I have to admit: I’d never heard of Phu Quoc until I read about the launch of Air Asia flights from Kuala Lumpur to Phu Quoc. Out of curiosity, I looked it up on a map and started reading more about the island. Phu Quoc is the largest island in Vietnam and is located in the Gulf of Thailand, near the border with Cambodia (map). The Phu Quoc National Park, with its dense tropical jungles and mountainous terrain, covers more than half of the island. Phu Quoc is also home to long stretches of sandy beaches, primarily on the southwest coast, making it a popular beach destination. One fact that immediately caught my eye was that Phu Quoc enjoys a special status within Vietnam and tourists can visit the island visa-free (as opposed to visa requirements for mainland Vietnam). I double-checked that fact, and since I was already in Kuala Lumpur, I quickly made plans to visit Phu Quoc for three days with my best friend.
Three days in Phu Quoc
It was a short 1-hour+ flight from Kuala Lumpur and we soon landed at Phu Quoc’s shiny new airport. Indeed, no visa was required for Phu Quoc but there was a special desk for those continuing to the mainland. I booked a three-night stay at the Coral Bay Resort (link to Booking.com). Situated on Long Beach, Phu Quoc’s most popular beach, the hotel was only a 10-15 minute drive away from the airport, and another 10-15 minutes from the largest town, Duong Dong. The hotel consists of a tower and low-rise buildings which stretch to the pool and beach. The staff were very friendly and chirpy and we quickly felt right at home.
We spent the rest of the day at the beach and the pool. Long Beach is indeed a popular place, with many hotels, beach clubs and restaurants but nowhere did it feel overcrowded unlike some other island destinations in Southeast Asia. Long Beach is the perfect place in Phu Quoc for sunset cocktails. The beach itself is ok. Perhaps because of the monsoon season (I was there in January), the sea was quite choppy and murky.
Another popular beach is Bai Sao, a palm-fringed stretch of white sand lapped by gentle waves. There are several wooden swings in the water you can sit on.
In the evening, we strolled along the main street (Duong Tran Hung Dao) and found many shops, restaurants and bars. We chose a simple but cosy restaurant called Heaven and tucked into a delicious (and very reasonably-priced) seafood dinner.
Markets and food in Phu Quoc
During our stay in Phu Quoc, we visited Duong Dong town several times both during the daytime and in the evening. It’s a bustling town on both sides of a river that’s packed with colourful fishing vessels. There’s a street market at the riverside with lots of seafood, vegetables, clothing and crafts. We spent a few hours just strolling around and admiring the incredible array of fish, shellfish and vegetables!
One evening, we found a terrific seafood restaurant in Duong Dong called Bup Restaurant (map) frequented by locals and tourists alike. Prices are reasonable and the seafood is fresh (you can pick and choose from the buckets). We had the fried seafood noodles and the steamed clams (which came in a delicious broth). I also had the raw fish salad which came with rice paper, vegetables, leaves and rice noodles, which you could then roll up and dip into the peanut sauce. So good!
On our last evening, we visited the Night Market in Duong Dong, a must-visit for foodies in Phu Quoc! There was a tantalising variety of food vendors serving all sorts of Vietnamese specialties, from fresh seafood dishes to grilled skewers, wraps, dried seafood and spices.
From the Night Market, we wandered around the town and discovered atmospheric, tree-lined streets, a plethora of restaurants and cafés as well as the odd temple. One temple in particular stood out: Cao Dai Temple. With its brightly-coloured façade and visible references to multiple religions, you simply can’t miss it!
Other things to do in Phu Quoc
Chatting with the locals and other visitors, we learned about other things to do in Phu Quoc:
- Go on an island-hopping/snorkelling day trip to the south and/or the north of Phu Quoc
- Hire a motorbike and explore the island – you can visit pepper plantations, fish sauce factories, Ham Ninh village (a picturesque fishing village on the east coast) and the Phu Quoc National Park
- Go on a leisurely stroll through the jungle to Suoi Tranh waterfall
- Learn more about Vietnam’s turbulent history at the Phu Quoc Prison Museum
- Ride the world’s longest cable-car to Hon Thom or Pineapple Island. The 8-kilometer ride takes you over turquoise bays, little islands and countless fishing boats.
We didn’t get to do everything – we were in Phu Quoc for only a few days – but I’m sure we’ll return. Phu Quoc somehow reminded me of Phuket in the 1990’s when it was less crowded and utterly charming. I noticed many new hotel and condominium developments as well as infrastructure projects on Phu Quoc so I’d return sooner rather than later, if only to indulge myself in the fabulous seafood!