Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam

Travellers also call Phu Quoc the “Pearl Island of Asia” because apart from fish sauce and pepper, Phu Quoc Island provides some of the most beautiful pearls in Southeast Asia. The island is small but has a lot to offer for adventurous tourists and resort-bummers alike.

We took a close look on the island in 2015. Now, that’s been a while ago and I am aware that the Vingroup stomped resorts and safari/amusement parks out of the ground. Some attractions I am writing about, like “Jungle Trails” or the northern fishing villages will simply be gone by the time you read this. Sad, but consider my articles about Phu Quoc an inspiration rather than a travel guide.

Perle
Phu Quoc Pearl

Top things to experience on Phu Quoc Island

Seesterne in Ham Ninh
Starfish for sale in Ham Ninh

Relax on the long and sandy beaches if you like, or take a stroll through the hills. If you visit educational places like the Coi Nguon Museum in Duong Dong or the famous Coconut Tree Prison, you learn much about the long and turbulent history of the island.

Recently the Vietnamese government is encouraging the development of Phu Quoc Island into one of Vietnam’s prime tourist destinations.

Dinh Cau Temple, Phu Quoc Island
Dinh Cau Temple, Phu Quoc Island

While a lot of the original charme, tiny fishing villages and native culture will be lost in the coming years, the increased development will provide top-standard beach resorts for foreign and Vietnamese tourists alike. The increased tourism also raises the living standard of the local people.

The main problem of the island is trash. The excessive consumption of plastic bags in Vietnam leaves it’s footprint on the many beautiful beaches of Phu Quoc. Carefully pick the time of the year when you visit the pearl island, because the direction of the wind determines on which side of the island you can swim in crystal-clear water and where the ocean doesn’t look so nice.

But don’t let that discourage you from booking a hotel room! How ever you plan to spend your holidays, Phu Quoc Island has everything you expect from a tropical island. Excellent seafood, silent temples and pagodas, a small but interesting nightlife area, tours to remote beaches, farms and the national park and a variety of other activities like scuba diving, riding a jetski or a boat tour to various small dream islands.

Phu Quoc Island Guide

Enjoy your stay and experience the amazing landscape, whether you are out on an adventure or just beachbumming. Phu Quoc Island is also called “Pearl Island of Vietnam“, since Phu Quoc pearls are amongst other commodities such as pepper and fish sauce, a product of the island. Vietnam is about to develop Phu Quoc to a top tourist destination and there are many nice hotels and luxury resorts around as well.

How to get to Phu Quoc Island

Of course, before you can relax on one of the island’s paradise beaches, you need to get there. For getting to Phu Quoc, you have two options:

  • Bus & boat, which is tedious and takes time but is cheaper
  • Airplane, which is a little pricier, but much faster

Access to Phu Quoc Island via Bus & Boat

If you are already in Rach Gia or Ha Tien, it’s just a hop over the Gulf of Thailand with the fast ferry. Superdong is not some special kind of… toy, but the ferry company that takes you from the Vietnamese mainlands to Phu Quoc and back.

At the time we checked, the fare was
230,000đ for the Ha Tien – Phu Quoc connection and
350,000đ for Rach Gia – Phu Quoc.


Superdong III ferry from Rach Gia to Phu Quoc | photo: Axel Drainville (cc-by-nc)

For current fares, departure times and other information about the Superdong ferry, please check out their website: Superdong Ferries, or drop by their main office on 10 30/4 Street in Duong Dong.

The transferbus from the office to the harbour is 30,000đ extra. Be quick, or you have to stand.

Ha Tien is a popular border crossing to Cambodia, especially for people coming from or going to Sihanouk.

From Ha Tien or Rach Gia to Saigon by Bus

If you travel on a budget or have masochistic tendencies, you take the bus to Saigon, which takes roughly eight hours that feel like 12. The main bus companies offering sitting or sleeping buses are Kumho Samco and Phuong Trang (Futa Buslines). The bus is significantly cheaper than the airplane and usually we take the bus for shorter hops. Even if the seeping buses are uncomfortable for long-legged people like me, at least you catch some sleep… Unless the driver is an utter idiot and cannot drive for two minutes without hooting like a flaming maniac.

Connections
as per December 2015. Check out their websites to get the most up-to-date information.

Busline from to type price
Phuong Trang Saigon Ha Tien sleeper 165,000đ
Phuong Trang Saigon Rach Gia sleeper 145,000đ
Kumho Samco Sai Gon Ha Tien sleeper 200,000đ
Kumho Samco Sai Gon Ha Tien seater 175,000đ
Kumho Samco Sai Gon Rach Gia seater 150,000đ

Be careful during summer holidays, since Vienamese families travel a lot during that time and the buses are filled up pretty fast. Buy your tickets in advance at your favourite travel agency.

Taxis and Transfer on Phu Quoc Island

If you booked at one of the more luxurious resorts on Phu Quoc, they probably send a transfer car to pick you up from the harbour or airport. If that is not the case and you need a taxi, be careful as usual when using taxis in Vietnam. Fortunately there are Mai Linh taxis available as well, which are known as the most reliable ones.

Phu Quoc Island by Airplane

Going by airplane is a more convenient alternative since it’s much faster. It is more expensive however. Here is a list of airlines, offering flights to Phu Quoc International Airport. I gathered this information in June 2015, so since Phu Quoc is being developed as Vietnam’s prime paradiese island, many planned connections could already be in effect when yo read this. New flight conections from China, South Korea, Bangkok and Kazakhstan are planned, so stay tuned.

International Flights

Airline from/to to/from
Vietnam Airlines Phu Quoc Singapore
Vietnam Airlines Phu Quoc Siem Reap

Domestic Flights

Airline from/to to/from
Jetstar Pacific Phu Quoc Saigon
Vietnam Airlines Phu Quoc Saigon
Vietnam Airlines Phu Quoc Hanoi
Vietnam Airlines Phu Quoc Rach Gia
Vietnam Airlines Phu Quoc Can Tho
VASCO Phu Quoc Saigon
VASCO Phu Quoc Rach Gia
VASCO Phu Quoc Can Tho
VietJetAir Phu Quoc Saigon
VietJetAir Phu Quoc Hanoi

 

Check how much luggage you are allowed to bring aboard, since the domestic limits often are very low and with a good camera, a laptop and a raincoat, you contingent is filled up. Extra luggage capacity can be purchased in advance or, pricy and with paperwork, at the check-in counter.

In the past, Air Mekong had a base on Phu Quoc International Airport as well, but they lost their license in 2014 after almost 2 years of hibernation.

Private Vietnamese carrier Air Mekong has had its air transport license voided as it failed to present a workable plan to resume business after a hiatus of more than 20 months, the Ministry of Transport said earlier this week. src: Tuoi Tre News

When is the best time to visit Phu Quoc Island?

The South of Vietnam has two seasons: Dry season and rainy season. While for your regular tours in Southeast Asia the weather mainly determines whether to pack up a raincoat or not, on Phu Quoc Island it’s also important to know if the wind approaches from the East or the West and which beaches have crystal-clear water.

Vietnam’s Phu Quoc is a tropical island in the Gulf of Thailand, located between Vietnam and Cambodia. Like other places at this geographical latitude, Phu Quoc features two seasons: The dry season and the rainy season.

The temperature on Vietnam’s pearl island rarely gets any lower than 25°C, but a constant breeze from the sea makes even hot times a pleasant experience. The rest of the Phu Quoc weather is determined by the two main seasons.

In most other Southeast Asian regions, the only difference between dry and rainy season is whether you pack up a raincoat when you decide to go on a tour or not. On Phu Quoc however, the season determines the direction the wind comes from, and that is a quite important factor for beach bummers.

 

Let’s face it: Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam produce so much garbage that it is a miracle that people don’t call them Trashmania or something. Yes, we write about the trash as well, mainly to raise awareness among the educated Vietnamese and tourists alike. Vietnam is simply beautiful, but choking on it’s own garbage.
What has that to do with Phu Quoc Island?
Well, during rainy season the wind approaches from the West and the western beaches turn into garbageland, while during dry season it’s the other way around.

Some areas are relatively clean even during rainy season, like Ong Lang Beach and Vung Bau Beach for example. The mysterious currents obviously wash sea shells and cool cannonball jellyfish remains ashore, but the trash stays away.

On the other hand Long Beach, where most of the resorts are located, is unswimmable in June for example. Well, don’t let that keep you from bumming a day or two, for example on Sao Beach with clear water, white sand and beautiful girls.

Dry Season

Between November and May the dry season brings great diving weather to Phu Quoc Island. A clear sky and crystal-blue sea invites us for a dip in the cozy waters at the western beaches. Long Beach, Dai Beach, Ong Lang Beach and Vung Bau Beach are the places to be. From March to May the temperature is quite high though, but while we transpire like beaten goats in Saigon, the above mentioned sea breeze makes even the hottest weather bearable, even nice on Phu Quoc.

Rainy Season

The famous Southeast Asian wet season lasts from May to October and brings more balanced temperatures together with rain and regular downpours. While you have to bring along a raincoat on tours, the picturesque streams of the island are exceptionally beautiful. Visit Fairy Stream and Painting Stream during rainy season and enjoy the greener and lusher environment of the national park.

Tourism over the Year

Traditionally winter is the time for Europeans and North Americans to travel to Phu Quoc Island, while during summer holidays many Vietnamese families spend their holidays there. Be aware of traditional Vietnamese holidays, for traveling during these times may be a hassle and everything can be extremely crowded.

Where to stay on Phu Quoc Island?

Due to the rapid development of Phu Quoc Island as Vietnam’s prime tourist destination, there is an ever increasing selection of accommodations for the discerning traveler to choose from. Five star luxury resorts, quiet private villas, centrally located hotels, remote hovels with homestay opportunities and cheap backpacker hostels. You can check them online, compare and book.

Now that you are finally there and safely tucked in at your favorite hotel room on Phu Quoc, it’s time to explore the tropical paradise island. Just go for it, it’s not easy to get lost, since the it’s not a big island after all.

Tours and Activities

Don’t just stay at your resort and roast in the sun with a cocktail in your hand! Check out the island and experience something to tell the poor devils who had to stay at home while you experience the world! Like everywhere else in Southeast Asia, you have various options for experiencing Phu Quoc Island. From beachbumming over shopping and lightweight experiences to true adventure tours off the beaten track. Phu Quoc is so small, you can experience the best corners with a rented motorbike and a couple days on your hand, which is definitely our preferred method. Just listen around for interesting trails to ride, read our Phu Quoc guide or check out some other websites about the island. If self-guided tours don’t fit your perception of a productive holiday, check out some local travel agencies. Local tours are always easy to find at a good rate.

Phu Quoc Beaches

The island feautures over fourty kilometers of sandy beaches, enough space to set up your base camp at the beach without it getting overly crowded. Not even German tourists need to reserve their chairs with towels in the evening. The selection of beaches starts with the picturesque white sands of Sao Beach over the long stretches of palmtree-backed length of Long Beach to the hidden coves and tiny semi-private shores of Ong Lang Beach.

Phu Quoc is Vietnam’s paradise island, at least if you manage to ignore the omnipresent flood of trash. No, seriously – if there is a part that’s trash-free, then it’s really beautiful. Here we present you the most important beaches of Phu Quoc Island. Some of them are abandoned, others developed, others industrial – but all of them worth a visit for the one or another reason.

Ganh Dau Beach – Bãi Gành Dầu

Ganh Dau Beach, Bãi Gành Dầu in Vietnamese, is one of Phu Quoc Islands picturesque beaches and well worth a visit. The place is right up at the northwestern tip of the island.

Dai Beach – Bãi Dài

Dai Beach, Bãi Dài in Vietnamese, is one of Phu Quoc Islands most beautiful beaches, located to the north-west. It stretches almost from Ganh Dau up North to Cape Móng Tay down South, after which Vung Bau Beach begins.

Rach Vem Beach – Bãi Rạch Vẹm

At the moment Rach Vem Beach, or Bãi Rạch Vẹm in Vietnamese, is a working beach of the rustic Rach Vem fishing village that belongs to the commune of Ganh Dau. While this beach is littered with the debris of the fishermen’s trade and is not really a nice place for tanning and beachbumming, it provides an excellent background for artistic photography.

Cua Can Beach – Bãi Cửa Cạn

Cua Can Beach or Bãi Cửa Cạn is located at the western shores of Phu Quoc Island and a mystery to some visitors. The beach is not that mysterious after all, once you take a look at it on the satellite pictures.

Cua Can Beach is mostly a small peninsula with a few trees on it and located next to Le Bat hamlet near Cua Can. Le Bat, as well as Cua Can village itself is one of the beautiful and picturesque fishing villages, at least for now. Where the small stream flows into the Gulf of Thailand, it created a sandy peninsula with the sea on the western side and a lagoon to the east. It surely looks nice, even if I cannot vow for the sandy stretches cleanliness, since it is a working beach next to a village after all.

How to get there

People frequently call Cua Can Beach “mysterious” and “hidden”, but it’s not that hard to find. Starting from Duong Dong you ride northwest along the Duong Dong – Cua Can street for around 15 kilometers. Before you rech Cua Can village itself, you pass by Hoang Yen Resort left of the street, then you cross a stream over a bridge and at the next opportunity you turn left into a small road. You follow that road until it makes a sharp bend to the right. This is the area where you weave your way via narrow alleys through residential areas towards the sea and beach.

The other half of the beach is to the North and separated from the sothern half by the mound of the river. I have not been there, but I guess the best way to get there is through the area of Chez Carole Resort & Spa. You just follow the main road through Le Bat village through the area and over the river, until you see the resort.

Duong Dong Beach – Bãi Dương Đông

Duong Dong Beach is not really the place to go for a swim in the ocean since it’s right next to the biggest town of Phu Quoc Island. However, we give it an honorable mention due to the fact that you will see it when you visit the town and/or the picturesque Dinh Cau.

Dinh Cau Temple, Phu Quoc Island
Dinh Cau Temple, Phu Quoc Island

Rach Tram Beach – Bãi Rạch Tràm

Rach Tram Beach or Bãi Rạch Tràm in Vietnamese, is located in the northern regions of Phu Quoc Island. Backed up by the mountainous Phu Quoc National Park covered by the dense foliage of tropical jungles, Rach Tram is a picturesque sight.

Vong Beach – Bãi Vòng

Vong Beach is the first thing visitors get to see if they travel to Phu Quoc Island by boat, since it’s the main ferry port that connects the island with Ha Tien and Rach Gia on the mainlands of Vietnam.

Sao Beach – Bãi Sao

From all the developed beaches on Phu Quoc Island, Sao Beach or Bãi Sao in Vietnamese, is the most beautiful one. White sand, palm trees, warm, crystal clear water, a few laid back beach bars and the opportunity to swim, ride a jetski or try some sea food and a cold beer.

Long Beach – Bãi Trường

Long Beach is about 10 kilometers away from Phu Quoc International Airport and feautures yellow, powdery sand, clear water during dry season and is a palm-fringed stretch of paradise. Most of Phu Quocs resorts are located at the northern Part of Long Beach.

Khem Beach – Bãi Khem

Khem Beach: The pristine landscape of the beach is very similar to Sao Beach: Dark rocks jut out of the white sands, palms and other trees form a beautiful green backdrop and the water is crystal clear. If you are into abandoned paradise beaches, give it a try. If the military guards keeping watch over the area don’t let you access Khem Beach, just head over to Sao Beach instead.

Ham Ninh Beach – Bãi Hàm Ninh

Ham Ninh Beach is, as the name already suggests, the beach around Hàm Ninh fishing village. The village is famous for it’s flourishing fishing industry and a visit with or without a fishing tour or even a nightly squid fishing expedition, can be found on many itineraries.

Vung Bau Beach – Bãi Vũng Bầu

Vung Bau Beach or in Vietnamese Bãi Vũng Bầu is a beautiful sandy beach on the west coast of Phu Quoc Island. It stretches from Cape Móng Tay (Fingernail Cape) to the North down to Cape Ông Quới south of it.

Ong Lang Beach – Bãi Ông Lang

Shielded from the streets of Phu Quoc Island by a thickly forested area, Ong Lang Beach is not one continuous strip of sand, but rather divided into several hidden and partially private bays.

Thom Beach – Bãi Thơm

Thom Beach or Bãi Thơm in Vietnamese is right at the north-western tip of Phu Quoc Island. Sparsely populated and home to just a few mid-level resorts and seafood restaurants, Thom Beach is one of the most quiet spots on the map.

 

The greatest thing about Phu Quoc Island however, are the many hidden beaches that you can’t find in maps and tour books. Rent a motorbike as described in our guide about getting around and simply explore. You might find a tiny bay with nothing around that can become your private tropical paradise for a day.

Phu Quoc Waterfalls and Streams

While the most famous of the three streams on Phu Quoc Island is the garbage-choked Da Ban Stream, there are two much more beautiful places around. Painting Stream (Suoi Tranh) and Fairy Stream (Suoi Tien). The Painting Stream is easy to access and part of a nice landscape park, while Fairy Stream is very hard to find, but remote and quiet.

Da Ban Stream

“Well hidden, the long journey here involves bumpy dirt roads with no signage, but is worth the effort. More of an elevated stream than a waterfall, water babbles over the rocky surface. Take a picnic and turn it into a half day excursion.”

That was the wording an other Phu Quoc travel guide used to describe Da Ban Stream. We however, we went there and saw that the entire area is just a huge, disgusting heap of trash and garbage. The family who sells beer and charges for parking the motorbike doesn’t care and the (yes, mainly Vietnamese) tourists just leave their litter and half-eaten picnic where ever they were sitting. The next rain will take care of it and wash it down the creek. So sad.

If you want to go there (no idea why, but maybe the sons of dumpsters read our articles and managed to clean up for once), then follow Nguyen Trung Truc street out of Duong Dong town. After a couple of minutes it turns into a dirt road and you have to ask locals for the direction.

If you have no business with heaps of garbage, visit Suoi Tien or Suoi Tranh instead.

Shopping

While this destination is famous for it’s pristine beaches and relaxed atmosphere, shopping opportunities are rather scarce.

Night Market

Famous in all of the Mekong region for it’s great selection of sea food, Duong Dong night market is a must-taste on your tropical island vacation. Try sea urchins, various shells, mollusks and crustacea in many different flavours. The souvenirs here are rather cheap in price as well as quality.

Supermarkets

There is one Co-Op Mart in Duong Dong and that’s it. If you are searching for items of your daily needs, try one of the small local shops that can be found everywhere where islanders live.

Markets

Every major town has a market. The speciality there is fish sauce, pepper and dried seafood. And fresh fish, fruits and vegetables of course.

Coi Nguon Museum

The Phu Quoc Museum is definitely worth a visit. It is the largest privately owned museum of Vietnam and the owner, a former tourguide, has collected most of his treasures himself. The museum is located near Duong Dong and from the roof you have a fair sight over Long Beach and the town.

Temples and Pagodas

Phu Quoc features a selection of interesting temples and quiet pagodas. The most interesting aspect of spiritual life on the island are the Cao Dai temples. Cao Dai is a religion that has been founded in Vietnam in an attempt to bring all major religions of the world under one roof. The most picturesque temple however is Dinh Cau, the seaside temple of Thien Hau, the goddess of the ocean.

Products of Phu Quoc Island

The major products of the island are fish sauce, pearls and pepper. It is not surprising, that there are many tours, offering to visit the one or another fish sauce factory, shops and showrooms of adventurous pearl farms, as well as pepper farms. One more interesting product is sim wine, a liqueur made from the fruits of rose myrtle (sim) bushes that grow everywhere on Phu Quoc.

Fish Sauce

Phu Quoc is together with Phan Thiet and Nha Trang the most famous producer of fish sauce, a key ingredient for Vietnamese kitchen. Once you get used to the pungent smell and taste of this fermented anchovy product, you will love cooking with it.

Pepper

Pepper is one of the top products on the island. Popular enough that the more food-related Phu Quoc fans call it “pepper island” instead of “pearl island”. You can buy bags of the spicy goodness directly at one of the many pepper farms that is open for visitors or in most shops, as well as the markets in Duong Dong and elsewhere.

Pearls

Pearls in all colours are grown in the waters around the island and on display in several show rooms. We actually visited one of the farms and took a peek behind the scenes of pearl farming. Phu Quoc Pearls are beautiful and make excellent souvenirs for discerning travelers.

Beach Wear & Souvenirs

Especially along the tourist strip on Tran Hung Dao street and in Duong Dong, you can find many shops that sell snorkel equipment, beach wear and the regular touristy knick-knack. Just check them out, buy a package of postcards and send them home from Duong Dong post office.

More Sightseeing

There are still some more or less remote fishing villages on the island that don’t only make a formidable background for your selfies, but sometimes also offer seafood, boat tours and fishing trips.

You don’t have to leave your track to get impressed by the Phu Quoc Ridgeback, Vietnam’s only native dog breed. The dogs are smart and friendly, but they don’t give a dime on the traffic.

Take a stroll through the forest near Ganh Dau. Don’t touch the local wildlife though, some animals may be venomous.

Other Activities

There are mainly two opportunities to go and catch some fish. A regular fishing tour by boat or a nightly trip to catch squid. Whatever you decide to go for, even if you don’t catch anything the tour operators may do so and cook in for you on the boat.

Whether you want to angle by yourself or with friends, you need a boat for a whole day or as a floating location for a birthday party, bigger vessels can be rented for a certain amount of time at An Thoi harbour on the southern tip of the island.

Sporty Activities

If you happen to be one of the more sporty fellows out there, why don’t you try one of the following things?

  • Scuba Diving
  • Snorkeling
  • Ride a Jetski
  • Waterskiing
  • Kayaking

Whatever you choose to do,
enjoy your vacation!

Phu Quoc Links

External links with more information about the island:
There is a plethora of websites on the internet dealing with Phu Quoc. Some of them are travel guides, some of them informational articles and some newspapers.
Check them out if you are in need of more information about the island!

Vietnam Coracle
An independent travel blog, very nice to read. Tom experiences everything himself and writes great stories about the locations he visited. If you are searching for itineraries and stories about self-guided motorbike tours, that’s the site you want to check out first!
vietnamcoracle.com

Rusty Compass
Every traveller in the greater Indochina region knows and appreciates the Rusty Compass. Not only Mark is a great writer, he also experienced all the things he writes about himself.
rustycompass.com

InSeAsia
In SE Asia is Keith’s great site that features information about almost anything that’s going on… well.. in Southeast Asia. Here is their travel guide for Phu Quoc: InSeAsia.