Phu Quoc Island travel guide by First Choice Travel
Phu Quoc is a very mountainous and densely forested Island of 1320 sq km; it is 48 km in length from south to north and has a population of approx. 80,000 people. Situated in the Gulf of Thailand 45 km west of Ha Tien on the Vietnamese mainland and 15 km south of the coast of Cambodia, Phú Quôc is ringed with some of most beautiful beaches in Vietnam, and offers the best seafood in the country. Phú Quôc Island served as a based for French missionary Pigneau de Behaine from the 1760-80s and at one time he provided shelter here for Prince Nguyen Anh (later Emperor Gia Long) when he was being hunted by the Tay Son rebels. During the Vietnam war there was little fighting here but the Island was used by the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces as a prison for captured Viet Cong. Phú Quôc is not really a part of the Mekong delta and also doesn’t share the delta’s extraordinary ability to produce rice & fruit due to its soil quality and inaccessible terrain. It is, however, home to the best Fish sauce (nuoc mam) in the world, also reputedly known to produce high quality pepper and fantastic seafood. Another point of interest in Phú Quôc is the island’s native dog; this dog was originally a wild animal and later trained as a hunting dog by local people. These days they are very domesticated and it’s unusual to go anywhere on the island without seeing one of these dogs! These animals have unusually sharp teeth (as they tear their food when they eat it rather than bite) and have claws that over the years have been conditioned for catching their prey and are razor sharp.
Phú Quôc is still what Phuket would be if it hadn’t been overrun by development. Phú Quôc island and its beaches was voted to be “The Most Cleanest and Beautiful Beach of World” by ABC News as from the end of February, 2008. However, this is about to change. There are extensive plans to develop Phú Quôc, including high-rise residential areas, several new towns and suburbs, complete rebuilding of Duong Dông’ city center, and replacing the existing small PQC airport. The new international airport south of Duong Dông is under construction and expected to open in 2013 or 2014. The main north-south road between Bai Thom and An Thoi is already being upgraded to a 2+2 lane highway, a new tared road from Duong Dông to Gan Dau is ready as far as Cua Can, which has a new bridge. A golf areal is planned as well as a casino in the north. A ferry connection to Sihanoukville (Cambodia) an visa-free-entry have been discussed in the past. Phú Quôc will be something completely different in 10 years if the current plans do materialize soon.
Phu Quoc Island has a tropical climate which has three seasons: High, Shoulder and Low Season.
High Season: During the period between November to March, where the daily maximum temperature is typically and on average about 31 C, and the daily minimum temperatures (before sunrise) about 23 C. The skies are generally sunny, with possibly some light high cloud in early morning that clears by mid-morning, and the humidity is at it lowest throughout the year.
Shoulder Season: During the period between April to June and late October, where the temperatures are a bit higher than during the high season, and the humidity around 80-85%. Crowds are less during this time and good chances of reasonable weather.
Low Season: During the period between July to September, which is dominated by the monsoons.
How to get there
Visitors from any country arriving to Phu Quoc by cruise ship no longer need a visa for stays of up to 15 days. A passport with at least 45 days’ validity is still necessary.
Visitors arriving in Phú Quôc by any other means (eg. plane) are still subject to normal visa regulations.
You can fly to the Duong Dông airport (PQC) from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) on about five daily Vietnam Airlines turboprop flights with ATR-72 (55 minutes). Since 2010 Air Mekong flies with Bombardier CRJ-900 jets from Ho Chi Minh City for about the same prices in 35 minutes. From Rach Gia there are two Vietnam Airlines flights per day.
There are ferries and hydrofoils between Phú Quôc to Rach Gia (pronounce: Rad-Ya), Ha Tien and Hon Chong. You may be told by tour agents that the fast boats are full, but if you go to the dock where the boats depart you may have the opportunity to buy tickets from street sellers.
Phu Quôc – Rach Gia – 0800, 0810
Rach Gia – Phú Quôc – 1300, 1310
Hydrofoils takes 2 1/2 hours, costs 295,000 Dong, book at http://www.duongdongexpress.com.vn/ or http://superdong.com.vn/Pages/HomePage.aspx. As of March 2012, SuperDong was the only option as the other company had shut down three years ago (or so we were told) and the ride cost 320,000 Dong (a sign posted inside the booking office at the pier confirmed this quoted price). When coming from Ho Chi Minh City you can book a combined night-bus + boat ticket for around US$26 (including pick up from hotel) at travel agencies.
Phú Quôc – Ha Tien
Small fast ferries (not Hydrofoils) takes 1hour 30 mins. Costs 230,000 Dong. Daily at 0800 and 13.00 Large car ferry (steel hulled,capacity 400 pax 300 m/cycles and 30 cars) leaves at 08.20,takes 2 + 1/2 hours and costs 165000 VND m/cycles 100,000 VND
Phú Quôc – Hon Chong – 1230
Hon Chong – Phú Quôc – 1000
Costs 160,000 Dông.
Depending on the season, you may not find taxis on arrival in Phú Quôc, though there will likely be a few motos. Minibus ply to the two main towns, but tickets are sold on the boat and sell out before arrival. Cost 20,000 Dong. Transfer can also be arranged through your hotel. On Sep 2011, three choices to leave the pier: taxi ~210,000 Dong, mini-bus down to 120,000 Dong (three persons) or moto-taxi (but it’s a long ride on a not so good road)
Be warned that the boat can get overcrowded and may have the unfortunate lingering odor of previous passengers’ weak stomachs. The journey is pleasant and smooth during the low season but is often beset by jarring waves during the high season; hotel staff can advise you of ocean conditions.
You can arrange a transfer from ferry port (Bai Vong port) to your hotel. Taxis and motorbikes congregate outside the ferry port and can shuttle you to the bus terminal (some 15 km out of town).
How to get around
One of the joys of the top-rated Long Beach accommodation options is that everything is so accessible. Base yourself at Mai House or the Tropicana and you can walk to everything and happily fill a three or four day holiday doing nothing at all. Camp down at La Veranda and you might not emerge. If/when you are ready to venture forth, then do it right….
There’s no doubt about it, if you’re young enough (at heart anyway) you’ve got to try seeing some of Phu Quoc on a motor scooter. They can be hired for $5 – $12 a day from your hotel/resort. There is no paperwork, no insurance and no deposits. You negotiate if you break or lose your bike. There is a request that you refill with fuel when you finish. Roads are mostly red dirt and full of pot holes. As in much of Asia, there are no traffic rules in the usual European or North American and whatever sense of the word: you are responsible for not hitting anybody or anything, and you are responsible for nobody else hitting you, and that’s about it. You are supposed to drive on the right, but not everybody always does that. So there you have it, not entirely safe, but an awful lot of fun. Note: don’t fret too much if you run out of petrol or get a flat tyre. You’ll be amazed how fast a local will stop to help you. Puncture repair men are plentiful on the island and will leap at the chance to come to your aid for a small fee. If you do find yourself in a bit of strife with your rental, there are a few repair shops on the island that will mend your bike at a cheaper price than the damage costs of the hirer. A typical repair shop is GIA PHU on 25 Tran Phu in Duong Dong (Linh- 0938137988). Depending on the severity of the damage, it could save you a lot of money. Moto taxi are about 200,000-400,000 Dong or US$10-20 for a day trip. Be sure to agree how many hours and locations you want to do with the driver. It’s difficult to really lower the price for half-day or less.
After a moto, your next best option is a Jeep with a driver. Given you pay for petrol, it can work out a little more than a half or full day’s hire of a taxi, but well worth it. Call Jeep For Rent locally on 0939 402 872. $30 for 6hrs, $50 for 24 hrs. Alternatively, try Carole on 0773 8848 886 or Searama on 0773 994 577. For the best but most expensive jeep, call La Veranda on 0773 982 988.
Taxis are plentiful for Long Beach but can be a tiresome delay further afield. Booking them by the day is often a better bet. They’re more expensive than you might be used to in Saigon. Most taxis use meters, and you pay what the meter shows. Short trips in Duong Dong are up to 60000 dong. For a full day and a given itinerary you make a flat deal, e.g. 650000 ($35) round one of the halves of the island, which may be what you would end up with also if the meter was running. It seems that you mostly pay for the distance driven; the driver sleeping in the drivers’ hammocks does not cost that much. Ask your hotel or try Le Giang on 0773 848 444 or 0913 788 262, or give Mr Tam a call 0913 197 298.
Saigon Phu Quoc Resort have their own large boat you can charter from Long Beach. Otherwise all resorts run tours with charter boats. Cost varies depending on number of passengers.
What to see
The island is quite large (over 40 kilometers from north to south), and to get around it is much better to rent a moto (motor scooter) for about $10 per day. Otherwise you can rent a taxi for about $35 or $40 half-day or full day. In case of a tour on motobike, go at “D.S” Bar. Stephane, the owner, can advise you great itineraries. He used to be a tour-guide on the island. He speaks english, french and spanish. And by the way, have a drink. Good music, “flat” pool table and cheap cocktails. On top of it, Stephane and Diem (his vietnamese wife) are very nice and friendly people. “D.S” Bar is opened until late by night.
– There is a forest trail starting from the main road about 5 km east of Ganh Dau at the northwestern corner of Phu Quoc. The trailhead is marked, going south from the road, but the sign is in Vietnamese only. However, there are no other signs on that road, so the trail is difficult to miss. The trail itself is unmarked, but easy to follow (and some drive their scooter on the trail). The trail is a moderately interesting walk: you can hear birds and insects, but don’t expect to see much wildlife.
– The roads going round the northwestern corner of the island are an interesting ride with a scooter (and also possible do with a car or taxi). The roads are quiet and safe, and also the unpaved roads are easy to ride (just be careful with soft loose sands in some places). You can stop for coffee or lunch at the Chez Carole Resort to see the views to the mouth of the Cua Can river. There are nice quiet beaches at the westernmost shores of the island, and the road east from Ganh Dau goes through dense forests. There are dozens of large colorful fishing boats in front of Ganh Dau in the afternoon.
– At the southern tip of the island is the fishing town of An Thoi. There are some fishing boats to see. You can also hire a boat to take you to the small islands south of Phu Quoc.
– The prettiest beach on the island is Sao Beach at the southeastern corner of the island, a couple of kilometers north of An Thoi, with a restaurant/cafe and sun-bathing facilities.
– A couple of kilometers east of Duong Dong there is a path (slightly more than 1 km) through the forest to the Suoi Tranh waterfalls. This is a major attraction when it has been raining. There is barely any water during the dry season from November to April, but the rock exposed by the river is interesting, and you can hear the sounds of the forest. You can plunge into the pool under the 2 meter waterfall in the end of the path.
– There are pearl farms on the western side of the island south of Duong Dong. The Phu Quoc Pearl Farm is about 10 kilometers away, and they have a cafe/restaurant and a shop selling pearl products.
– There are a couple of pepper farms that can be visited (shown on the tourist map.) The pepper plant is growing hanging from a long pole, with small green peppers in them. You can also buy pepper products to bring home as souvenirs, to impress your friends and relatives.
– Some of the fish sauce factories can be visited.
– Ham Ninh fishing village on the east coast across the island from Duong Dong may be worth a visit.
After dark – watch the chain of lights bobbing across the horizon as the local fishermen attach lamps to their boats to attract squid.
There is also a special breed of dogs that live on the island. They are extremely similar to normal dogs except for the fact that they have 2 special markings on their back, where the fur goes in the other direction.
What to do
– Try to get out on a boat one evening for some squid fishing yourself. Make a visit to Phu Quoc National Park and swim in a quiet pool.
– Motorcycles are plentiful and cheap, hire one off a local and go cruising around the island. Petrol can usually be purchased around the island at various beaches served fresh in glass bottles.
– Also Bicycles is a great way to observe the island. You can rent a mountain bike for around 50,000 VND per day at Saigon Phu Quoc Hotel or some local shops (be sure to write ‘xe dap’ because few Vietnameses here could speak English well).
– Some beaches stretch for kilometres with overhanging palms, no one else in sight what more could you want?
– Try SCUBA diving. Phu Quoc offers diving in two separate locations. Up North on western side of the island or Down south at An Thoi islands. Up north there are three main diving locations with all of them maximum depth of 10 they are especially great for beginners. Sites are surrounded by corals and funky rock formations which provide shelter to a variety of fish and species of Nudibranch. Down south there are up to 20 different dive sites around a group of 13 islands with depths ranging from 10m to all the way down to 40m. Majority of the islands are surrounded by coral. Majority of the islands are slowly being converted in to Marine Protected Areas thus you get a slightly better change of seeing more & bigger fish and lots of Nudibranches. South is not as well protected as the northern sites which means you might be in for rocky ride on the boat and mild to strong currents. Average visibility while diving is around 7-8m, but it chances a lot, which means it can worse and on the next day much better. Companies offering diving on Phu Quoc are Rainbow Divers, Flipper Diving Club, Cocodive and x-Dive. Dives cost a bit more here than in Nha Trang at about $65-75 USD for two boat dives.
– The snorkeling tour (US$ 15) picks you up at your hotel in the morning and brings you to the islands in the south. It usually includes the boat trip, snorkeling gear, lunch and transportation. Don’t expect to see a lot of fish and corals under water, though. But still a nice way to spend a day. Two companies mainly: John’s tour (0919.107086), Sunny boat trip (www.phuquocsunny.com)
– Also, watching the sunset at Pho Bo Cafe, a 2 storey place with the best view overlooking the lighthouse and the shrine, is the most romantic activity for couples and artist.
– Run the annual Phu Quoc Half Marathon, to be held on 11th May 2013 starting and finishing at Long Beach Resort.
– Later, try wandering around the night market (near Ferry landing in Duong Dong Town), where locals mingled with the tourists, a place that offered a selection of goods, pearls, seafoods, vegeterians, or even a playground for children.
Where to eat
Ocean Bar and Grill, 60 Trân Hung Dao, Duong Dong, ☎ 077 3 994 268. The Ocean bar provides excellent service and food. The seafood is fresh and cooked to order whilst the staff are highly trained and attentive. Michelle, the owner, speaks to every customer about their meal and keeps a photo and book of comments from all patrons. Highly recommended.
Buddy Ice Cream & Info Cafe, 26 Nguyen Trai St, Duong Dong Town, ☎ 077 3 994181. Great New Zealand icecream at 30,000 Dong a scoop. Also does toasted sandwiches and shakes. Free internet, wifi and had lots of information about the island. Gives out free Phu Quoc maps too!
Bich Nguyên, Tran Hung Dao, Duong Dong (Near Chez Carole, 20 meters down on the road to Kim Hoa resort), ☎ 0916 788 719. Small family owned restaurant srrving fresh Vietnamese food.
Night Market, Duong Dong. From 18.00 there are lots of small restaurants open on the street of the night market. Great, cheap local food. From 20,000 Dong.
The Dog Bar, 88 Trang Hung Dao, Duong Dong (Next to Chez Carole), ☎ +84-903814688. open til late. The Dog Bar serves good burgers and pizza’s, as well as a range of western, Vietnamese and seafood dishes. Watch live sports, play pool or darts, or just listen to the music and relax with your friends. They had live music when we were there. You can also book dive and snorkelling trips there with Rainbow divers and Anh Tu. They have ice cold beer, mixed drinks and cocktails and friendly English speaking staff. A good place to spend you’re evenings in paradise. Very reasonable prices.
Ganesh Indian Restaurant, 97 Trang Hung Dao, Duong Dong. Ganesh is probably the only Indian restaurant on the island. The food is OK, but not quite up to the standards you can experience outside India in countries like UK or Australia.
Mondo, 82 TRAN HUNG DAO, PHU QUOC, ☎ (0)773994930. 12-22. Small restaurant run by Swedish couple. Relaxed atmosphere, next to Long Beach main road. Mainly delicious worldwise food in tapas format, but also some salads and local dishes. Good wine list, coctails and more. Definitely place to eat at least once. From 45000 Dong.
Where to stay
Warning: unlike in most other East-Asian destinations, there is a substantial risk that all (affordable) hotels are fully booked if you arrive, so it is advisable to book ahead, also for back- and flashpackers. This applies at least in January, the dry high season and as of 2011 also in February, as the island gains popularity.
Mai House, +84-773-847 003. Consistently ranked the #1 resort choice on the island. Fourteen stylish, high quality thatched villas dotted around immaculate gardens on the beach fully equiped with sunloungers. There’s no fridge in the villa’s and no pool, but AC, safety box, tea coffee facilities,beach towel furnished, free wifi in lobby and restaurant. The restaurant menu is good. Most people who have stayed here, consider Mai House to be almost perfect. Villas: standard $50 low season, and $90 high season. Breakfast included. Gerard’s direct contact number is +84 918 123 796 should you have any difficulties.
La Veranda, 84-773-982 988. Fourty three rooms and villas spread around a pool and French style colonial main building. Standard and Superior rooms US$125 low season and $240 high season. The one bed villas are better value at USA$165 low season and $250 high season.
Mango Bay Resort, Ong Lang Beach, ☎ +84 77 981 693 (firstname.lastname@example.org). A wonderfully peaceful resort spread between the sea on one side and a forest preserve on the other, about 10 kilometers north of Duong Dong town. The resort beaches are small, but the adjoining beach is as yet undeveloped for tourism and features a decent reef for snorkeling. This is a low-key resort, where the lawns are mowed by a herd of cows with wooden cowbells, and the spa opens directly onto the ‘lawn’ running down the sea. Bungalows are tastefully set back from the sea and separated from each other. There is a vegetable and spice garden on the property, and much of the food served is grown there. There are several styles of bungalows, each with its own connected outdoor bathroom. This place is the antithesis of your typical Phuket tour-bus resort. USD 90-150.
Long Beach Resort Phu Quoc, tel:84-773-981818, continues with a ‘soft opening’ after 2 years now, and if management is lucky will become the first 5-star resort on the island upon completion. Rooms are large and spacious, the fittings lovely, and the bathroom has a large wooden tub for soaking.
Paris Beach Resort, Cau Ba Phong, Cua lap, Duong To (From Duong Dong go down Long Beach (south) and look for the sign on your right. If you see Eden Resort on your right, you just missed it.), ☎ 0084773994548. checkout: 11:00. Nice staff, very friendly owners, and one of the cheaper resorts. Owned and run by a French/Vietnamese couple – both professors – who enjoy running a hotel and having guests, it seems. Food is great and prices all rather reasonable. If there is no room at Paris Beach, try Beach Club Resort right next door – and vice versa 20$-40$.
Eden Resort, tel:84-77 398 5598. Eden Resort Phu Quoc is located on Western side of island, just down Tran Hung Doa Rd, about 3 kilometers south of Duong Dong and the island’s airport. The road from Duong Dong is sealed until the Eden Resort and continues unsealed further south. The spacious guest rooms feature a contemporary design, with a largish bed, flat 32″ TV (lots of channels but most with quite poor picture quality), sidetable/desk, 2 armchairs, minibar/fridge, airconditioning and a balcony. The bathroom has a bath tub. The main building has elevators, which are nice if your room is on the 3rd floor. The resort is located along a sandy beach and ocean, with a restaurant pool side, and a small bar. There is free Wi-Fi, and a small gym. The site has nice smallish gardens. The beach south of the resort is undeveloped (there are a couple unfinished older buildings a short distance away, and occasionally some small fishing boats at the beach). The beach right north of the resort is being developed to villas and is under construction (as of December 2011), and about 200 meters further north there is another large hotel, with a line of bungalows close to the beach. The views from the rooms on the northern side are not particularly good. The beach at the hotel is clean and suits well to sunbathing and swimming. There aren’t much trees to provide shade. The rate of the rooms in the main building at high season is $150, which is a bit high, as the hotel and facilities are not quite at the four star level. The hotel transports its guest to and from the airport when you notify them about your flight details.
Cassia Cottage, tel:84-773 848 395, Cassia Cottage is located along the Lovely Long Beach in the west of the Island. Has both Sea view and garden cottages ranging from $85.00 in low season to $170 in the high season.
Saigon Tourist Phu Quoc Resort. The oldest large three/four star hotel on the island, close to the center of Duong Dong and most of the tourist restaurants. There are regular hotel rooms (under $200), and 2 bedroom villas (starting from about $350 during high season.)
Chez Carole. Resort with one dozen bungalows, in a pretty remote location on the coast at the mouth of the Cua Can River, about 15 km north of Duong Dong and the airport. Access partly on slow, unpaved roads. There is a swimming pool, restaurant, bar, gardens. There is no beach, but small sandy islands at the mouth of the river are a short swim or boat ride away. Kayaking and canoeing are possible activities. Room rates during high season start from about $160. This is good for a quiet short holiday, without any crowds nearby.
Bargain Beach Bungalows. What’s still very special about Phu Quoc is the availability of small resorts built right on the beach with 8 – 16 cabins all at less that US$40.
Budget accommodation can be hard to come by but the best bet is to head to the south end of long beach. In low season en suite bungalows can be found for $10 and rooms for $8. Most budget place for sleep are Nhat Lan, Viet Thanh or lien hiep thanh. They are at about ~40min by walk or ~10min by moto taxi (10-20 000 VND) to Duong Dong.
Amigos Guest house, 118/10 Trang Hun Dao, Long Beach (next to La Veranda), ☎ 0917 707 456 (speak to Speedy) or 077 3 994 958. Amigos have immaculate bungalows with hot/cold water, AC, fridge, Satellite TV, queen bed in each. They are brand new having only been completed in October 2010. Amigos is located right on the beach and it has a great restaurant and bar area. Free internet and weekly promotions ongoing. There is even a children’s play area.
Lang Toi, Sao Beach, ☎ +84 773 972 123. There are only two hostels in the most beautiful beach- Sao Beach, and this one offers aircondition + hot shower, aircondition is not only for cooling off but also for getting away those mosquitos. Suggest to book the room in full-moon evening, you can watch the moon raise from the sea, as Sao Beach is in the east side of the island. fr USD 60.
Viet Thanh Bungalow, Khu Pho 7 – Duong Dong – Phu QUoc – Kien Giang (south of western long beach, same lane that La Veranda), ☎ 0122.9866 542 – 0979.46 36 07 (email@example.com). Mosquito net, hot shower, Free Wifi (only front bungalows) US$6-15.
Main articles to buy are:
There are ATMs in Duong Don.