Hidden Paradise in Vietnam; Phu Quoc Island

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A Vietnamese island, off the coast of Cambodia, in the Gulf of Thailand, it sounds like Phu Quoc is having an identity crisis and with good reason, it’s easy to loose yourself here.  Ahhhhh, island living, it’s quiet and beautiful.

Phu Quoc is the place to retreat and relax.  Aside from exploring the national park jungle the spot to be here is with your toes in the sand at the beach.  Snorkeling and diving are popular activities and since SCUBA is relatively new to the area there is a lot to uncover and much of the region has been untouched.

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Fish Sauce is a staple in much of the food of Vietnam, and the island is famous for it’s distilleries.  It’s a type of anchovy fish fermented in large, old, wooden vats, aged slowly and pressed to produce the staple brown liquid.  If you can get past the smell, you can tour the facility here yourself.  To the Vietnamese, fish sauce production is like olive oil to Italians, or wine to the French.  Quality ingredients and age old wisdom make for the best results.

About half of the island is protected National Park space so hiking and trekking is a popular way to explore.  Amidst all this beauty there is a sad history that shouldn’t be avoided and this was really difficult for me to learn but I felt like it was important to not avoid some of the tragic and uncomfortable historic events between Vietnam and the US.  In the An Thoi village there was the Coconut Tree Prison, which was established during the Indochina War and at one time housed over 14,000 prisoners.  After the war ended, the prisoners returned to their homes and the buildings remained unused until the 1960’s during the Vietnam War.  US troops used the space as a prisoner of war camp where torturous war crimes occurred.  It is hard when such a dark secret is revealed about such a beautiful paradise, but it’s important to know the history while appreciating where the island is today.

 

The Particulars

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How to get there? 

An international airport was built in 2012 but most flights come in from Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi.  We flew from HCMC on a VietJet flight, quick, easy and inexpensive.

There are fast and slow ferry rides to the island which are 2-3 hours respectively.  The tickets are really cheap (around $15) but since our flight was faster and less than $50 so we opted for convenience over cost on this one.

When to go?

We stayed for five days in late October which is right before peak season (November-March).  The wet season is from July-September so we ran the risk of a rainy day or two but our weather was perfect, not too hot & not monsoon season.  If you stay during “shoulder season” (April-June or October) there are less crowds and the cost is more reasonable.  As for timing I would head to Phu Quoc sooner than later.  There is construction and new development popping up all over the island, tourism is making a bigger splash here than before and this little hidden gem will only get busier.

Where to stay?

There are several different options on the island ranging from backpacker hostels to small hotels or large resorts.  We opted for the later and stayed at the Salinda Resort which is one of the luxury beach resorts on the island.  The staff was really friendly and the pool alone was enough to make you want to change your address permanently.  The food is delicious, however, there are lots of non Vietnamese dishes on their menus so if you are looking for more local fare you can travel off the resort for meals and exploring.  We wanted our time in Phu Quoc to be relaxing and to be honest, just down right lazy before heading back to the states, so we chose Salinda because it was a location where if we didn’t want to leave we didn’t have to.  We mostly hung out by the pool, walked along the beach and drank our fair share of Rosé.  It was a welcomed change from the running around and touring we had been doing the previous weeks.  The beach is serene and the property is beautiful which was a win win for what we were searching for.

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