It's rare to find an island as unspoilt and yet so bursting with possibility as Phu Quoc Island (Phú Quốc), which rises like an emerald from the waters off the south-west coast of Vietnam. Gorgeous scenery might be dime a dozen in Vietnam, but the landscapes on Phu Quoc belong to a different order of loveliness altogether. This is due to the island's isolation and low population, and its location smack bang in the middle of the sublimely beautiful Gulf of Thailand. Here you will find is solitude, and gorgeous scenery piled on in spades.
Imagine soft secluded beaches, the water a thousand different shades of turquoise. Stunning sunsets, thunderclouds heaped on the horizon. Palm trees protruding perpendicular over the gentle waves. That's Phu Quoc. Everywhere you look you'll want to take a photo.
More than a dozen stunning beaches with a total length of 150km, calm and near transparent seas, a whole armada of pristine islets massed off the southern coast. Pristine and blessedly uncrowded, the beaches are Phu Quoc's main drawcard. Fishermen roam the waters at night, their lights dancing on the horizon. By day you will have the waves largely to yourself.
Coral reefs swarming with tropical fish, of every possible color and design. Phu Quoc is a Shangri-La, one of those dwindling number of locations that are truly unspoilt. But it won’t be unspoilt for long. Phu Quoc is a place where you can swim on beaches which until a few years ago were not only off the radar of foreigners, they were totally off-limits by the military authorities. You could have been arrested just for strolling on these fine sandy shores. Those days are over, but with the ending of isolation comes a new urgency, the need to see this island before it is too late. The innocence of Phu Quoc will not last for long.
While more expensive than the rest of Vietnam, Phu Quoc is still incredibly good value. For US$10 a night you can get a bungalow with hammocks and your own personal sunrise over the beach. The sky is the limit at the other end of the spectrum, if you choose to stay at one of the multi-star resorts.
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Many visitors come just to chill out on the beach. However, there are loads of other interesting things to see, such as pearl farms, waterfalls and gaudy temples. The markets are always a riot of fun, be it day or night. Hunt for crabs or squid, or scuba dive on the coral reefs. You might spot the rare and mysterious dugong, which reportedly swims here. If you can't scuba dive you can always snorkel instead, or hire a motorbike and explore the island.
How to get to Phu Quoc Island?
Just under an hour by plane from Ho Chi Minh City, Phu Quoc can also be reached by boat, ship or catamaran. Construction of an international airport on the island is planned. But while there are ample connections from mainland Vietnam, access from Cambodia is more complicated.
When to go?
November to March (Dry Season) is the best time to visit but hotels book out fast, especially around Christmas, western New Year and Tet (Vietnamese New Year). Tet is in fact the busiest time of the year on Phu Quoc and some hotels double their rates for the season. If you visit at Tet (late January to early February, depending on the moon) book well in advance.
History and culture
Until recently Phu Quoc was a sleepy backwater, off limits to foreigners. French administrators built a prison in the 19th Century to detain revolutionaries and troublemakers. Phu Quoc remained a place of exile right up until the end of the last Vietnam War in 1973, and its prison witnessed many atrocities. Those days are over, however, and the island is on a path to a bright and prosperous future.