Vietnam is home to some 2,030 miles of beautiful coastline and hundreds of islands.
But one in particular is well on its way to contending with beach giants such as Phuket or Bali.
Phu Quoc, a 222-square-mile island in the Gulf of Thailand, has welcomed rapid development and an ever-increasing list of direct flight connections.
Visitor numbers have grown in parallel, catapulting to an estimated 2.5 million in 2018 — a 25% jump compared with the year prior.
Most come for the beautiful beaches — such as Sao Beach, Long Beach and Ong Lang Beach — but there’s much more on this travel menu.
Travelers can kayak through fishing villages or dine on fresh seafood aboard a floating platoon, go squid fishing or visit a pearl farm to see how “Pearl Island” got its nickname.
“I grew up on the island and it’s changed a lot in the past 10 years but has retained its natural beauty,” Anna Nguyen, a local expert who works with travel experience platform Klook, tells CNN Travel.
“Many people come for a weekend getaway, since it’s a quick flight from Ho Chi Minh City, but there’s so much to do; you can live here your whole life like me and still be exploring.”
For some inspiration, here are a few things to do in Phu Quoc to add to your itinerary.
Dive right in
Whether you’re keen to snorkel or scuba dive, the waters around Phu Quoc are teeming with marine life, most of which is centered around the Phu Quoc Marine Park in the south or the Ganh Dau Coral Gardens just off the northwestern tip.
In addition to crabs, squid and hundreds of coral reef fish, you might also be lucky enough to spot a hawksbill turtle or a green turtle — both of which are endangered.
If you have your heart set on diving, the best time to go is during the dry season, from October to April, for the best visibility.
Dine at Ham Ninh fishing village
A combination of an outdoor restaurant and seafood market, Ham Ninh fishing village promises an affordable, convivial night out.
Located on the eastern coast, the village is set inland from the ocean along a canal where stilt houses, colorful boats and floating restaurants hover above the water.
“You can find so many types of seafood here, such as the famous crabs, clams, oysters and sea urchin — that’s really special,” says Nguyen. “But if you like fish, you should try cobia fish [also known as black kingfish] — it’s a tender, flaky white fish with black scales.”
For lunch or dinner, travelers can simply pick from the daily catch and choose a preparation method — grilled, steamed, hot pot style or fried up with local pepper, garlic and a mountain of Vietnamese herbs.
On the northern end of Phu Quoc, Cua Can river winds from the sea into the center of the island.
The 14-kilometer stretch of water is an ideal place to go kayaking, especially for beginners, thanks to the calm currents and jungle surrounds.
“It’s very quiet and peaceful — it feels like a hidden gem because you can’t get there by car,” says Nguyen. “You really have to know where you’re going.”
At the end of the river, where the water feeds into the Gulf of Thailand and white sandbanks glisten under the sun, a small fishing village of wooden bridges and stilt houses offers a chance to stop for an atmospheric lunch.
If you’re confident in the kayak, travelers can paddle out into the ocean and explore nearby coral reefs and isles.
Head to the night market
The one and only Dinh Cau Night Market, in the west coast town of Duong Dong (Phu Quoc’s largest urban center), is an experience not to be missed.
A stomping ground for food obsessives, there are dozens of food stalls, aromatic grills and outdoor tables, as well as excellent gourmet souvenirs — think black pepper, coffee, tea leaves, peanuts, chocolate and more.
“Overall the feeling is very much like other night markets in Southeast Asia, but here it’s special because everything is really local,” Nguyen.
“The vendors always invite foreigners to try little bites of food as they walk around, so you should definitely bring an appetite.”
A series of little bars along the river provide a resting place to enjoy a chilled beer or coconut ice cream after your market feast.
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