The pearl island Phu Quoc in Vietnam

March 19, 2017

Vietnam has always been in my photography travel list; considering everyday life, markets, portraits and the rural areas. Phu Quoc is an island offers not only rich photography possibilities but also relaxing beaches. Best reasons to travel to Phu Quoc are temperatures always around 30 degrees, friendly people and great Vietnamese food. The island is under development and construction, most probably will be more touristic in near future.

Vietnam Phu Quoc Pearl island

The fastest way to reach the island of Phu Quoc is of course by airplane. There are daily flights from Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City to the island with reasonable prices. If you will travel from Vietnam mainland, boat is another option (but it takes longer time). Phu Quoc Island has many harbors such as An Thoi and Hon Thom where international and domestic ships anchor.

We had a direct flight TUI from Stockholm Arlanda Airport at 19.02.2017 evening, with arrival 20.02.2017 15:15. Our stay at Phu Quoc is 2 weeks.

During our trip, we discovered the whole island with rental motorbike. You will see signs everywhere, a normal motorbike costs 150.000 VND ( around 8 USD), in premium condition, 180.000 VND. Advantage to drive a bike or a 4WD compared to car is possibility to take scenic roads, little dusty or muddy but offers great views. You can buy a mask; like local Vietnamese have.
Another option is to rent a car with a driver. Foreigners are not allowed to drive cars in Vietnam. In the chaotic traffic around Duong Dong town, you really do not want to drive car yourself anyway
In general, the island is growing for tourism and there are constructions overall around the island.

Duong Dong Heavy Traffic in the centre

Last days, we rented an old American jeep, 100 USD per day. We drove to North part to National Park are, Bai Thom, Hon Mot island that you can walk with a small wood bridge. There is a scenic Adventurous route that is perfect for a jeep drive. We had a lunch stop at Ham Ninh and drove back to Long Beach (avoiding the busy central road, we had an alternative shorter road)

Rental jeep for Northeast Driving
Hon mot island

Route tips
Northern Route:
• Mango Beach and Mango Bay resort (one of the best resorts in the island, you can also take a taxi costs 160 000 VND, worth to spend one day here, sea and resort is great. You can rent sunchairs, 150 000 VND each)
• Cua Can Village (Cua Can in Phu Quoc is located on the west coast, 8km north of Duong Dong town.Wooden bridges on near village; fishermen. Kayaking is a possibility on the river, but the color of the river did not seem attractive to me)
• From Cua Can, turn left and continue with scenic road.
• Mong Tay & Doi Moi islands (boat tours here for snorkeling, it is also called also fingernail islands, but original one is at south from an Thoi)
• Bai Dai Beach (long white beach but empty, no one was swimming)
• Vinpearl Resort (entertainment park, golf area, safari)
• Ganh Dau & View Cambodia (northest part in this route, 40 km from Duong Dong, it is only 1.3km from the country’s historic external waters  border and 2.5km from Cambodia’s Nang Ngoai Island.  There are a lot of wooden bridges, each goes to restaurant on the sea)
• Forest Road, forest walk (hiking is popular here)
• Rach vem
• Phu Quoc Bee Farm, pepper farm and beer distillery
• Back to Cua Can and Duong Dong

Map for North Driving
Ganh Dau – Fishing Village
Phu Quoc Bee Farm
Bee Farm

Southern Route:
We left the luggage at our hotel and traveled with a backpack and a scooter 3 days to the south of the island, stayed one night at Sao Beach and one night at An Thoi. This is a different way of seeing the island. Most of the tourists prefer daily trips to south. We wanted to enjoy the island in the south part with a longer and relaxed time and wanted to see the local part, An Thoi village. It was definitely a good plan, were the best days in the island. An Thoi is also very photographic: fishermen, fish market, dried squids.
• Ho Quoc Pagoda and 2 km.Scenic drive from the main road
• Bai Sao & Bai Khem beaches
• Coconut Prison & War Memorials
• Fish Sauce Factory opposite side of Coconut prison
• An Thoi Port & Market

Tip: There are two ways to get to the south of the island, one through An Thoi and the other through Bai Truong. You should take one forth and the other back so you can also enjoy the scenery of Bai Truong. Around Novotel Hotel, there are huge hotel constructions. Obviously, this part of island will be full of big resort hotels in a few years.

Map for South Driving

Central and East Region:
• Tranh Springs
• Da Ban Stream
• Pepper Farms
• Ham Ninh Fishing Village (if you take the left from the center, this road will take you to scenic road to Bai Vong)

Information about Phu Quoc
It is currently the largest island in Vietnam, part of Kien Giang province, is also part of an archipelago consisting of 22 islands of all sizes. The island covers an area of 585 km² and is 50 km long. The island has a national park, forests and great mountain views.

The island is well known for its high-quality fish sauce; Phu Quoc fish sauce with a very strong smell because it is made from anchovy. The island produces 6 million liters of fish sauce every year.

Long Beach is the most popular touristic place. The nightlife is not so busy, no party place. The sea is more in dark green color at long beach, turquoise blue at the southern islands from An Thoi.

Vietnamese Food

Island is popular with sea food, of course. The food here is not spicy but very tasty. The most popular soup is Phu Beef (long cooked meat mixed with noodles)

Vietnamese Food: Chicken Cury, Rice and Spring Rolls

Duong Dong Town and Long Beach

As soon as we arrive to the airport, we had a private taxi to Duong Dong Long Beach where our hotel is located. The airport is very near to the city, only 15 minutes, probably we paid little higher price 200 000 VND. (around 10 USD)

We stayed 4 nights at Bungalow Mai Phuong Binh, costs 34 USD per night, a big family room with 3 king-size beds. It is 10 minutes to the beach, other side of busy main road. The hotel has a small garden and a small pool. Just on left side of the hotel, a very nice local Vietnamese restaurant, Arcaletta.
At the main road, there is Langchia hostel, busy with backpackers. Our favorite restaurant nearby is the Gandash Indian Restaurant. My recommendation is Coconut Cury Chicken.

Other hotels we enjoyed at the beach: Thankkiev Bungalows (69 USD/night) and Arcadia (100 USD/night) with sea view rooms

Around Arcadia hotel, the streets are narrow, walking streets with no traffic. If you want to stay away from the pollution , noise and dust from the main road, this area is the best. We had nice “local” food place in the corner of our hotel, fresh sea food and Vietnamese food. Grilled red snapper and shrimps are my favorite, whole red snapper with salled and rice costs only 100 000 VND. Coco Bar is great place to have few drinks after dinner. And of course Rorys best bar in town, nice music and location.

Duong Dong is a lively little Vietnamese town around 30.000 inhabitants, the busiest in the island. Every morning the fresh market takes place along the river, when people from around Duong Dong come to sell and buy fruits, vegetable, meet and of course fresh fish. And the special products from the island: pepper and fish sauce. This place is rich for street photography. Locals are driving at extremely narrow & busy road with scooters and stop for shopping on the scooters. It is almost impossible to walk and breath here. They sell all types of food: raw meet, duck & chicken legs, cow heads, fishes, sea food, vegetables, and other food that I have no idea about.

Duong Dong Morning Market

Sunset at the Long Beach
The Bai Truong is the largest beach of Phu Quoc and therefore it’s often called Long Beach. It is located on the west coast of Phu Quoc and a perfect spot to watch the sunset.
Best place at the Long Beach is the Rory’s, where we enjoyed the sunset around 18:00. Enjoy your Pina Colada or other cocktails here.

Night Market (Bach Dang Road)
A short but busy street with sea-food restaurants on one side and street sellers on the other side.
We ordered a red fried red snapper with lemon grass and chili, tastes good (costs 250 000 VND, higher price than other parts of island, touristic price). Grilled huge shrimps are also great, same price 250 000 VND (around 11 USD).  I want to try all, also sea snails, lobster, squids, oysters…

Dinh Cau Cape Temple
Very close to the night market at Duong Dong town and next to the where the river meets the sea, Dinh Cau cape is worth to visit. It was built 1937, and renovated lately at 1997. Taking the steps up, you will see two altars, of Cau Tai and Cau Quy, the two gods that rule the waters and help fishermen in tragic times. There is also a light house.

Dinh Cau Cape at Doung Dong

Sim Wine
Sim Wine is a type of wine found on Phu Quoc Island and is made with local fruit from the Rose Myrtle tree. The recipe originated from various ethnic minority groups living in the central highlands. Most locals drink Sim Wine when they are eating seafood. Known as healing pains, has 7,5% alcohol and has very light taste.
Pepper farms and the famous Phu Quoc pepper: famous product in the island

Famous Pepper from the island

Suoi Tranh Waterfall
Very close to Duong Dong, only 7 km, you can either come with a taxi or a rental bike. Entrance fee is 5 000 VND per person and 10 000 VND per bike.
There is a nice garden and a walking path up to the waterfall, a nice forest walk for 15 minutes. We visited during the end of dry season, there was very little water and a natural pool where you can still go in. You can enjoy here picnicking  and take a bath in the stream ( from May to November )

Tranh Waterfall

Ham Ninh Fishing Village (floating fish restaurants on a long bridge)
Ham Ninh is a small village on the east part, facing the sea and backed by a mountain. People built their homes on the two sides of the Ham River. The simple life of the locals in their small bamboo cottages will create a nostalgic feeling to visitors. Popular with pearls, sea cucumbers and spidercrabs.
We had a big lunch here, crab, sea snails, shrimps and cobia fish. The prices are very cheap (all costed 460 000 VND, around 20 USD) and the taste is great.

Ham Ninh Sea Food Resturants

Remember to enjoy the sunset, because best time for photography is sunset over the bridge.

Ham Ninh – Bridge with Restaurants

South Route
Ho Quoc Pagoda (also known as Truc Lam Thien Vien)

Located in beautiful high between the sea and the mountain side. New, relaxing and peaceful temple which was opened at 2012.
The place is photographic, however, the construction on left side is not good and limits the symmetric view of the temple. At the garden, there are Buddha statues, statue of the “Godness of Mercy” and a bell.

Ho Quoc Pagoda

Sao Beach (also known as Star Beach)
White sand, blue sea and garbage. How a perfect beach can be destroyed: if you want to regret this, please go and visit Sao Beach. We could not swim, because the plastics, cups, all tastes of garbage you can think about was floating on the sea. We could not walk, because the sand was covered with dirt. Without seeing this, we already booked an hotel and stayed overnight. Early morning, the hotels are cleaning the beach in front of them. But the same garbage comes out again with the waves and rivers. On top of this problem, there are annoying jet skies. If this island will grow in tourism, this place definitely must have an improvement.

There are a few options to stay: Beach house and My Lan. My Lan offers nice food as well. We stayed at Beach House, our room was great, a wooden newly decorated room in the 2nd floor with a sea view. (around 1 200 000 VND/per night). However, the service and the food was not good. At the left end of the beach, Paradiso is a place for having a sunchair and a lunch. This place have coconut trees and rather cleaner beach. Evening is very quiet at Sao Beach, not so many people stay. It was great to listen the sound of the waves, watch the stars and enjoy fresh sea smell.

Sao Beach – end of the beach is the cleanest

Next morning, I had a walk in the beach was which cleaned by hotels. After the breakfast, we drove to An Thoi.

An Thoi port, South of Phu Quoc island
The second largest city in Phu Quoc, An Thoi has a more authentic touch to it as you will not see many tourists wandering around.
We will stay at An Thoi town, so we checked in to our hotel, Lien Thong Hotel, next to the church in the center. This hotel is family owned, clean place. The room costs only 20 USD/per night.
I strongly recommend to stay at An Thoi, if you want to have a local touch of the island. Otherwise, you will see nothing but dark green sea; few bars and restaurants if you only stay at Long Beach.
We arrived to An Thoi port. As recommended from travel tips, we rented our own boat for the whole day, costs 1 000 000 VND,  around 45 USD. We will see 3-4 islands. The islands have the best beaches and clear sea. Never miss here. Snorkeling is also an experience, but the corals seemed dead and brown to me. Still nice fishes.

Fingernail island > Hon Island Mong Tay
One of the best beaches of all Phu Quoc is called A beach or English Fingernail Beach, but is located in Island Hon Mong Tay (Hòn Móng Tay), about 10 kilometers south of Phu Quoc.
Hon Thom
An island located in An Thoi archipelago is the biggest island, where you are explore the daily life of fishermen here. We watched the sunset from a beach in this island.

Boat tour at Southern Islands from An Thoi

Evening at An Thoi town was great, we went to a local restaurant recommended by the hotel on the left side on the road. Extremely delicious and cheap here. Fish Soup, Squids and beef, a lot of food for 2 people, costed only 500 000 VND.

Early morning, never miss to wake up early and walk to fish market at the west part of the city. The boats with fresh sea food arrive and the buyers are there waiting with the bikes to take the food away. Nobody really cared about me, I was standing in the middle of the place. Everyone seems so busy exchanging money and fishes, all types of sea food.

An Thoi Fish Market

Walking on the coast line, I have found local women putting squids to dry. They are friendly and letting you to approach them and to take photos.

An Thoi – Squid Drying

After breakfast, we checked out from the hotel. First stop war monument, 2nd coconut prison and 3rd Fish sauce factory, all in the same place.

Coconut prison
Very sad place, the replications how they tortured the Northern Vietnamese prisoners were extreme. I could not walk through this place, went to exit direct. There were escapes from prison by digging a tunnel, today used as the exit of the prison.
In 1967, a prison was built to detain the communists. Nearly 40,000 thousand people were kept here, about 4,000 of whom were killed over 6 years.
Closed times during lunch time: between 11:00 – 13:30

Coconut Prison
Coconut Prison – Escape Tunnel

Phu Quoc traditional fish sauce manufacturing establishment
Nam Houng: Near Sao beach – An Thoi Town, off the main road and close to Coconut Prison

The waters around Phu Quoc island are rich in seaweed and plankton which provide food for the anchovy population. This resource has been used in the production of Phu Quoc fish sauce for over 200 years
Currently, Phu Quoc fish sauce is facing a problem due to the anchovy population that is the main resource for this product is endangered by overfishing and other environmental degradation.

Fish Sauce, very strong smell

Best place to Swim: Islands south of An Thoi
Best beach to walk: Long Beach
Best place to watch sunset: Rorys Bar
Best Driving: North part, Forest Trail
Best to eat: Sea food

Phu Quoc – Sunset with Fishing Boats