Phu Quoc: Adventures above and below the water

Despite living in Vietnam for so many years there are still more than a couple of places I am yet to visit, and up until this weekend Phú Quốc Island was one of them. However having just returned from a four day weekend on the island, it is now somewhere where I intend to return again and again.

Vietjet Air now have regular (and cheap) flights from Ho Chi Minh City and it is only a 40 minute hop from home. So ridiculously early on Thursday morning I caught the slowest taxi in all of Saigon to the airport, and despite nearly missing my flight thanks to the only cab driver in Vietnam that not only stopped at red lights, but would actually stop at a green light just in case it turned red, I was soon on my way to Phu Quoc.

We landed at the flash new international airport and upon exiting I was greeted by a gaggle of drivers all after some business. Not being a morning person I was not in the mood for haggling so it was lucky I had prearranged a transfer to my hotel – quickly finding a smiling man with my name written on a board (which he was holding upside down) I jumped in his taxi and off we went to my home for the next four days. Set on the beach north to the main town of Duong Dong, Bo Resort was the perfect antidote to the craziness of Saigon. The bungalows were clean, well designed and well maintained – mine was set back up on the hill surrounded by lovely jungle-like gardens. Down near the beach was a restaurant, beach front bar, sun lounges and hammocks. It was perfect and the first day I was there I spent my time doing nothing apart from swim, read and lie (read: sleep) on a sun lounge listening to the waves crashing.

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I hired a motorbike and the next morning I set out to explore the southern half of the island. Taking the unpaved red-dirt road down along the coast I followed Long Beach, which true to its name, stretched for kilometres. Much of it is untouched by tourism with only little villages scattered along the road. I stopped many times to check out the deserted beaches and was completely enjoying the solitude – not another tourist in sight.

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After a long drive navigating pot-holes and sandy patches on the “road”, I found myself at Sao Beach and had a yummy seafood lunch while sitting with my feet in the white sand. I can understand why many people consider this beach to be one of the most picturesque beaches on the island – it certainly was beautiful.

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As beautiful as it was it was also quite busy with both local and foreign tourists so after a while I got back on the bike and headed out. I checked out An Thoi Town just south of the beach before hitting the highway back north to Doung Dong town. Along the way I passed through a couple of fishing villages which deserved a look.

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Despite taking the “highway” back to Duong Dong it was mostly still in construction phase so I was happy to get back into town and onto a proper road. I spent a bit of time just driving around Duong Dong and seeing the fishing boats in the harbour, the local market, pagodas and temples, and the old lighthouse.

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The next day I was picked up from the beach in front of my hotel by the crew of Rainbow Divers. We sailed north following the coast for around 25 minutes or so before reaching a small uninahibited speck of an island that was surrounded by a reef, perfect for both snorkelling and for diving. Having only ever dived once before in the Philippines, I don’t yet have my diving licence so I was doing a couple of fun/try dives, where my diving buddy Alan did all the work controlling bouyancy and other technical divey stuff. I actually preferred to call them lazy dives because I didn’t have to do anything but breathe and equalise my ears. It was absolutely beautiful – I was surprised by the huge numbers and varety of fish, and by the different types of coral. I love diving and look forward to working towards getting my PADI Open Water licence in the next couple of months – I can see myself getting addicted to this.

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My last day on the island was again spent on the bike, this time exploring the northern part of the island. The road was again a red dirt road but in slightly better condition than the one I had taken down south. Less potholes to navigate meant a more relaxed drive and the scenery was just as, if not more, beautiful. The beaches were again mostly deserted save for a few resorts and restaurants and there were many places to stop and take a break from driving and have a swim. There were also a couple of villages I passed through where they were drying little fish on the side of the road, all in preparation for making the famous stinky yet tasty Phu Quoc fish sauce.

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Passing Vung Bao and the gorgeous Dai beaches I reached the far north-western corner of Phu Quoc, Cape Ganh Dau. I followed a random lady down a steep incline and found myself in a little fishing village that stretched along the water front. Parking my bike at the bottom I had a wander through the village. Little houses and shops were on both sides of a concrete walkway that snaked it’s way along the waterfront, with lives open to the world. Women were preparing lunch, kids were playing with their pet Phu Quoc puppies, fishing nets were being repaired and men were busy with the building and fixing of houses and boats. Others had gathered at coffee shops or on the doorsteps of friends’ houses and were having a good old gossip. Everyone was incredibly friendly and I got the feeling that not many tourists had been through here. It was a great snapshot of life in a Vietnamese fishing village and I was so glad that I found it.

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The road from Ganh Dau then lead through stunning forest where it is possible to do a jungle walk. I was tempted, but decided that trekking in flip-flops was not going to work so I had to be satisfied with enjoying the beautiful drive. Kilometre after kilometre the red track stretched on through the cool jungle – I had no idea where I was going or how long it would take to get wherever that place was, but it didn’t matter.

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Eventually I did hit a real highway again and following that I headed north, arriving at Bai Thom on the north-eastern side of Phu Quoc. Back on dirt road I continued on for a little bit, down along the coastline until Cape Da Chong. I had considered continuing on further to see if I could make it all the way down along the coast to Ham Ninh (which was back down near Dong Duong) but the road after Cape Da Chong turned even worse. It started to look more like a rarely used cattle track than a road, and with several other tracks branching off in various directions I decided that turning around was probably a wise decision. It turned out for the best as I headed back to Bai Thom where I found a little restaurant on the beach where I had the most delicious grilled squid for lunch. It was the perfect place to relax for a couple of hours before heading back into town.

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The road back from Bai Thom was the best road on the island and it is probably a good thing the speedometer on the bike wasn’t working. Needless to say, I flew back, making it back to Bo Resort just in time for a perfect sunset.

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Unfortunately Monday morning came around and I needed to be back in the office so it was an early morning flight to Saigon – I was sitting at my desk by 10:30am staring out the window planning my next trip to Phu Quoc in a couple of months. I sure won’t be waiting another 8 years for a return visit.

For more information on Bo Resort visit their website

To help get you underwater Rainbow Divers are the ones to see

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