With over 2,000 miles of coastline in Vietnam, there is no shortage of beaches to choose from when planning a vacation.
On our way to Hoi An, we passed a strip of world class resorts lining the coast in Da Nang but it was too cold in February to visit Central Vietnam beaches. I narrowed it down to my top three destinations: Nha Trang, Mui Ne, and Phu Quoc. Mui Ne and Nha Trang are popular beach destinations but I found limited accommodation options due to the Tet holiday. I was also dismayed to read reviews about touts and litter lining the shores.
That narrowed it down to Phu Quoc which is an island in the Gulf of Thailand, just off the western edge of Vietnam and south of Cambodia. Geographically it had the advantage as we were traveling overland to Cambodia after leaving Vietnam but I knew little of the island other than seeing some idyllic beach pictures.
We took a one hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Phu Quoc. An international airport was opened in 2012 which greatly increased tourism and development on the island. Many luxury hotel brands are building or just opened resorts along the picture perfect beaches. Phu Quoc is considered a Special Economic Zone so visitors booking a roundtrip ticket need not apply for a Vietnamese visa if they are staying less than 30 days. With these recent changes, Phu Quoc is quickly changing from a secluded island to an international tourist destination.
We stayed nine nights on the Western side of the island where we were a short walk to Ong Lang Beach which turned out to be a great choice. The Gulf of Thailand water was warm and calm and the beach was very secluded and free of any touts or litter. With exception to a handful of guests staying at the Coco Palm Beach Resort, we had the beach all to ourselves.
Within walking distance was one of the island’s best restaurants, On the Rocks Restaurant at Mango Bay Beach Resort. Here we enjoyed excellent happy hours where we had a view of a gorgeous sunset.
We stayed at Phu Quoc Dragon Resort & Spa which had just recently opened. We had a private bungalow, beautiful pool, large buffet breakfast and excellent service. We enjoyed the property so much we extended our stay for three more days.
While we intended to take the free hotel shuttle to check out the town, we enjoyed lounging by the pool and beach so much that we didn’t ever make it there. Phu Quoc offers a host of water based activities like snorkeling, diving and boat tours. A new resort/entertainment complex called Vinpearl Land offers a safari, amusement park, water park, skating rink and aquarium. We considered the entertainment options and decided to book a tour of the South Island with John’s Tours.
Our first stop was a pearl farm where they explained the process of pearl farming. I picked up a new pair of pearl earrings as a souvenir.
Next, we went to Sim Wine factory where we tasted a viscous and very sweet dessert liqueur that was made from the fruit of Rose Myrtle trees. I enjoyed the beautiful flowers at the winery more than the wine itself.
From there we went to Coconut Prison, which was used to imprison Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. There were many barracks filled with life-size soldier replicas that depicted various living conditions and torture techniques. Not your typical island tour stop, but important to understanding the history of the island.
Another thing this island is known for is fish sauce. Across the street from Coconut Prison, we visited a fish sauce factory that was smelly as it sounds. Anchovies are cured for a year and then the fish sauce is exported worldwide. Don’t try to bring any home as souvenirs as it is prohibited to fly Vietnamese carriers with fish sauce. I don’t care for fish sauce, but if I did I wouldn’t want to take any chances of that leaking, or worse, breaking open in my luggage.
The highlight of the trip was a two hour stop at Sao Beach. Located at the Southeast of the island, this is said to be the most picturesque beaches in Phu Quoc. The beach had crystal clear turquoise water, little development, and white sands but after a short walk along the shore, we encountered a lot of litter. We were happy we did not choose a hotel in this location and decided not to play plastic bag roulette bathing in the surf. Instead, we relaxed on the sand between two palms.
After the beach, we took a quick stop at a fishing village where we saw some fresh seafood on the street and took a long walk off a short pier…I mean, I long walk on a long pier.
Another quick stop took us to a pepper farm where we had the opportunity to taste raw peppercorn which is like a taking a pepper pill. It packs a spicy, cough-inducing punch! We sampled some pepper, salt and garlic seasonings on a mango which were tasty and we hit the road for our final stop.
We ended the tour in the peaceful setting of Su Muon Pagoda which housed some Buddha statues and nice scenery outside.
Phu Quoc was the final leg of our trip to Vietnam. We arrived just before Valentine’s Day and our entire stay on the island felt much like a second honeymoon without the high price tag. For nine nights in paradise during the biggest holiday week in Vietnam, Tet, we paid under $700:
|Accommodations (9 Nights)||$292|
|Food and Drinks||$205|
|Airfare from SGN (2 Passengers)||$74|
|South Island Tour (2 People)||$35|
With many more highlights to see in Vietnam, we hope to be back one day. We would most definitely return to Phu Quoc which will undoubtedly be more developed at a later date but hopefully keeps the same beauty and charm that we remember.