Attractions on Phu Quoc Island

If you can tear yourself away from the beach, there are tons of interesting things to see on Phu Quoc. Popular attractions are the rowdy day and night markets in Duong Dong, gaudy temples, romantic waterfalls, a gruesome prison left over from the war-torn past, and pungent fish sauce factories.

Coconut Tree Prison (Nha Lao Cay Dua Prison)

Near An Thoi town. Tel: (84-77) 3846331.

It is hard to imagine brutality when you are on the beach, but the beautiful south coast of Phu Quoc hides a brutal past indeed. Some 5km north of An Thoi town is the Coconut Tree Prison, a tropical gulag for generations of revolutionaries in the French colonial era and, more recently, Communist guerillas in the war against America. At the height of the Vietnam War some 40,000 VCs (Viet Cong) were exiled here. This Phu Quoc prison still holds some prisoners but tourists are welcome to visit and see the rusty remains of the older complex. Across the road rises a monument to the 4000 prisoners (now martyrs) who perished. There are plans to expand the museum, which at the moment comprises a tiny blue shed (open 7.30am-11am, 1.30pm-5pm; closed Mondays). Inside you can see headshots of the heroes who were incarcerated, statuettes of prisoners being beaten by guards, and some of the original tiger cages where troublesome inmates were tortured.

Coi Nguon Museum

149 Tran Hung Dao, Duong Dong. Tel: (84-77) 3980206.

Along with a museum chronicling the island's past, this is a strange sanctuary for hundreds of pure-bred Phu Quoc dogs and local sea eagles. Along with the dugong, Phu Quoc sea eagles are in danger of extinction, but owner Huynh Phuoc Hue is making a valiant effort to save them. Dog fanatics will love the native Phu Quoc dog, a rare breed with a blue tongue and a hairy ridge running up and down its spine. The hairs of the ridge stand erect when the dog is excited. Some tourists would love to leave Phu Quoc with a native puppy in their possession, since the dogs are considered to be exceptionally intelligent. Unfortunately, the export red tape can be a killer! That said, you don't have to go all the way to the Coi Nguon Museum to see the dogs, as they are a regular fixture on many Phu Quoc beaches. They will approach you before you approach them. The museum's website. Entrance fee: 20,000 Dong (US$1).

Dinh Cau Rock

Duong Dong Beach.

Considered by some the symbol of Phu Quoc, Dinh Cau is an oddly shaped rock at the mouth of Duong Dong River. Part lighthouse and part Buddhist temple, the rock is revered as a sacred site. Fishermen pray here before embarking on voyages, and townsfolk flock here to celebrate Tet New Year. Other temples you can visit elsewhere on the island include the Sung Hung Co Tu pagoda, a riot of incense and color in a classical Chinese style, Su Muon Pagoda, and Nguyen Trung Truc Temple in the north, which is dedicated to a famous anti-French patriot who once sheltered here.

Duong Dong day and night markets

Duong Dong town.

If you are so inclined and know how to cook them you could buy your own live chickens, ducks or turtles at the Duong Dong markets, which are open both day and night in slightly different parts of town. The day market is located right in the middle of Duong Dong and it bustles with trade in fish, fruit, vegetables and ready-to-go snacks such as baked taro potato cakes. The night market operates on Vo Thi Sau St further towards the sea, near the Dinh Cau temple, and teems with stalls selling cheap and exotic foods as well as conch shells and handicrafts. This is probably the closest Phu Quoc gets to a shopping mall, and is perfect for souvenir hunting.

Khai Hoan Fish Sauce Factory

Tel: (84-77) 3848555.

It might stink but for connoisseurs of Vietnamese food, a visit to this fish sauce factory is like a pilgrimage. Nuoc mam is the essential condiment of Vietnamese cooking, and they don't make it any better than on Phu Quoc. There are about 100 nuoc mam distilleries on the island, but Khai Hoan is the one most visited by tourists. It is right in the middle of Duong Dong, just a short walk from the markets, and admission is free. As Victoria Allman reported, the secret of Phu Quoc's nuoc mam success is a small silver anchovy called ca com. Copious quantities of this fish are dragged out of the Gulf of Thailand every night, and then left to ferment for a year here in 3000-gallon vats. As you would expect, all these fermenting anchovies create one hell of an odor. Allman wrote: "As I entered the factory, the smell hit me like a door being slammed in my face. It took my breath away." Needless to say, she said the little thimble of nuoc mam she was offered to taste-test tasted divine, but unfortunately airline policies prevented her from taking any of it home with her. That's the rule, at least, on Vietnam Airlines flights. Another fish sauce factory you can visit, this time in the An Thoi area, is Nam Huong. Factory website here.

Suoi Tranh Waterfall

Between Duong Dong town and Ham Ninh village.

The Suoi Tranh waterfall is not the biggest or the most dramatic of its kind, but it does have its own charms. There is a moderately daunting 200m walk to get to the waterfall, or rather the collection of small waterfalls and rock-pools and one larger fall. Once you get there, however, you have the option of diving into the clear cool stream, or hunting for wild orchids. Nearby is the nicely named Bat Cave. The falls are 7km south-east of Duong Dong, just off the road to Ham Ninh village. Admission costs 1000 Dong (US$0.05) plus an extra 1000 Dong for your motorcycle if you are riding one. Another popular Phu Quoc waterfall you could check out is Suoi Da Ben (Da Ben Stream).




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