Existing clients can use these links to log in to the Infinity dashboard. Not a client? Why not get in touch to find out about our services.
Some years ago several friends of Dave Stamboulis returned from a beach holiday claiming they had found one of the last unspoiled paradises in Asia. Here, he explains why now is the time to visit the unspoilt Phu Quoc.
I did some research on the place, Phu Quoc, the largest island in Vietnam, lying just off of the Cambodian mainland in the Gulf of Thailand. Near enough to Bangkok for a weekend escape, yet the difficulties of getting there, supposedly high prices, and somewhat lack of facilities did not make me overly enthralled.
The island kept popping up in conversation over the next few years, a traveller here or there would tell me about this slice of tropical magic they had come across, or about this place in Vietnam that was such a departure from the usually loud, overpopulated, and chaotic scenes one finds in many spots in the country.
Transport to Phu Quoc was now easy, and guesthouses and resorts offering competitive prices had sprung up. Yet it wasn’t until recently, when I had four free days with nothing to do and a visa run from Bangkok beckoning, that I finally made it to the place that has travel agents buzzing, giving it the moniker “Pearl of the Gulf.” Phu Quoc, despite being a sleepy backwater, has had a rather colourful history.
The island was occupied in the late 1800s by the French, who created coconut and rubber plantations around the small fishing villages. Following a brief period of independence after WWII, Phu Quoc was taken over by the Americans, who housed 40,000 prisoners at the Coconut Tree Prison, which still serves as the island’s “lockup” today.
In 1975, the Khmer Rouge took over the island, but were soon overrun by the Vietnamese, and Phu Quoc became a major military base for the ensuing Cambodian- Vietnamese War, and it was not until the 1990s that Phu Quoc transitioned from garrison to potential tourist hotspot. These days, Phu Quoc eagerly welcomes tourists to its sandy shores, and in fact an international airport is in progress, with a lot of resort development projects on the way.
This has lead to fears that the island will be transformed into another overcrowded venue like its Andaman Pearl sister, Phuket, has been. But for now, Phu Quoc remains a fascinating place for an escape. Not only does it have some beautiful white sand beaches, it also is home to a bustling local port town with a colourful market, a jungle interior to explore, and some excellent seafood. It’s also one of those rare island paradises where locals are mostly too busy engaging in the booming pepper farm and fish sauce industries to be bothered fleecing tourists, and the isle retains this exceptionally sweet and simple welcoming feel to it, and after a few days, one feels like staying much much longer.
The main town on Phu Quoc, Duong Dong, is built around the river of the same name, where dozens of laden fishing boats set off from each evening for trips into the nearby sea. The town is small enough to explore on foot, and comprised of its busy market, along with a collection of pleasant enough cafes to sit idly in and watch the world go by, savoring the sweet and ultra-strong Vietnamese coffee, which takes 15 minutes just to filter down from its drip cup.
There are also lots of simple streetside eateries throughout town, offering Vietnamese staples such as bun cha (vermicelli noodles and grilled pork served in soup) or bun bo Hue (beef noodle) soup, where friendly locals will pantomime one through the correct eating techniques and bring out their children to shake hands with the foreigner.
Interestingly enough, Phu Quoc is one of the few places in Vietnam where I did not get taken to the cleaners on a daily basis when it came to settling the bill. Some of the highlights of Phu Quoc are either in Duong Dong or just a short motorbike ride out of town. The island is renowned for its fish sauce and fish paste, and throughout the countryside one comes across women in their conical hats laying out huge straw baskets of tiny anchovies to dry.
Back in town, one can drop in at the local fish sauce factory, where free tours are offered, taking visitors into a chamber that slightly resembles a wine cellar, where huge wooden vats of the fermented delicacy sit waiting to come to age. Just like a vineyard, tasting is part of the tour, and surprisingly, the small sips we were given straight out of the vats were actually a lot more palatable than I ever would have imagined.
Another large industry on Phu Quoc is pepper, and throughout the island one comes across pepper plant farms, with large sheets of green and black peppercorns laid out to dry in the sun. Pepper is the most widely traded spice in the world, and Vietnam is the world’s largest exporter, controlling around a third of the market. Exploring Phu Quoc’s jungle interior is yet another option, but your average visitor is here for one reason alone, to laze on the island’s gorgeous white sand beaches. Nearest to Duong Dong, Truong or Long Beach is a strip of sand that runs almost 10km.
The northern end is packed with resorts, which peter out into some quiet patches of sand as one wanders further south. The odd fruit vendor wanders the beach, and there are some operations offering beach umbrellas and cold beer, but otherwise the modus operandi is slow. The best beach on the island, and possibly one of the top three in Asia, is sleepy Bai Sao Beach, some 30km south of Duong Dong.
White powdery sand, crystal clear turquoise water, and a beckoning sandbar are just a few of the reasons to linger long at this gem. Several resorts have sprung up, and this is one paradise that is unlikely to remain a secret for much longer.
Better to get your Phu Quoc pearl now, while it is still fresh. There are several daily flights from Ho Chi Minh to Phu Quoc on Vietnam Airlines, tickets can be booked online from overseas. Hydrofoils also run from Rach Gia or Ha Tien in the Mekong Delta, taking a few hours to reach the island.
Accommodations: Part of the MGallery Boutique Collection, La Veranda is a colonial style resort set on a beautiful spot on Long Beach with a good restaurant and staff that can speak English. www. mgallery.com. There are an abundance of good guesthouses ranging from $20 and up along Long Beach, but do not show up during Vietnamese holiday periods without a reservation, as the island has become very popular destination among the middle class in Ho Chi Minh.
This Site and the Content are not directed at or intended for distribution to any person (or entity) who is a citizen or resident of Hong Kong (or located or established in) any other jurisdiction where the use of the Site would be contrary to applicable law or regulation or would subject Infinity Financial Solutions Limited to any registration or licensing requirement in such jurisdiction.
Persons (or entity) who is a citizen or resident of Hong Kong please click on the link below to access our Hong Kong Site.