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Home >> Vietnam >> Southern Vietnam >> Phu Quoc Island

Phu Quoc Island

Overview

Phu Quoc is a picturesque island full of transparent blue waters, dense jungles, and sandy beaches. Phu Quoc has experienced several transformations throughout its lifetime. It has gone from an untouched island with less than a thousand inhabitants to a point of fighting and convention between nations. Today, Phu Quoc thrives as a holiday destination in Vietnam.

Phu Quoc is about 50 kilometers long and 25 kilometers wide, making it Vietnam’s largest island. There is a sizable mountain range that runs through the island, stretching as far as 603 meters from the highest point. It’s situated in the Gulf of Thailand, south of Cambodia.

There are a couple of seasons in Phu Quoc – the dry season and the rainy one. The dry season starts in December and runs through March, while the rainy season generally begins in June and ends in November. Phu Quoc’s hottest periods are from April to March, as temperatures can soar as high as 35° Celsius. Having said that, Phu Quoc is fairly warm all year long, and the average temperature fluctuates between 22 and 23° Celsius. The most optimal time to visit Phu Quoc is when the sun shines during the dry season. That’s when skies are at their clearest and humidity is at its lowest.

Phu Quoc wasn’t always the paradise it resembles today. The island remained fairly untouched until the 1750s. That’s when a small number of locals began to populate the area, creating a life for themselves by the water. During this era, sea cucumbers began to harvest on the island.

The island started to get some attention between the 1760s and the 1780s. During this time, Pierre de Behaine – a French missionary – harbored Nguyen Anh, a prince on the run from the Tay Son.

The island underwent even more change in 1869 when French colonialists decided to occupy Phu Quoc. Coconut and rubber plantations were established during this period. Vietnam regained ownership of the island in 1949.

Coconut Tree Prison was initially used during the initial Indochina war, where it held prisoners hostage by the thousands. During the Vietnam – America war, American soldiers further developed the prison. It remains on the island today, but as a place for tourists to visit. Visitors can see the place where prisoners endured harrowing conditions.

Phu Quoc endured more uncertainty when Cambodia and Vietnam made it a point of contention. The Khmer Rouge seized control of Phu Quoc in 1975, but were defeated by Vietnamese soldiers during the Cambodia – Vietnam war.

Phu Quoc is a peaceful retreat nowadays, and continues to grow in popularity every year. There are plans to further develop Phu Quoc in the future.

Phu Quoc National Park makes up for half the island today. It’s a wonderful area to explore and has a bevy of rugged tracks to venture through. Sandy white beaches encompass the park, lazily stretching across the shore towards the warm, transparent ocean. Slightly away from the shore are a number of coral ecosystems housing sea wildlife. They also make for a great place to go scuba diving in. In addition to the island’s immense beauty and natural landscape, a number of other entertainment options are on hand, and there are plans to expand development on the island in the years to come.

If you need to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, Phu Quoc is the place to go.

Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam
Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam

See & Do

The island’s main attraction are the white sandy beaches that fringe it. You can unwind yourself there, take your surroundings in, and soak in the sun. While a number of beaches here are no longer open to the public (because of impending construction), a variety of gorgeous beaches still remain.

A frequently visited beach on the island is Long Beach (a.k.a. Bai Troung), which reaches 20 km across the coastline. Situated on the island’s West Coast, this place has become a tourism hub. The large beach backs onto a bevy of cafés, restaurants, and resorts. The personification of an island getaway is Long Beach. Everything you need is at your disposal, the sand is soft and white, the waters are clear and blue, the seafood is delicious, and the fruit is succulent. The northern part of the beach (among other areas) can get rather crowded during peak times since it is more developed than other areas. Nonetheless, the beach is very large, and there’s plenty of room for everyone.

Bai Sao Beach - Phu Quoc Island
Bai Sao Beach – Phu Quoc Island

Vai Bung Beach and Ong Lang Beach are quieter than Long Beach. Both beaches are north of Long Beach and contain tranquil blue waters, but with fewer people on the sand. There are a number of resorts on each beach, along with food shacks scattered throughout the shoreline.

For people who are partial to as much seclusion as possible, there are other beaches that can be explored. Many areas on these beaches remained untouched, and you might need a local to show you where they are.

Phu Quoc’s sunsets are something you have to see to appreciate. The beach is an ideal place to observe this remarkable wonder. When the hot sun glides down the sky, its golden glow wraps around the island. The ocean mirrors the light with its glass-like appearance, echoing the sun’s descent behind the horizon. Watching the sunset is a great way to end your day in Phu Quoc. It also adds a touch of island mystique to every vacation.

A lot of people come to Phu Quoc to scuba dive. The central areas for scuba diving are south and north of the island. Divers have the opportunity to explore all kinds of species that live in coral reefs. The An Thoi Archipelago is the hub of scuba diving, which is situated off the island’s south coast. Here, the mesmerizing coral reefs go down as far as 25 meters under the surface. An assortment of creatures call this area home, including turtles, bamboo sharks, manta rays, and stingrays. Fingertip Island and Turtle Island are north of Phu Quoc, and they are both encompassed by coral as deep as 10 meters. You’ll spot a number of small species and wildlife residing in this area.

Long Beach - Phu Quoc Island
Long Beach – Phu Quoc Island

There are other watersports to partake in besides scuba diving in Phu Quoc. Snorkeling is a wonderful approach to seeing coral up close, as well as the wildlife that inhabits it. There are resorts that offer wind sailing, kayaking, and jet skiing options, allowing you to venture into the coastline and experience the island’s beauty from a sea perspective.

Tourists can also navigate through the park’s jungle, which covers a majority of Phu Quoc. There are different ecosystems within the park, mangrove forests and palm bushlands being a couple of them. Concealed inside of this luscious greenery are insect and animal communities – there are 200 species in total that inhabit the park. Several species are quite rare, including the lorises, long-tailed macaques, and silver langurs. The most optimal approach to experiencing all this amazing nature is by motorbike or on foot. Be mindful, though, that it can be somewhat challenging to trek through the paths.

Also found throughout Phu Quoc are tumbling waterfalls and winding streams, which are ideal areas to get some relief from the heat. 10 minutes away from Duong Dong is Tranh Waterfall, which has a fantasy-like ambiance to it. The waterfall is sheltered by forests  and vegetation. The water falls into a pool as it spills from the rocks – small fish and freshwater shrimp swim around the most in this pool. In addition to experiencing the stunning waterfalls, tourists will also get to see the forest’s flora and fauna.

The history of Phu Quoc being used as a prison is chronicled at a war memorial across from of Coconut Tree Prison. Up until a few years ago, the facility remained an active prison. Today it stands as a museum. The displays inside of the heritage site visually depict harrowing conditions prisoners were subjected to. Barbaric torture scenes are re-created with models, showing what the Vietcong endured after capture. The French initially used the prison, followed by Americans, both of which held prisoners in harrowing settings, preying on their mental and physical well-being. The war memorial is symbolized by a few waves in blue. The middle wave has a human silhouette carved out. The symbol and the prison serve as reminders about the dangers of war.

Culture & Arts

There are a variety of interesting temples to visit in Phu Quoc, all of which allow you to learn more about local culture. You can also take some time to reflect on your thoughts inside these temples, if you wish. Dinh Cau Temple may be the most recognizable of them all, as it is situated on a rugged outcropping. Connected to Dinh Cau Beach (from the entrance of the Duong Dong River), this temple looks like it’s tangled in various trees and rocks grown around it. During the sunset, it looks quite beautiful. This temple is a shrine to Thien Hau, the Goddess of the Sea, who protects people on the waters (in conjunction with a lighthouse perched on top of the rocks).

Phu Quoc played a key part in developing the religion of Cau Dai.  Caodaism’s main premise is that every religion stands united in their worship of a shared God. The unique decor of the temple features colorful paraphernalia throughout each room. Another draw of the temple are the breathtaking views one can take in from the tower. From there, you’ll be able to see the ocean, Duong Dong Town, and the river. Be sure to bring your camera!

For a sense of how the locals live on the island, you can familiarize yourself with the labor involved during the main harvesting time on the island. Phu Quoc is where a fish sauce called Nuoc Mam is produced. This sauce is created with a unique form of anchovy located in closeby waters. In Duong Dong Town, several factories open their doors to tourists, who can walk through the facility and sample some sauce. Pepper is another notable export grown here, specifically on pepper plantations. It’s fascinating to watch how seasoning is grown – you might even get to take some of this fine pepper home with you!

The night market in Phu Quoc is also worth visiting to get a sense of local culture. While the central area has mostly become hotspot for tourists, it remains a wonderful opportunity to engage with the natives and taste their food. You’ll even buy souvenirs here if you’re interested in taking home something to remember the island by. Seafood that’s freshly caught is displayed at the front of restaurants. Customers can pick out the specific fish they’ll eat (which involves some haggling to secure the best deal possible).

 

Snorkeling in Phu Quoc island
Snorkeling in Phu Quoc island

Festivals & Events

The Vu Lan Festival is one of Phu Quoc’s largest conventional festivals. Translated to mean “Amnesty of the Unquiet Spirits,” this event takes place on the 7th lunar month’s 15th day (which happens to be the spirit month). Some say that spirits come home during this period. To guide lost spirits in the right direction, animals, clothes, and food offerings are made to allure them. During this time, maternal love is celebrated – parents receive gifts from their children as an expression of gratitude. The island’s gorgeous temples always draw a large crowd during the festival.

Speaking of large crowds, you’ll often find them at the Dragon Boat Festival. Taking place annually on April 30 (a.k.a. Reunification Day), spectators visit beaches to view this race. The encompassing cafés and beaches offer ideal areas to experience the action.

Phu Quoc attracts a number of music lovers courtesy of the electronic music gathering called the Epozide Festival. Epozide began in early 2017 and endeavors to go head-to-head with other prominent names of the party destination industry. Travellers come to the Phu Quoc in hordes to take part in the fun, bringing their wallets with them. The festival integrates popular musicians with installations, sports, culture, and art, and the party goes strong for 14 days. The breathtaking views surrounding the festival complement the entertainment and music. The Epozide Festival is Pho Quoc’s attempt to stake their claim on the music festival map, stimulating tourism in the process.

Food & Drink

To no surprise, the average diet in Phu Quoc mostly revolves around seafood, as the encompassing ocean makes for a great resource. Most food shacks and restaurants situated along the beach cook up delicious treats on a regular basis, including squid and barbecued fish.

Sea cucumber harvesting is something else that Phu Quoc has become renowned for. Many local dishes utilize this strange seabed-inhabiting creature. Sea cucumber soup is a popular dish here, though the mammal can be consumed in other ways (perhaps baked, converted to a savory porridge, or cut up into a salad). Because of heightened demand by China (sea cucumbers come medicinal benefits), it may be a challenge to locate a restaurant that serves them. The ones that do tend to charge high rates.

Another strange-looking delicacy is the grilled sea urchin. Once the urchin is sanitized and its spine is taken out, it is enhanced with spring onions before being grilled on a barbecue. The substance within its tiny spiky cups get pulled out and mixed in with lime juice, pepper, and salt before consumption.

A herring salad (Goi Ca Mai) is also an unusual additional find in Phu Quoc. What makes herrings unique is that – much like sushi – they’re served raw. Because the fish is fresh, they don’t need to be cooked. Rather, they are cut up into fillets before being marinated in a delicious sauce (containing coconut, onions, chilies, and lime juice). They are then served with rice paper, vegetables, and fresh herbs.

Also popular in Phu Quoc are shellfish, particularly flower crabs. Often served in restaurants, the consumer chooses the crab they want to eat. The dense meat is combined with a basic-but-tasty sauce – an integration of black pepper, salt, and lime juice.

Sim wine is mostly consumed in Phu Quoc. This beverage is a unique variation of the conventional rice wine drink that is quite popular in Vietnam. Sim fruit – which is obtained from Rose myrtle trees – is first juiced before being combined with rice wine, creating a pleasant-tasting drink. Natives claim that there are healing qualities in the wine.

Phu Quoc Night Market
Phu Quoc Night Market

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