Phu Quoc is a fantastic island getaway in the south of Vietnam. The best part? You don’t even need visa to fly in directly! There are plenty of things to do on the island apart from being lazy at the beach – here they are.
Beaches, beaches, beaches!
Let’s face it, Phu Quoc is in your itinerary because you want a beach getaway. This gorgeous island is surrounded on all sides with stunning beaches, most of which are completely deserted and are yet to be explored. You would probably want to spend most of your time digging the sand with your toes or lying under a sun umbrella with a good book.
The western side of the island has Long Beach. This is where most of the fancy resorts are located as this is the biggest beach on the island. If you prefer a deserted one to yourself though, you should grab a motorbike and explore elsewhere. Try Sao Beach on the east coast, which is gaining popularity among travellers. The turquoise water is crystal clear, the beach is not crowded, and it will allow you to snap a few postcard pictures. Other beaches to look for include Ong Lang, Bai Thom and Bai Dai. Many of the beaches are not even marked on maps properly which is why getting around on a motorcycle and going wherever it looks good is a great idea!
Diving and snorkelling!
Phuc Quoc island actually has the best marine life in all of Vietnam, making it a great place to explore underwater. There are plenty of diving and snorkelling opportunities around the island and you can even get your PADI certification here. You’ll be able to spot a variety of marine animals such as nudibranchs, cuttlefish, octopus, scorpion fish, various crustaceans, anemones, and moray eels. The water is calm, and clear, so it’s a great place for beginners. Top dive sites include Dry Island, Nudibranch Island and An Thoi Islands, the latter being a set of 15 islets, with a little more challenging underwater environment.
Phu Quoc National Park
The Phu Quoc National Park covers more than half of the island, so it’s really hard to not visit it, either on purpose or accidentally. This massive park spans over 314,000 square metres and was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2010. You can find all sorts of unique flora and fauna, forest, and dense mountain ranges. While the majority of park is strictly protected by the Vietnamese government for research purposes, there are still various recreational activities you can be a part of in certain areas such as hiking, camping, wildlife, photography and bird-watching. For the adventurous traveller, test your endurance by climbing Mount Heaven. It is a four-hour long trek through the forest, topped by a 32-foot (10-metre) tall bamboo ladder.
The birth of the Cao Dai religion was right here in Phu Quoc in 1919. The beautiful Cao Dai temple was built much later however, in 2008, using donations made by followers. It is a must-visit — the architecture is not only stunning, but it is super interesting to see the rituals of the locals. There are worshipping ceremonies held daily between 06:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. Make sure to dress appropriately.
Dinh Cau Rock (Cau Temple) is another pagoda worth visiting. This structure was built in 1937 to commemorate the goddess of the sea, Thien Hau, believed to provide protection to the fishermen heading out to sea. Once you climb to the top, you will be rewarded with spectacular sunset views over the Dinh Cau Beach – all the colourful traditional fishing boats moored nearby, and the neighbouring islets create a wonderfully photogenic scene. Afterwards, a walk at the Dinh Cau Night Market is refreshing,
The Phu Quoc Prison has played a large part in the history of the island. It is where during the Vietnam War, northern Vietnamese dissenters and revolutionaries were captured and held, tortured and killed. The prison is now an educational museum where torture instruments are displayed along with photographs and exhibits with life-sized mannequins depicting graphic scenes of the horror that went on within the walls. It costs around VND$3000 (less than 15 cents) per person to enter and guided tours are available in a variety of languages — totally worth it.
Duong Dong Market is Phu Quoc island’s biggest market and is located smack bang in the middle of town. Markets are always a great way to get some insight into the local life, and also to buy some fresh fruit, and cooked food. You can even get some awesome souvenirs, bracelets and necklaces made of sea shells, pearl earrings etc., to take back to your loved ones. Another great souvenir is the fish sauce made here.
Dinh Cau Night Market is another market you can visit. There are lots of seafood stalls here, so coming here in the evening for dinner is a great idea. Try lobster, tiger prawns, crabs, clams, prepared in all sorts of ways — fried, sautéed, curried, grilled, etc. The ingredients are as fresh as you can imagine.
Getting around by motorbike
The best way of getting around the island is by motorbike. You can rent one for as little as USD$6.00 for the day. The traffic of Phu Quoc is not as hectic as that of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, so it is a safer environment for you to drive. Make sure you take the proper safety gear and that you have your licence.
With your own bike, you can leisurely explore the island, and find hidden beaches. You can visit tiny local villages that are off the tourist circuit such as Ganh Dau. Other places you can visit are pepper plantations and fish sauce factories.
Lastly, getting on a see-food diet is a must while here, and by that we mean you see food and you eat! We also do mean that you should try all the seafood you can. Phu Quoc is known for its octopus and crabs. There are plenty of restaurants scattered around the main areas, and don’t be afraid to sit down at worn-down looking shacks with a few plastic stools and tables spread out front — some of the best meals can be found in places like this. Let the owners recommend the dishes for you if you don’t know what to order or are overwhelmed by the items on the menu.
By Piumi Rajapaksha, TheCultureTrip