PHU QUOC ISLAND
Tel: 077 +pop 52,700
Mountainous and forested Phu Quoc Island is in the Gulf of Thailand, 45km west of Cam Tien, and 15km south of the coast of Cambodia. This tear-shaped island, which is 48km long and has an area of 1320sq km, is ringed with some of the most beautiful beaches in vietnam. There are fantastic views of marine life through transparent blue-green waters (though unfortunately there are no scuba diving operators on the island –yet)
Phu Quoc is claimed by Cambodia; its Khmer name is usually rendered Ko Tral. Needless to say, the Vietnamese view it very differently, and to this end have built a substantial military base covering muchh of th northern end of the island. Phu Quoc is governed as a district of Kien giang Province.
Phu Quoc Island served as a base for the French missionary Pigneau de Behaine during the 1760s and 1780s.Pince Nguyen Anh, who later became Emperor Gia Long, was sheltered here by Behaine when he was being hunted by the Tay Son Rebels.
During the American War here was a little fighting here, but Phu Quoc Island was mainly useful to the Americans as a prison for captured VC.
Phu Quoc is not really part of the Mekong Delta, and doesn’t share the delta’s extraordinary ability to Produce rice. The most valuable crop is black pepper, but the Islanders have traditionally earned their living from the sea. Phu Quoc is also famous in Vietnam for its production of high quality nuoc man.
The island is also known for Phu Quoc hunting dogs. The dogs have been a great success With their help, The Islanders have decimated most of the island’s wildlife. There dogs are said to be able topick up the scent of their master from over 1km away.
Phu Quoc has tremendous tourism protential, which is so far mostly unrealised. Transport difficulties, not to mention some of the best baches being occupied by military bases, have contribuited to keeping the visitors away. But since it became a national part in 2001, the island is gaining more attention. Phu Quoc National art covers close to 70% of the island, an area of 31,422 hectares.
Phu Quoc’s rainy season is from july to November. The peak season for tourism is mid-windter when the skyp is blue and the sea is calm; however, when its not raining, it’s stinking hot. Bring sunglasses and plenty of sun block and be prepared to spend the afternoons at the beach or in the shad. Don’t set out to explore the island unless you’ve got at least 2L of water in your day-pack or else you’ll dehydrate.
Travel Agencies. The local tourism authority Phu Quoc Tourist ( Tel: 846318, fax 847125), has a sleepy office in central Duong Dong. The staff here sell pricey minibus and boat tours. But otherwiese they don’t do much that couldn’t be accomplished through your hotel.
Most travellers get around the island by hired motorbike. There are a handful of English-speaking motorbike guides on the Island. The most notiruiys if wgin us Tibt (077-846144). Rased by a US military family, Tony speaks a distinctive breed of Al pacino English that could easily and him a role in the next sequel to the God-father. He is easy to find or can be faxed if you want to book a head.
Money: There is no place on the island to cash travellers cheques and the rate for changing dollars at the Agricaltural Bank in Duong Dong is rooten. In other words, take care of all your money changing before you arriva. You can, ofcourse pay for almost anything with US dollars.
The Island’s chief fishing port is Duong Dong, a town on the central west coast. The airport and most of the hotels are here.
The town is not that exciting, though the markets are midly interesting. The brigde nearby is a good vantage point to photograph the island’s fishing fleet – you’ll notice that this tiny harbour is anything but clean.
According to tourist brochures, the town’s main attraction is Cau Castle. In fact, it’s not so much a castle as a combination temple and lighthouse. It was built in 1937 to honour Thien Hau, who protects sailors and fishermen. The castle is worth a quick look, and it does give you a good view of the entrance to the harbour.
Fish Souce Factory
OK, OK, so it’s not your average sightseeing attraction, but more than a few have enjoyed a visit to the distillery of Nuoc Mam Hung Thanh, The largest of Phu Quoc’s fish –souce markers. At first glance, the giant wooden wats may make you think you’ve arrived for a wine tasting, but one snigg of the festering nuoc mam essence brings you right back to reality. (I’t actually not so bad after a few minutes).
Most of the sauce produced is exported to the mainland for domestic consumption, though a surprising amount finds its way abroad to ketchens in Japan, the USA, Canada and France.
The factory is a short walk from the markets in Duong dong. There is no charge to visit, though you’d be best of taking a guide along, unless ou speak Vietnamese. Should you feel compelled to take a bottle of the stuff home to your loved ones as a souvenir. Try the Hung Thanh retais shop, near the bridge in town.
The main shipping port is An Thoi at the southern tip of the island. This town is not plessed with scenic sights, though the market here is definitely worth a quick look. This is the embarkation point for Ha Tien and Rach Gia, or for day trips to the An Thoi Islands.
Bai Dai & Bai Thom These are both remote beaches, Bai Dai is in the far north west and Bai Thom is on the northeastern coast, you will require a motorbide ride of at least an hour over very bad roads. You can rest assured that neither beach is crowded. Bai Thom was closed to the public at the time of writing.
Boat are in miltary areas – the military usually opens these beaches to civilians on Sunday but you must leave your possport with the military receptionist while you’re on the base. This is problematic since most hotels insist on taking your passport until you check out. In any event, do not try to sneak onto the beaches; make local inquiries and obey the rules.
Bai Cua Can: This is the most accessible beach in the Northwest,. Bai Cua Can is 11km from Duong Dong, though it’s a rather long dusty trip by motorbike.
Long Beach This beach ( Bai Truong) is ine long spectacular stretch of sand from Duong Dong southward along the west coast. Almost to An Thoi port (20km). The southern end of the beach is known as Tau Ru Bay ( Khoe Tau Ru). The water is crystal cleasr and the beach is lined with coconut pamls.
Long Beach is easily accessible on foot, but you will need a motorbike or bicycle to reach some of the remote stretches towards the southern end of the island. The beach around the Kim Linh Hotel is a particularly popular spot. There are a few bamboo huts where you can by drinks, but bring water if you’re planning a long hike along this beach.
Bai Khem The most beautiful white –sand beach of all is Bai Khem ( Bai Kem), meaning “Cream beach”. The neame is inspired by the creamy white sand, which resembles powdered chalk. Its only shortcoming is that it lacks shade – there are no trees here.
The beach is in a cove on the southeastern side of the island. This place is totally undeveloped because it’s a military area, but civilians are permetted to enter. Turn off the main highway by the English sign saying “ Restricted Area – No Trespassing”
It’s 28km from duong Dong and 2km from An Thoi, so you’ll almost certainly have to go there by motobike. You shold lock the Motorbike securely since you won’t be able to watch it; however, theft is not a big problem in this remote spot.
Bai Sao & Bai Dam Along the southeast part of the island just north of Bai Khem there are two other beaches, Bai Sao and Bai dam
Suoi Da Ban
Compared with the waterlogged Mekong Delta, Phu Quoc has very little surface moisture; however, there are several springs that originate in the hills. The most accessible of these is Suoi Da Ban ( stony Surface Stream) Basically, it’s awhite –water creek tumbling across some attractive large granite boulders. There are deep pools and it’s pleasant enough for a swim. Don’t forget to bring pleanty of mosquito repellent.
The stream is in the south central part of the island. There is no admission charge, though there is a 10000d fee for parking a motorbike.
Phu Quoc’s poor soil and lack of surface water have disappointed farmers for generations, although their grief has been the island’s environmental salvation. About 90% of the island is forested, and the trees now enjoy official protection. Indeed, this is the last large stand of forest in southern Vietnam.
The forest is most dense in the mountainous northern half of the island. This area has been declared a forest reserve (Khu Rung Nguyen sinh). You’ll need a motorbike or mountain bike to get into the reserve. There are a few primitive dirt roads, but no real hiking trails.
An Thoi Islands
Off the southern tip of Phu Quoc are the tiny An Thoi Islands. There 15 islands and islets can be visited by chartered boat, and it’s a fine area for sight seeing, gishing, swimming and snorkelling. Hon Thom ( Pineapple Island) is about 3km in length and is the largest island in the group. Other islands here include Hon dua (coconut Island), Hon Roi ( Lamp Island) Hon vang ( Echo Island), Hon May Rut ( cold Cloud Islan), Hon Dam ( Shadow Island) Chan Qui ( Yellow Tortoise) and Hon Mong Tay ( Short Gun Island).
Most boats depart form An Thoi on Phu Quoc, but you can make arrangements through hotels in Duong Dong. The tropicana Resort has a large boat for charter that can make the trip directly from long Beach. The Kim Linh also has two boats for day hire. One that can carry eight to 10Passenger ( US$40) and a larger one that can carry 15-20 people (US$75). Boat charters are seasonal and generally do not run during the rainy season.
Being an island and a economically marginal area of Vietnam, Phu Quoc was useful to the French Colonial administration –chiefly as a prison. The Americans took over where the French left off, and as a consequence Phu Quoc was used to house about 40,000 VC prisoner.
The island’s main penal colony was known as the Coconut Prison ( Nha Lao Cay Dua) and is near An thoi town. Though it’s considered an historic site and plans are under way to open a museum here, it’s still used as a prison. Not too surprisingly, few visitors come to check it our.
Place to Stay
Depending on the tourist load, prices for Phu Quoc’s Hotels and resorts are very much negotiable
Long Beach Near the beach and cheap,
Kim Linh Hotel ( tel: 846611, Fax 846144; [email protected], fan rooms 120,000-180,000d) is an ageing placing with concrete buildings, but it remains the favourite of backpackers. It’s often fell, but the manoagement tries to accommodated any overflow by renting out tents on the beach or allowing people to sleep in hammocks in the restaurant after it closes
Tropicana Resort (Tel: 847127,. Email [email protected], rooms US$ 20-40), a few hundred metres north. Is a nicer resort. Rooms are in bungalows, and windsurfers and boats are for hire. Credit cards are accepted, and rates include breakfast and airport pick –up/ There is a veranda restaurant for watching sunsets. Staff speak French and English.
Kim Hoa Resort ( Tel: 847039, Fax 848261; rooms US$ 15, Bungalows US$ 20-30) a short walk form the Tropicana, is a frindly place near the beach. Here to there is a pleasant terrace restaurant. As a footnote, the proprietor and the resort also owns a local nuoc mam factory and sometimes offers tours to interested parties.
Saigon – Phu Quoc Resort ( Tel: 846510, fax 847163. emai:; [email protected]; www.sgphuquocresort.com.vn; rooms US$45-1-5++ Family house US$ 250++) is a snazzy place that rents rooms in villa type houses. The cheaper rooms are offered in a four-bedroom villa, while the more expensive rate is for a villa with two rooms. The rooms are attractive, and have a good vantage point overlooking the beautiful beach. There is a swomming pool and a large restaurant on the property
Ong Lang Beach
7km north of Duong Dong near the hamlet of Ong Lang, is rockier and less beautiful than Long Beach, but is unquestionably less crowded and qieter.
Phu Quoc Resort (Khach san Thang Loi Tel: 091 919 891; fax 846144; rooms US$ 15-25) is a lovely resort that has 10 wooden bungalows set in a wast open garden setting, under the shade of cashew nut, palm and mango trees. The staff are friendly and the restaurant is cosy. Room rates vary depending on the size. The resort is also known locally as Ong Lang ( named after the beach)
Duong Dong Most travellers prefer to put up at the beach, though there are several options in the town. If you’re not set on staying by the sea.
Duong Dong hotel; (Tel: 847552; fan rooms with toilet 100,000d) close toDuong Dong market, has rooms that are dark boxes, but the mangagement is friendly.
An Thoi Although few travellers care to stay in the township of An Thoi, it’s worth considering if you arrive late on the ferry or well be taking the ferry early the next morning.
Thanh Dat guesthouse: Tel 84402; fan rooms 10,000d -120,000d) is the only place to stay in town.
Place to Eat
Gop Gio, near the ferry landing in duong Dong, is a casual eatery that wins hands down for the freshest ( and cheapest) seafod in town, also worth a try in town is Trung Duong
Tuoi Tham & Le Giang are two more local places on the way from duong Dong to Long Beach.
For atmosphere and fine food, check out the seafront terrace restaurants at the tropicana Resort and the Kim Hoa Resort. For something a bit more local ( and loud), try the outdoor beachside restaurants near the Kim Linh Hotel.
There are heaps of cheap food stalls all around the market area in Duong Dong.
Getting There & Away.
Air: Vietnam Airlines has four flights weekly between HCMC and Duong Dong, Phu Quoc’s main town. Some flights make a stop en route at Rach Gia, on the mainland. Apopular round trip between hCMC and Phu Quoc is to Travel overland through the Mekong Delta, taking a ferry to the island from Rach Gia and when you’re finally tanned and rested taking the short one – hour flight back to HCMC ( Price: US$ 50-60)
Boat: For inforamtion about the upmarket cruises between Bangkok (Thailand) and Phu Quoc Island, you should contact star Cruises; www.starcruises.com)
All passenger ferries departing and arrivaing at Phu Quoc use the port of An Thoi on the southern tip of the island.
There are ferries ( tel: 863242) every morning berween Rrach Gia and Phu uoc 140km. Dpartures are at 9am, but many vary depending on the tides and passenger load. In any case, it’s best to be the trip, be sure to stock up on snacks and water in town, or at the docks.
None of the boats in the fleet ( three vintage steel vessels and five wooden fishing boats) are ver comfortable. They are usually packed with too many passengers and cargo. Although we haven’t heard of any mishaps, concerned parties might consider flying. Boats cannot dock at Rach Gia when the tide is low – passengers and cargo have to be ferried offshore in a small shuttle boat.
The fare is 100,000d and the ride to An Thoi takes about eight hours. Most travellers jump off here and catch a motorbike to Duong dong. However, if you’re not in a rush to reach your hotel bysundown, it’s possible to pay an extra 15.000d and stay on board right up to Duong Dong. This takes another 1 ½ hours, plus about an hour waiting while the ferry uploads cargo in An Thoi, but you’re likely to appreciate a moonlit cruise up the coast.
There are on-again off-again boats between Ham Tinh and Ha Tien on the mainland, but these are considered to be dangerous and not worth the risk.