Phú Quôc is a mountainous and densely forested island of 1320 sq km. It is 48 km in length from south to north and has a population of approximately 80,000 people. In the Gulf of Thailand 45 km west of Ha Tien on the Vietnamese mainland and 15 km south of the coast of Cambodia, Phú Quôc is ringed with some of most beautiful beaches in Vietnam, and offers the best seafood in the country.
Phú Quôc Island served as a base for French missionary Pigneau de Behaine from the 1760-80s and at one time he provided shelter here for Prince Nguyen Anh (later Emperor Gia Long) when he was being hunted by the Tay Son rebels. During the Vietnam War there was little fighting here but the island was used by the ARVN as a prison for captured Viet Cong.
Phú Quôc is not really part of the Mekong delta and also doesn’t share the delta's extraordinary ability to produce rice and fruit due to the low quality of its soil and inaccessible terrain. It is, however, home to the best fish sauce (nuoc mam) in the world, and is also reputed to produce high quality pepper and fantastic seafood.
Another point of interest in Phú Quôc is the island's native dog. This dog was originally a wild animal and later trained as a hunting dog by local people. These days they are very domesticated and it's unusual to go anywhere on the island without seeing one. These animals have unusually sharp teeth (as they tear their food when they eat it rather than bite) and have claws that over the years have been optimised for catching prey and are razor sharp.
Phú Quôc is what Phuket was before it was overrun by development. Phú Quôc Island and its beaches were voted "The Cleanest and Most Beautiful Beach in the World" by ABC News in Feb 2008. However, this is changing fast. Insiders call the island "the world's first rubbish dump on which tourism is run" or "the island, where nature and rubbish grow together" because of the excessive pollution (mainly plastic bags) outside the tourist resorts.
There are extensive plans to develop Phú Quôc, including high-rise residential areas, several new towns and suburbs, complete rebuilding of Duong Dông' city centre, and replacing the existing small PQC airport. The new international airport south of Duong Dông opened in early-2013. The main north-south road between Bai Thom and An Thoi is already being upgraded to a 2+2 lane highway, a new all-weather road from Duong Dông to Gan Dau is ready as far as Cua Can, which has a new bridge. A golf course is planned as well as a casino in the north. A ferry connection to Sihanoukville (Cambodia) and visa-free-entry have been discussed in the past. Phú Quôc will be something completely different in 10 years if current plans materialize.
Phu Quoc Island has a tropical climate with three seasons: high, shoulder, and low.
- High season: During the period Nov-Mar, the daily maximum temperature typically averages about 31 C, and the daily minimum temperature (before sunrise) about 23 C. The skies are generally sunny, with possibly some light high cloud in early morning that clears by mid-morning, and the humidity is at its lowest for the year.
- Shoulder season: During the period Apr-Oct, the temperatures are a bit higher than during the high season, and the humidity around 80-85%. Crowds are fewer during this time and there are good chances of reasonable weather.
- Low season: The period between Jul-Sep is dominated by the monsoons.
Visitors from any country arriving in Phu Quoc by cruise ship do not need a visa for stays of up to 15 days. A passport with at least 45 days' validity is required. Visitors arriving in Phú Quôc by other means (e.g., plane) are subject to normal visa regulations.
You can fly to the Phu Quoc International airport (PQC) from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) on about five daily Vietnam Airlines ATR-72 turboprop flights (55 min). Air Mekong flies Bombardier CRJ-900 jets from Ho Chi Minh City for about the same prices in 35 min (Note Air Mekong flights are currently suspended while services are being upgraded: See their website for regular updates).
From Rach Gia there are two Vietnam Airlines flights per day.
There is a wide variety of transport options available on arrival. Many of the more expensive hotels have somebody pick you up on arrival. Taxis are of course available. It is only a short walk to the centre of Duong Dông, too. If budget travellers arrive late without reservations they can stay their first night in inexpensive guesthouses opposite the airport entrance.
If air tickets are fully booked you can do the following.
- Keep an eye on the airline websites and grab any published flight at the earliest opportunity. They should put on extra flights closer to departure.
- Ask any travel agents in Ho Chi Minh City or Phú Quôc.
- Go to the airport and try to get a flight on standby.
You may be told by tour agents that the fast boats are full, but if you go to the dock where the boats depart you may have the opportunity to buy tickets from street sellers.
- Phu Quôc - Rach Gia: 08:00 - 10:20, 12:40 - 15:00, 13:00 - 15:20 operate by Superdong
- Rach Gia - Phú Quôc: 08:00 - 10:20, 12:40 - 15:00, 13:00 - 15:20 operate by Superdong
Hydrofoils take 2.5 hr, cost 320,000 dong. Book at Superdong. When coming from Ho Chi Minh City you can book a combined night-bus + boat ticket for around USD26 (including pick up from hotel) at travel agencies.
- Phú Quôc - Ha Tien
Small fast ferries (not hydrofoils) take 1.5 hr. Cost, 230,000 dong. Daily at 08:00 and 13:00. Large car ferry (steel -hulled, capacity 400 passengers, 300 motorbikes, and 30 cars) leaves at 08:20, takes 2.5 hr and costs 165,000 dong. Motorbikes cost 100,000 dong.
- Phú Quôc - Hon Chong - 12:30. Costs 160,000 dông.
- Hon Chong - Phú Quôc - 10:00. Costs 160,000 dông.
Depending on the season, you may not find taxis on arrival in Phú Quôc, though there will likely be a few motorbike taxis. Minibuses travel to the two main towns, but tickets are sold on the boat and sell out before arrival. Cost 20,000 dong. Transfer can also be arranged through your hotel.
Three choices to leave the pier: taxi ~210,000 dong; minibus down to 120,000 dong (three persons); or motorbike taxi (but it's a long ride on a not-so-good road). (Sep 2011)
Be warned that the boat can get overcrowded and may have the unfortunate lingering odor of vomit. The journey is pleasant and smooth during the low season, but is often beset by jarring waves during the high season. Hotel staff can advise you of ocean conditions.
Taxis and motorbikes congregate outside the ferry port and can shuttle you to the bus terminal (some 15 km out of town).
- Walking : One of the joys of the top-rated Long Beach accommodations is that everything is so accessible. Base yourself at Mai House or the Tropicana and you can walk to everything and happily fill a three or four day holiday doing nothing at all. Camp down at La Veranda and you might not emerge.
- Motorbike : There’s no doubt about it, if you’re young enough (at heart anyway) you’ve got to try seeing some of Phu Quoc on a motorbike. They can be hired for USD5-12 a day from your hotel/resort. There is no paperwork, no insurance, and no deposits. You negotiate if you break or lose your bike. There is a request that you refill with fuel when you finish. Roads are mostly red dirt and full of potholes. As in much of Asia, there are no traffic rules in the usual European or North American sense: you are responsible for not hitting anybody or anything, and you are responsible for anyone else hitting you, and that's about it. You are supposed to drive on the right, but not everybody always does that. So there you have it, not entirely safe, but an awful lot of fun. Don't fret too much if you run out of petrol or get a flat tyre. You’ll be amazed how fast a local will stop to help you. Puncture repairmen are plentiful on the island and will leap at the chance to come to your aid for a small fee.
- If you do find yourself in a bit of strife with your rental, there are a few repair shop on the island that will mend your bike at a price cheaper than at the place you rented it. One place that does this, is Gia Phu at 25 Tran Phu in Duong Dong (Linh- +84 93 813 7988). Depending on the severity of the damage, it could save you a lot of money.
- Motorbike taxis are about 200,000-400,000 dong or USD10-20 for a day trip. Be sure to be precise as to how many hours and locations you want to see with the driver. It's difficult to really lower the price for a half-day or less.
- Jeeps : After a motorbike, your next best option is a Jeep with driver. Given you pay for petrol, it can work out a little more than a half or full day’s hire of a taxi, but well worth it. Call Jeep For Rent locally at +84 93 9402 872. USD30 for 6 hr, USD50 for 24 hr.
- Taxi : Taxis are plentiful in Long Beach, but there can be a tiresome delay. Booking them by the day is often a better bet. They’re more expensive than you might be used to in Saigon. Most taxis use meters, and you pay what the meter shows. Short trips in Duong dong are up to 60,000 dong. For a full day and a given itinerary you make a flat deal, e.g., 650,000 (USD35) for around one-half of the island, which may be what you would end up with also if the meter were running. It seems that you mostly pay for the distance driven; the driver sleeping in the drivers' hammocks does not cost that much.
- Boat: Saigon Phu Quoc Resort have their own large boat you can charter from Long Beach. Otherwise all resorts run tours with charter boats. Cost varies depending on number of passengers.
- The roads going round the northwest corner of the island are an interesting ride on a motorbike. The roads are quiet and safe, and also the unpaved roads are easy to ride (just be careful of loose sand in some places). You can stop for coffee or lunch at the Chez Carole Resort to see the views at the mouth of the Cua Can River. There are nice quiet beaches at the westernmost shore of the island, and the road east from Ganh Dau goes through dense forest. There are dozens of large colourful fishing boats in front of Ganh Dau in the afternoon.
- At the southern tip of the island is the fishing town of An Thoi. There are some fishing boats to see. You can hire a boat to take you to the small islands south of Phu Quoc from there.
- The prettiest beach on the island is Sao Beach at the southeast corner of the island, a couple of kilometres north of An Thoi, with a restaurant/cafe and beach lounging.
- A couple of kilometers east of Duong Dong there is a path (slightly more than 1 km) through the forest to the Suoi Tranh Waterfalls. This is a major attraction when it has been raining. There is barely any water during the dry season from Nov-Apr, but the rock exposed by the river is interesting, and you can hear the sounds of the forest. You can plunge into the pool under the 2 m waterfall at the end of the path.
- There are pearl farms on the west side of the island south of Duong Dong. The Phu Quoc Pearl Farm is about 10 kilometers away, and they have a cafe/restaurant and a shop.
- There are a couple of pepper farms that can be visited . The pepper plants is grow hanging from a long pole, with small green peppers on them. You can buy pepper products there to bring home as souvenirs.
- Some of the fish sauce factories can be visited.
Diving and snorkelling
Phu Quoc offers diving in two separate locations. Up north on the west side of the island or south at the An Thoi Islands. Up north there are three main diving locations with all of them at a maximum depth of 10 m. Tthey are especially great for beginners. Sites are surrounded by corals and funky rock formations which provide shelter to a variety of fish and species of nudibranch. Down south there are up to 20 different dive sites around a group of 13 islands with depths ranging from 10-40 m. The majority of the islands are surrounded by coral and are slowly being converted to marine protected areas, thus giving you a slightly better chance of seeing more and bigger fish and lots of nudibranches.
The route to the south is not as well protected as the northern site which means you might be in for rocky ride on the boat and mild to strong currents.
Snorkelling tours pick you up at your hotel in the morning and take you to the islands in the south. It usually includes the boat trip, snorkelling gear, lunch, and transportation. Don't expect to see a lot of fish and coral under water. But still a nice way to spend a day.
- Flipper Diving Club, 42 Tran Hung Dao, Duong Dong (When headed south from the night market, about 200 m from there on the right side of the road), ☎ . Daily, 09:00-20:00. The newest dive shop on the island and also a fast growing one. The only dive company on Phu Quoc that is a PADI resort and also a SSI centre. Staffed by instructors from both organizations, they can provide training from beginner level to all the way up to divemaster. They are also environmentally aware and organise clean up days, actively try to raise awareness of divers and enforce a "no-touch" policy while diving. Fun Dives USD65, For non certified starting from USD85, PADI & SSI courses starting from USD300.
- John's tour, ☎ . Snorkelling. USD15+.
- Phu Quoc Explorer, ☎ , fax: +84 77 3994639, e-mail: email@example.com. Snorkelling. USD15+.
- Rainbow Divers, 11a Tran Hung Dao, Duong Dong (Opposite the night market), ☎ . Daily, 08:00-21:00. The longest established dive centre on Phu Quoc and the island's only PADI five star dive centre. Staffed by divemasters and instructors from around the globe. PADI-courses are available in most European languages and in Vietnamese. Friendly staff and great trips. Works closely with local businesses in organising local charity events and beach and sea clean-ups. They have an eco-friendly policy with regard to looking after the reefs and in training new divers. USD75+.
- Sunny Boat Trip. Snorkelling. USD15+.
- X-Dive, Duong Dong. Operates dives to both the north and south of the island depending upon the conditions. They do not offer PADI courses.
There are ATMs in Duong Don around night market area. If you want to exchange money, the nearest bank is 500 m from the Night Market.
Main articles to buy are:
- Fresh seafood
- Morning Market, Duong Dong (Northeast of the city, past the night market).
- Night Market, Duong Dong (West of the city, near the ferry landing). Later, try wandering around the night market where locals mingle with tourists, a place that offers a selection of goods, pearls, seafood, and a playground for children. There are many options for food at the market, with fresh seafood laid out next to each restaurant for you to check out while you're making your choice of place to sit and eat.
- Bich Nguyên, Tran Hung Dao, Duong Dong (Near Chez Carole, 20 m down on the road to Kim Hoa Resort), ☎ . Small family owned restaurant serving fresh Vietnamese food.
- Buddy Ice Cream & Info Cafe, 26 Nguyen Trai St, Duong Dong town, ☎ . Great New Zealand ice cream at 30,000 dong a scoop. Also does toasted sandwiches and shakes. Free Internet, Wi-Fi, and had lots of information about the island. Gives out free Phu Quoc maps too!
- The Dog Bar, 88 Trang Hung Dao, Duong Dong (Next to Chez Carole), ☎ . Till late. The Dog Bar serves good burgers and pizzas, as well as a range of Western, Vietnamese, and seafood dishes. Watch live sports, play pool, or darts, or just listen to the music and relax with your friends. Live music . You can book dive and snorkelling trips there with Rainbow divers and Anh Tu. They have ice cold beer, mixed drinks and cocktails and friendly English speaking staff. A good place to spend your evenings in paradise. Very reasonable prices..
- Ganesh Indian Restaurant, 97 Trang Hung Dao, Duong Dong. Ganesh is probably the only Indian restaurant on the island. The food is OK, but not quite up to the standards you can experience in countries like the UK or Australia.
- Gio Bien Restaurant, Ganh Dau (On the beach in the north of the island). Offers a great selection of fresh seafood dishes and Vietnamese dishes. The beach is beautiful and just metres away from your table. Try the caramelized fish hotpot for lunch or dinner, it's a treat.
- Night Market, Võ Thị Sáu, Dương Đông. From 18:00 there are lots of small restaurants open on the street of the night market. It's the place to go for seafood. 20,000+ dong.
- Ocean Bar and Grill, 60 Trân Hung Dao, Duong Dong, ☎ . The Ocean bar provides excellent service and food. The seafood is fresh and cooked to order and the staff are highly trained and attentive. Michelle, the owner, speaks to every customer about their meal and keeps a photo and book of comments from all patrons. Highly recommended.
- Rory's Beach Bar, 118/10 Tran Hung Dao. As you walk past on the beach the Aussie owner, Rory, will tempt you with promises of ice cold beer ("Too cold to hold!") using his loud hailer. He delivers, with two draught beers on tap. There's plenty of room to sit and relax on the deck, around the bar or on the beach-front. Prices are mid-range with draught beer around 35,000 dong, cocktails hovering around 100,000 dong and meals averaging 120,000 dong. Their burgers would seriously rate in Australia which makes them some of the best in Vietnam.
Unlike most other Southeast Asian destinations, there is a substantial risk that all (affordable) hotels are fully booked when you arrive, so it is advisable to book ahead. This certainly applies in Jan-Feb, the dry high season as the island gains popularity. Budget accommodation can be hard to come by but the best bet is to head to the south end of Long Beach. In low season en suite bungalows can be found for USD10 and rooms for USD8. Most budget place for sleep are Nhat Lan, Viet Thanh or Lien Hiep Thanh. They are at about ~40 min on foot or ~10 min by motorbike taxi (10,000-20,000 dong) from Duong Dong.
- Amigos Guest house, 118/10 Trang Hun Dao (Long Beach, next to La Veranda), ☎ . Immaculate bungalows with hot/cold water, air-con, fridge, satellite TV, queen bed in each. On the beach and it has Amigos Restaurant and bar. Free Internet and weekly promotions ongoing. There is a children’s play area.
- Cassia Cottage (Long Beach in the west of the island.), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Cassia has both sea view and garden cottages. USD85-170.
- Chez Carole. Resort with one dozen bungalows, in a pretty remote location on the coast at the mouth of the Cua Can River, about 15 km north of Duong Dong and the airport. Access partly on slow, unpaved roads. There is a swimming pool, restaurant, bar, gardens. There is no beach, but small sandy islands at the mouth of the river are a short swim or boat ride away. Kayaking and canoeing. Good for a quiet short holiday, without no crowds nearby. USD160+.
- Eden Resort (On west side of island, down Tran Hung Doa Rd, about 3 km south of Duong Dong and the island's airport.), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. The spacious guest rooms feature a contemporary design, with a largish bed, flat 32" TV (lots of channels, but most with quite poor picture quality), side table/desk, 2 armchairs, minibar/fridge, air conditioning and a balcony. The bathroom has a bathtub. The main building has elevators, which are nice if your room is on the 3rd floor. The resort is located along a sandy beach and ocean, with a restaurant poolside, and a small bar. There is free Wi-Fi, and a small gym. The site has nice smallish gardens. The beach south of the resort is undeveloped (there are a couple unfinished older buildings a short distance away, and occasionally some small fishing boats at the beach). The beach right north of the resort is being developed to villas and is under construction (as of Dec 2011), and about 200 m further north there is another large hotel, with a line of bungalows close to the beach. The views from the rooms on the northern side are not particularly good. The beach at the hotel is clean and suits well to sunbathing and swimming. There aren't many trees to provide shade. The hotel transports its guest to and from the airport when you notify them about your flight details. USD150.
- Lang Toi, Sao Beach, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. There are only two hostels on the most beautiful beach, Sao Beach, and this one offers air conditioning and hot showers. Air conditioning is not only for cooling off , but also for getting away from mosquitoes. Suggest you book the room on a full-moon evening, so you can watch the moon rise from the sea, as Sao Beach is on the east side of the island. USD60+.
- Lighthouse Hotel, 15A Tran Hung Dao (Centre of Duong Dong town, opposite the Dinh Cau night market), ☎ , fax: +84 77 399 2336, e-mail: email@example.com. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. In the heart of Duong Dong town, the hotel towers above all and is a great observation point to view the surroundings. Built in Dec 2013, the hotel provides 38 comfortable rooms and modern amenities. Sea, city, mountain views. The neighbourhood offers many fantastic hot-spots, such as Dinh Cau night market, scuba diving houses, the fish market, well-known restaurants and bars, as well as groceries and a pharmacy. US60+.
- Mai House, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Fourteen stylish, high quality thatched villas dotted around gardens on the beach, fully equipped with sun loungers. There's no fridge in the villa's and no pool, but air-con, strong box, tea /coffee maker, beach towel furnished, free Wi-Fi in lobby and restaurant. The restaurant menu is good. Breakfast included. USD50 low season, USD90 high season..
- Mango Bay Resort, Ong Lang Beach (About 10 km north of Duong Dong town), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. A wonderfully peaceful resort spread between the sea on one side and a forest preserve on the other. The resort beaches are small, but the adjoining beach is as yet undeveloped for tourism and features a decent reef for snorkelling. This is a low-key resort, where the lawns are mowed by a herd of cows with wooden cowbells, and the spa opens directly onto the lawn running down the sea. Bungalows are tastefully set back from the sea and separated from each other. There is a vegetable and spice garden on the property, and much of the food served is grown there. There are several styles of bungalows, each with its own connected outdoor bathroom. USD90-150.
- Paris Beach Resort, Cau Ba Phong, Cua lap, Duong To (From Duong Dong go down Long Beach (south) and look for the sign on your right. If you see Eden Resort on your right, you just missed it.), ☎ . Check-out: 11:00. Nice staff, very friendly owners, and one of the cheaper resorts. Owned and run by a French/Vietnamese couple, both professors, who enjoy running a hotel and having guests. Food is great and prices all rather reasonable. If there is no room at Paris Beach, try Beach Club Resort right next door and vice versa. USD20-40.
- Peppercorn Beach, To 8, Ap Chuong Vich, Ganh Dau (Near Ganh Dau village just before Gio Bien Restaurant), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. On the quiet northern shores of Phu Quoc, Peppercorn has eight spacious air conditioned luxury bungalows sitting just metres from the beach. All bungalows have terrific views of the Cambodian and Vietnamese mainland in the distance. USD80-150.
- Saigon Tourist Phu Quoc Resort. The oldest large hotel on the island, close to the centre of Duong Dong and most of the tourist restaurants. USD200+.
- La Veranda, ☎ . Forty three rooms and villas spread around a pool and French-style colonial building. USD25-250.
- Viet Thanh Bungalow, Khu Pho 7, Duong Dong (South of west Long Beach, same lane as La Veranda), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Mosquito nets, hot showers. Free Wi-Fi (only front bungalows). USD6-15.
Your biggest risk on Phú Quôc is getting sick or being involved in an accident. When setting out on a motorbike trip, ensure you have a basic first aid kit and your hotel telephone number with you. In the high season there is a German doctor on the island, Dr. Thomas from Phu Quoc Emergencies. Call +84 12 668 47974 or ask your hotel reception. He speaks English, German, Russian, and Vietnamese and specializes in primary and emergency medicine.
Ask your hotel for an island tour, which may include visits to a fish sauce factory, the nature reserve, or the abandoned wartime prison.
When leaving the island by boat, you can get a mini-bus ride from Duong Dong night market to Superdong East Pier for 25,000 dong at 07:00, about a 40 min journey. Hotel pickups seems to vary from free to 60,000 dong.