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.
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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. 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.
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).
Scuba divers can attest to the spiritual highs which result from cruising the ocean's silent depths. With its hard and soft coral reefs, calm and clear warm waters, and swarms of tropical fish, Phu Quoc offers superb scuba diving. Many of these underwater gardens have never been dived before, as scuba diving only arrived on the island recently, in the year 2002 to be precise. The pioneer of Phu Quoc was Jeremy Stein, an English PADI course director still regarded as the authority of diving on the island. Jeremy and his crew at Rainbow Divers offer the only 5-star PADI diving on Phu Quoc, and their office is at 11 Tran Hung Dao St, Duong Dong.
Rainbow Divers claim to make a big effort to be eco-friendly on their excursions, and restrict diver numbers. Rates range from US$100 for a full day's outing with three dives (each 45-60 minutes), to US$40 for a night dive off the beach. If you don't have certification to scuba dive try out a beginner's "try dive" in a swimming pool or on a shallow beach. For certified scuba divers Phu Quoc is a great place to learn new skills. If you want to become a divemaster the course takes between 1-3 months and costs US$1500.
Some other diving companies include: Coco Dive Center (58 Tran Hung Dao St, Duong Dong; tel: (84-77) 3982100), run by a former French navy diver. Dives last about one hour and are conducted in 10m deep water off Turtle Island, Mong Tay and Ong Khoi. When you return to the surface expect a buffet of Vietnamese food to be spread out on board the boat. Searama (91 Tran Hung Dao St, Duong Dong; tel: (84-77) 3994577). Supposedly run by a guy called Willy. Offers speed classes for scuba proficiency. For a glimpse of the animal life on Phu Quoc (as well as the seafood and diving), see Chad and Anema's Adventures blog.
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Squid fishing is one of the big industries on Phu Quoc, and tourists are welcome to try their hand at catching some of these strange animals. Since squid are best caught at night, fishermen head out after dark in their quest. If you want to join them, ask at the desk of your hotel, or contact Phu Quoc Sunny. Lights are dropped in the water to attract the squid, like moths to a flame. An Australian female food blogger who participated in the hunt, Foraging Otaku, wrote: "Squid fishing intrigues me even more as the squid is such a curiously alien-like nocturnal creature with its flashing camouflage skin and suckered tentacles. Needless to say I was as excited as a giddy child going to the Easter Show when I got on the boat and couldn't wait to start fishing for the critters."