Travel to Phu Quoc, Vietnam’s idyllic beach paradise island and explore the hidden secrets of the island with me as I take you through 11 exciting things to do on the island
It threatened to rain on the weekend, that I booked my flight to Phu Quoc on a whim. Throwing caution to air, I literally manage to get accommodation and flights on the evening before and after a mad dash to the airport, I finally set foot on the lovely island of Phu Quoc. Why? Because the mostly forest covered island has some hauntingly beautiful beaches and a fair bit of history.
I’ve spent two idyllic days exploring the island and while I did not end up seeing the entire island, here’s a list of 11 must do experiences when in Phu Quoc
1. Visit an unique lighthouse & temple
Near Long Beach, in Duong Duong Town lies the Dinh Cau Temple. 29 winding steps lead to this small shrine to Thien Hau – the “goddess of the sea”. Built to invoke the protection of the goddess on the fishermen as they ventured out into the sea, the temple is said to date back to 1937. But that’s the not the only unique thing about the temple. The temple also has a lighthouse !!! While I couldn’t go see the temple as one of my evenings at Phu Quoc got rained out, it’s definitely worth visiting in the evening to catch the sunset and neighboring night market
2. Laze on the beach sipping cocktails
Phu Quoc is home to some superb beaches and nothing says beach vacation like just lazing in the sun by the beach, with a book and a ready supply of cocktails from the bar. I did precisely that to unwind after my early morning flight and I was lucky enough to check into a hotel that had a bar right on the beach !!!
3. Snorkel in clear blue waters
There is something magical about the world below the ocean, with fishes in their myriad shapes and colors flitting about in the coral forests of the ocean floor. From my first dive in the Andamans, I’ve always been fascinated by the undersea and the clear blue waters of Phu Quoc definitely make for excellent snorkeling. I unfortunately visited during the start of the rains, so I didn’t get a chance to snorkel. For those that are there at the right time, snorkeling and diving in the relatively shallow waters of Phu Quoc are best done in October to April. Diving sites are available in both the North and the South of the island, with the South having a wider range of diving spots. So put on those flippers and immerse yourself in the undersea paradise.
4. Eat loads of squid
I absolutely love squid, and Phu Quoc has loads of them. My routine on the island usually included freshly grilled squid with salt, chilli, pepper and lime. I think I must have been responsible for a small decline in the local squid population given the amount of squid I consumed in my stay there. Besides squid, if you love seafood there is loads of fresh fish for the taking.
5. Explore the tropical forest
Over 50% of the island is classified as a National park and there is loads to explore on the island. On my visit there, while I didn’t venture trekking deep into the forest, I did do a short hike to see the Suối Tranh waterfalls. The largest and most dramatic of Phu Quoc’s waterfalls, the Suối Tranh falls had not quite started flowing as yet due to the lack of rains, but it was a fun trip in the forest to the waterfall
6. See Phu Quoc’s dark side
In 1949-50, the French used Phu Quoc as a prison to hold political prisoners. But the true dark phase came during the first Indochina war when the island began being used to hold Prisoners of War (POWs). The POWs were subjected to horrendous forms of systematic torture including the infamous “tiger cages”. Today the prison is open as a reminder of the country’s dark chapter of history.
7. Have some Sim Wine
Sim Wine is made from the fruit of the native Rose Mrytle tree. I joined a tour of one such “winery” where they made Sim Wine. The trip took me through the Mrytle bushes and finally ended with a wine tasting. The wine I guess grows on you after a little while, but for the sheer novelty of the wine tour, this is definitely a must do.
8. Tour a fish sauce factory
Speaking of tours, Phu Quoc is also home to the manufacture of fish sauce – that mainstay of South Asian cuisines. The fish sauce manufactured on the island is made exclusively from anchovies found in the waters around the island. I toured one such fish sauce manufacturing facility on the island. While I imagined the place to be somewhat smelly, given that it’s fish that’s fermented to produce the fish sauce, I was pleasantly surprised at the clean interiors of the factory. After a tour of the facilities, we ended with a little fish sauce “tasting” and I can definitely say it’s an acquired taste.
9. Marvel at the wonder of pearls
While on the island, I also visited a pearl “farm”. The short tour showed me how pearls are farmed on the island, different grades of pearls, how to extract a pearl from the oyster and so on. For someone interested in the how pearls come to be the fine polished gems that we see, this is definitely a must do tour on the island.
10. Go Island hopping
While I wasn’t able to visit the nearby smaller islands, you can have excellent day trip visiting the unspoilt islands around Phu Quoc. And what a better way to do that than to kayak !!! Yes, it’s possible to kayak from Vung Bau Beach to Fingernail Island, a tiny island surrounded by a coral reef. For the less adventurous, there are daily tours that take you island hopping as well
11. Watch the sea glow in the night
I have been fascinated with witnessing the phenomenon of bioluminescent plankton turning the sea aglow and it turns out that you can sometimes witness this at Phu Quoc. While the phenomenon is not as pronounced at other places, this ethereal phosphorescence can be witnessed off the beach when the conditions are right and the waves agitate the plankton.
These were some of my must do things on Phu Quoc. What are yours?
Phu Quoc is a short flight away from Ho Chi Minh with several flights scheduled daily. VietJet, Jetstar and Vietnam Airlines run flights to Phu Quoc from Ho Chi Minh. International visitors only visiting the island can avail of the 30 day visa exemption provided their itinerary includes only the island.
Best Time to Visit
November to April is the best time to visit if you are looking forward to sunny days on the beach. However the wet season is also good if you want to explore the forests, enjoy the waterfalls on the island and otherwise keep tourist free beaches to yourself !!