this small touristy island.
The forest, the opportunity to sing “born to be wild”
Even if the island is developing fast, a large part is still preserved. It’s nice to take a scooter to go into the forest in the North of the island. It is even cooler, that this part is not as well developed as the rest of the island and the road becomes a dirt track, in the middle of the Woods. We had fun on that portion and we took our time to cross the forest. It was an opportunity for us also to make a mini karaoke in “Born to be wiiiiilllllld!” mode. It is possible to stop on the side at some point in the track to go hiking in the forest. We took the time to make the way, looking for the toucans and monkeys that we thought we could see. Result: zero monkey or toucan but we felt that the forest was “alive” and that many residents lived here. Leaves moving on our passage, birds emitting different sounds as to prevent the arrival of two “intruders”. The atmosphere was really friendly and it is always nice to go for a little walk in the woods. 🙂
Phu Quoc is also…
We had the opportunity to do a lot of other activities during our stay on the island. Notably, we had read that it was nice to visit the waterfalls of Suoi Tranh. They must be nice during the rain season, when there is water… because the waterfall was dry when we went there. They could make it clear to the park entrance, avoiding us to pay two tickets. But it was an opportunity to do a bicycle ride along the large pepper farms, which are the pride of the island. It is also possible to visit some of theses as part of tours and day trips.
In addition to the memorial to the resistance of the island, we were able to visit some interesting temples. The most recent is the Buddhist temple in Lam Thien Vien or Chua Ho Quoc. Since 2012, this temple overlooks the sea and gives a panoramic breathtaking view. It is still under construction, but this still worths a visit.
Another point of interest on the island, a few kilometers from the residence where we stayed: the Su Muong pagoda. We got there late in the day. There was nobody and we were able to visit the Buddhist complex. Do not hesitate to go to the right of the main building to go up on the upper levels and perhaps cross the monks who still live on the site.
… the Coconut prison
The name “prison cocotier” comes from the French colonial period where the Vietnamese resistance was locked up and tortured. After the end of the Indochina war, Americans renamed it the “Coconut” prison and used it also to imprison resistance fighters and revolutionaries. To make it short, this is very interesting to visit the prison to understand the successive wars. This place is a real manifesto for peace. The man can use a lot of ingenuity when it comes to break and to torture the other…
… a busy city centre
We also spent a few evenings in the main town of the island: Duong Dong. In addition to the fish that are sold at attractive prices in restaurants (we found it a bit expensive and tourist-trap), we liked it for a walk on the pier to Dinh Cau. You can go to the lighthouse that marks the entrance to the harbour. A temple for fishermen also overlooks the harbour and the pier. It’s nice to go there late in the day before going to the night market. Yes, it is the main attraction of the city. From 7 pm, the streets are closed to vehicles to make way for the flood of tourists. It is the ideal place to buy souvenirs, chichis (French at Gilbert!), pepper, and other trinkets.
In conclusion, I read an article that talked about Phu Quoc as of the 4 P’s (in french): beach (plage), pepper, prison and pearl. It is a summary, but not necessarily the most interesting in my opinion. Phu Quoc is not just pepper plantations, long white sandy beaches, Coconut prison and culture of oysters. It is also an island rich of small villages with little tourism, of magnificent temples of preserved forests… To sum up, we do not regret to stop there for a few days. The island is still very interesting! 🙂
We’ll tell you about the rest of our vietnamese adventure in a future article. See you soon…